USM Art Department

Artist-in-Residence Program


The University has had a successful Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program since 1986. Students are directly involved with the artist through a flexible course specially designed by the AIR. The residency occurs for at least seven weeks during the Spring semester. The Artist-in-Residence is expected to create a project that will engage with the campus and greater community; give one public presentation; be available for discussions with faculty and students; and teach approximately 6-10 students as a class and/or supervise a similar number of students independently on a directed project.

Artist-in-Residence applications are not being accepted at this time. View the AIR collection and archives

Fall 2016 Artist-in-Residence: Muhsana Ali, East Bayside Community Mosaic Mural

This mural, located on a vibrant corner in the ethnically diverse Bayside neighborhood of Portland, was designed by University of Southern Maine Artist-in-Residence Muhsana Ali in 2016. Ali is an internationally- recognized artist based in Senegal who works in many media to create conceptual community-centered art. She states, “The spiral design represents the common origin of all of humanity and the ways in which we spiral out from, or back into that center. The footprints, which I collected from the mural participants, are placed in various directions along the center of that spiral path. All of these elements glow together in one amazing, balanced and harmonious form like an evolved human family.”                                         East Bayside Mural under construction

 The project was organized by the USM Artist-in-Residence program in collaboration with the School of Social Work and Coffee By Design.

Carolyn Eyler, USM Director of Exhibitions and Programs, executed site research and project management. Muhsana Ali and Dr. Paula Gerstenblatt taught a class that created an opportunity for USM students of many disciplines and community members to work together. Over one hundred USM students and several hundred community members participated in making small glass paintings. The artist and her assistants incorporated these pieces along with cut mirror, tiles, and ceramic pieces that were adhered to the wall with a mixture of pigmented concrete and sand.

 Special mention is given to Senegalese artist, Amadou Kane Sy, Ali’s husband and colleague, who assisted in the creation of the mural. Many thanks to USM art alumna Mia Bogyo, USM art intern Kayla Frost, and USM art student Kenneth S. Davis. This project was completed with generous contributions by Redfern Properties, Coffee By Design, the USM Office of the President, the Running with Scissors artist community, an anonymous local donor, and all those who contributed material donations.


Spring 2016 Artist-in-Residence: Natasha Mayers

Buoys at Portland Jetport panorama

Welcome to New Mainers
is now on display inside USM’s Alumni Skywalk and in the Portland Jetport. Mayers engaged over a hundred USM and area students to paint these buoys with the flags of the 77 countries represented by Portland’s newest residents. The idea began with a banner for the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition painted by Mayers in collaboration with members of the Union of Maine Visual Artists (UMVA) and The Artists’ Rapid Response Team (ARRT!),  an activist group Mayers founded in 2012. The first buoys were painted by students in the Portland Public Schools’ Multilingual & Multicultural Center’s “Make it Happen!” program for the opening of the exhibition “400 Years of New Mainers” at the Maine Historical Society. USM students from many disciplines completed that first set,   which now hangs in the skywalk. USM art students made a second set to hang in the Portland Jetport. During her 7-week residency with the USM Art Department in Spring 2016, well-known Maine community artist Natasha Mayers facilitated two significant public art projects: Welcome to New Mainers (Flags on Lobster Buoys) and the Gorham Community Map mural.                                                                       

“I hope the buoy installations will make us all more aware of the rich cultural diversity being woven into Maine and help  us open our hearts to the contributions and struggles of our new neighbors,” Mayers said. The students’ collective effort transformed a traditional icon of Maine and the sea, which many immigrants have traversed, and imbued it with new associations. Viewers themselves are travelers at the  sites of these installations, and they pass through a syncopated rhythm of brightly colored patterns and varying shapes at alternating heights. This celebratory experience initiated by Mayers, Maine’s leading activist artist, is a great gift to, from, and about the state of Maine.

USM art lecturer Lin Lisberger and Jess Lauren Lipton  of Creative Portland helped arrange the Jetport installation. USM art students Caitlin Warner, Farrin Hanson, Sara Jane Laughlin, Mackenzie Moore, and Kennedy Sheafe participated in the installations. Also thanks to Reza Jalali, Coordinator, USM Multicultural Student Affairs; Kate McBrien and the Maine Historical Society. 

Spring 2015 Artist-in-Residence: Traci Molloy, Constructing Identity

USM Artist-in-Residence Traci Molloy

Traci Molloy, Brooklyn, New York-based artist and education activist, created collaborative artwork with the Center for Grieving Children's Multicultural Program, which practices a peer support model to build and strengthen community. Seven USM art students enrolled in Molloy’s USM Artist-in-Residence course assisted Molloy with the artwork and attended the Center’s program to observe.

Marie Sheffield, coordinator of the Center’s Multicultural Program and licensed art therapist, explained that “when those who feel as if they are part of a community, work together, hope and resiliency flourish.” 

“Traci’s community-based art project helped to facilitate the process of finding common meaning, promoting expression and recovery, and reducing isolation for students in the Multicultural Program,” said Sheffield. “Non-verbal expressions reduce language barriers and inherently connect to the expression of feelings, shifting towards action and resolution.”

For the past 17 years, Molloy has worked on collaborative art projects in New York City and across the U.S., exploring themes of adolescent identity, and building and strengthening communities.

“With this type of community project, people can realize the commonality in our collective humanity,” said Molloy. “The artwork, the visual language, can prompt dialogue and inspire people to consider things from another perspective. That is how we, as communities, can enact social empowerment and change.” 

USM Artist-in-Residence project 2015

The Center's Multicultural Program is divided into two groups of middle school and high school students, and Molloy  created a separate artwork with each group.

“In talking with the middle school and high school students at the Center, I found that they are very empowered,” remarked Molloy. “They are strong, they are brave, and they believe that they are going to make a difference. There is an extraordinary sense of community.”


USM Artist-in-Residence Project 2015