MassArt back in the day

The outtake called “Shards” was inspired by the printmakers and the studio in the Overland Building at MassArt, circa 1977-1981

I was 28 years old and my daughter was 3 when I started school at Massachusetts College of Art. Back then MassArt rented space in the Kenmore Square area, near Fenway Park and music clubs like The Rat. Most of us lived at home, and many of us were over 25 (I think the oldest student was a painter who was pushing 70). We joked that our ‘campus’ was the drunk guy who was always passed out on the doorstep of the Overland building near Fenway Park. We could tell when the Red Sox had lost because irate fans would throw rocks at the windows on the way back to their cars, and we’d have to clear the broken glass off the presses the next day. One of the litho presses had a kick like a mule; you had to really hold onto the bar or it could smash your hand. And the heat could be iffy; I remember making prints in my winter coat. People brought their dogs to class, and sometimes their small children. Tuition cost about $200 a semester. Most of us had part-time jobs, lived cheap, and got the BEOG, a federal grant for low-income students. We were happy to be there.

A few years ago I visited the new printmaking department – state of the art equipment, excellent ventilation, and the space was organized, spacious, and clean. Plus the school itself was no longer under imminent threat – MassArt now has plenty of more-or-less permanent space, and doesn’t have to rely on the legislature to vote funding for it every year, or on a landlord to keep rents reasonable. And instead of 2D and 3D being separate, in buildings a mile apart, the whole school is housed together under one roof. This is probably an improvement.

But it’s the old printmaking studio on Overland Street that inspired the printmaking co-op in Groping for Luna and The Night Trippers. It wasn’t pretty, but it had ambience. It was home.

Paul Dobbs, Director of the Morton R. Godine Library at MassArt, was kind enough to read the above and do some fact-checking. He writes that, back in the late ‘70s-early ‘80s: “the Overland and Fullerton Buildings were rented, but the Longwood Building at the corner of Brookline and Longwood Avenues had been built for MassArt in 1929 and was state property on state-owned land. It was probably only or maybe even less than half of the square feet of the college in those days, but, still, it was a ‘permanent campus.’”

“We continue to be substantially state-funded, but we are less at the mercy of the legislature’s year-to-year whimsy because of a new arrangement forged by our last president, Kay Sloan. Called the “New Partnership Plan” this arrangement keeps state funding more stable and enables us to self-fund to a certain degree. (MassArt’s obligation under the Plan is to monitor and adhere to certain performance standards, like graduation ratios, and we have been meeting and exceeding those so far.)

“All college programs are now housed in state-owned buildings formally assigned by the state to the college. So, yes, as much as anything is permanent in Massachusetts public higher education, our current buildings are.”

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