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Maine College Gets $3M Grant to Explore Art and Music Interface
04/29/2014   Reported By: Tom Porter

An art college in downtown Portland is planning to launch a new program to explore the interface between visual art and contemporary music. The program - thought to be the first of its kind in the country - is being made possible thanks to a major gift from one of the most influential figures in popular music history. Tom Porter has more.

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Tracey Dey + Bob Crewe

"It is with great enthusiasm that I'm announcing a $3 million grant to the Maine College of Art." That's Dan Crewe, brother of acclaimed songwriter Bob Crewe.

Bob Crewe (right, with pop singer Tracey Dey in the early '60s) is responsible for many hits over the years, and was inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1985. But he's perhaps best known for co-writing a number of chart-toppers for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons - songs like "Sherry," "Big Girls Don't Cry" - and this one, which got to No. 2 on the billboards in 1967.

(Audio of Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons singing "Can't Take My Eyes off You.")

Bob Crewe was more than just a songwriter, however. As younger brother Dan - who also worked in the music industry - explains, Bob always felt strongly about visual art and its integration with music. Indeed, art was the direction he first went in before entering the music industry.
MECA grant 3
"Many years ago my brother graduated from a high school in Belleville, New Jersey, and he went to New York City to attend Parson's School of Design," Dan Crewe (right) said, at a news conference announcing the Bob Crewe program for art and music at the Maine College of Art, known as MECA.

Bob Crewe himself was unable to attend, as he's now in his early 80s and in poor health, residing in a Scarborough nursing home.

As MECA President Don Tuski explains, the program will have a number of components. "Within the program there'll be the Bob Crewe student scholarship in arts and music," he said. "There will also be the Bob Crewe endowed chair in arts and music - our first endowed faculty position at Maine College of Art, which is wonderful."

MECA grant 10In addition, Tuski (right) says the money will fund the construction of a soundstage, multiple practice rooms and the Bob Crewe Gallery, honoring Crewe's work and achievements.

Ian Anderson is vice president of Academic affairs and dean of the college, which has about 400 undergraduate students enrolled. He says the finer details of the program are still being worked out, but it will be offered as a minor - at least to start with.

"One of the opportunties we have because we're so small, when we look at implementing a program like this, we can actually go ahead and offer a couple of courses next year, as we're actually developing the full curriculum of what the minor would look like," Anderson says. "And then probably in the fall of 2015 would be when we have the curriculum formally developed and the students would be able to participate."

Although the curriculum is still being worked out, MECA says a wide range of topics will be explored, including subjects like Music Business and Management, Ethnomusicology and, on the experimental side, "Sound and Color."

Anderson says the college has considerable leeway as it develops the program. One area that's still under review, says Anderson, is whether the art students at MECA will need to demonstrate proficiency on a musical instrument to enroll in the art and music minor.

"Because students are entering the college based on their visual work - that is, we offer 11 degrees in visual arts and design. We're not offering a bachelor of fine arts yet in music," he says. "So, that's a question that we have unanswered, and we have people that sort of feel both ways about it, and that's some of the work that we're going to do over the summer."

Indeed, as Dan Crewe of the Bob Crewe foundation explains, the fact that much of the program will be developed as it evolves is central to its philosophy: The foundation's aim, he says, is to give creative minds the freedom to create.

"The purpose is to open up a door to allow something to percolate. This is a laboratory," Crewe said. "And I am as excited about the fact that we don't know where we're going as I am about the fact that I'm making is possible to go there."

Like writing a good rock 'n' roll song, he says, you don't always know where you're going to end up when you start.

Photos of Dan Crewe and Don Tuski: Tom Porter

Archival photo of Bob Crewe and Tracey Dey: GpixS


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