PORTLAND, Maine — The iconic Salt Institute of Documentary Studies won’t be disappearing from Maine’s artscape. In fact, it’s merely moving across the street and one block down.

On Tuesday afternoon, a crowd gathered at Maine College of Art for the announcement of its merger with the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies.

The president of MECA, Donald Tuski, took to the podium to declare the 43-year-old nonprofit school, which faced financial pressure and suspended classes for the 2015-16 academic year, reborn under the MECA umbrella.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Tuski said. “I am excited for the state of Maine’s arts and culture scene to move forward together.”

A generous grant for an undisclosed amount by the Quimby Family Foundation, made the union possible. Hannah Quimby, the daughter of Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, who sits on the foundation’s board of directors, is a Salt alumni. The funding will cover startup and operational costs for the first two to three years of the new venture called Salt at MECA.

“We are thrilled that Salt will be partnering with MECA, and are confident in this effort based on MECA’s solid reputation and supportive infrastructure,” Hannah Quimby said in a prepared statement. “It’s an exciting opportunity that has been thoughtfully considered and we are pleased to support this collaborative effort.”

The school’s dean, Ian Anderson, said the fusion of these Portland art institutes “make sense together because we share similar missions, pedagogy, educational philosophy and core values. We require the same types of facilities; digital output photography labs, black and white photo labs.”

The basement of MECA, home to the school’s Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music, including podcast rooms, will soon serve Salt students in radio, film and multimedia.

“There are things to tidy up,” said Salt’s former executive director Donna Galluzzo, who is helping with the transition from 561 Congress St. to 522 Congress St.

Though initially bothered by the unraveling of Salt, alumni who launched a Save Salt campaign, “are ready to move forward,” Galluzzo confirmed. “Eighty percent of them are in favor [of the merger],” she said citing a past survey. However, some alumni say they aren’t pleased with the direction the school is heading.

A 1996 Salt graduate, Mike Eckel, who is now a senior correspondent for Radio Free Europe in Washington, D.C., said some alumni feel left out of the decision. He worries that an art school isn’t the right home for documentary style, long-form journalism.

“The question is whether this is a good thing or a bad thing?” he told the BDN Wednesday. “Is this a marriage of equals or an absorption?”

The coalition helped preserve Salt’s deep archives, a repository of all stories and publications collected since the school’s inception. It contains “16,000 images, 495 radio shows, 849 writing projects, 251 multimedia projects, more than 500 articles in 56 publications, and three books created by over 1,000 Salt storytellers,” Anderson said. “Stories about the people of Maine that would otherwise never be told; it celebrates, and archives forever, Maine’s unique cultural heritage.”

On Tuesday, Salt released an archive link to its alumni. It will soon be accessible to the public.

Despite the fanfare, students interested in signing up for a Salt semester have to cool their heels for now. Classes will start under MECA’s continuing education program this summer, and in the fall of 2017, semester work officially begins. Details regarding space and facilities will be determined in the coming months.

MECA administrators are working on offering a graduate certificate in documentary storytelling.

“This secures a tremendous future for Salt,” said Galluzzo. “It’s a new opportunity, but it’s key to the soul of Salt.”

The college will launch a search for a new head of Salt and make several hires. For now, Salt lives to serve the next generation of storytellers.

“The model of Salt needed to be revamped,” said Kimberly Curry, Salt’s outgoing board chair. “It’s time to celebrate.”

Kathleen Pierce

A lifelong journalist with a deep curiosity for what's next. Interested in food, culture, trends and the thrill of a good scoop. BDN features reporter based in Portland since 2013.