After our first “real” and downright spectacular Fourth of July weekend in Marblehead, I decided to stick close to home and head up the road to visit Montserrat College of Art. Montserrat’s home is the vibrant town of Beverly, Massachusetts and I had the opportunity there to spend some time with President Kurt Steinberg, and Dean of Academic Affairs & Dean of the Faculty Dr. Brian Pellinen, learning more about the institution and its environs.
Beverly is a fascinating place, a unique combination of seaside resort community; bustling small town with a plethora of restaurants and shops; quaint residential neighborhoods; and thriving manufacturing and business center. In fact, Montserrat’s footprint in Beverly (though smaller in scale) reminded me quite a bit of The Savannah College of Art & Design and its home in Savannah, Georgia. In both cases, the college’s campuses are really the city in which they reside, rather than a plot of land on which all their buildings are contained. Beverly is a terrific location for a small college and in fact NECHE has a second institution there as well, Endicott College.
Today, Montserrat has grown to a walkable assemblage of 20 leased and owned spaces in the center of Beverly, including a number of very attractive mid-sized residential buildings. And every space, inside and out, is emblazoned with wonderful art –some by faculty and students, others from the college’s growing collection.
Montserrat celebrated its 50-year anniversary in 2020, just a year after President Steinberg arrived. While the college is small, with just 2,500 alumni and 370 current students, its impact on the city and on the creative economy across the country is oversized. Over more than half a century, Montserrat has grown from a small school of fine arts, started by a local community arts foundation, to a four-year independent college of art and design offering ten BFA concentrations and five minors, including animation, graphic design, sculpture, and entrepreneurship in the arts. Its curriculum has increasingly blended traditional fine arts skills with new media technology and techniques.
Montserrat is also a member of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design and allows its students to spend a semester at other AICAD institutions across the country, as well as to study on campuses in Italy, Spain and Japan.
One of the things I deeply admire about NECHE’s smaller independent institutions (and this is clearly the case with Montserrat) is their agility to continually re-imagine themselves while remaining true to their core mission.
I read a quote on the back cover of Montserrat’s view book for potential new students and believe it beautifully illustrates that proclivity: “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”
For me, that pretty much sums up Montserrat College of Art and its leadership– and how unique that is!