BEVERLY — Eleven graduates of Lynn-based Raw Art Works have received full scholarships to Montserrat College of Art, expanding their creative skills and pursuing their dreams of a artistic career.
The two organizations have a long history of collaborations, said Kurt T. Steinberg, president of Montserrat, and Kathe Swaback, program director at RAW.
“There has been a long-time collaboration between Montserrat and Raw Arts,” said Steinberg, who came to Montserrat last July after 12 years at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt). “We have several RAW grads on campus currently, all with multi-year scholarship commitments given by New England Biolabs. A number of our faculty also volunteer at Raw Arts and LynnArts. We have a lot of roots in the Lynn community.”
“We’ve had a great relationship with Montserrat for years, way back to 1997. We are fortunate and happy that Kurt, as did his predecessor, Steve Immerman, has enthusiastically supported that collaboration,” said Swaback.
Montserrat College of Art is a residential college of visual art and design in downtown Beverly, offering a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, community education, study abroad programs, and four galleries exhibiting contemporary works by international, regional and local artists. Its Graphic Design program is considered one of the finest in the Northeast.
Raw Art Works is a youth arts organization, rooted in art therapy. RAW offers a variety of free programming from painting to filmmaking, for kids ages 7-19. RAW uses art to ask kids “what is really going on” in their lives, giving them the tools to create in unexpected ways, and envision new possibilities for their future.
Swaback said three RAW graduates — Michael Aghahowa, Nicole Dewart and John Plunkett — have already graduated from Montserrat. Francisco Vasquez, Amber Orozco, Zaruga Philips, Kelly McNulty, Josh Bonifaz, Sarah Gilberg, Nate Kim and Sophia Otero are studying at the Beverly college. Aghahowa was Montserrat’s commencement speaker in 2017, said Swaback, adding “The first letter of recommendation I ever wrote for graduate school, was for Michael Aghahowa. He has been invited to interview for the Master’s program at the Art Institute of Chicago.”
Many RAW students entering grades 11 and 12 have also benefited from Montserrat’s pre-college summer program, said Hebert Labbate, manager of RAW’s Project Launch program. Labbate works with students to apply what they learned at RAW to their post-high-school career advancement.
Labbate said Project Launch has three tiers: Land, for students in grades 9-11; Project Launch itself, for seniors preparing for college; and Fly, which follows up with students one year after graduation and helps them transition to what they want to do.
Through the years, many Montserrat faculty members have mentored RAW seniors. “One amazing woman, Margaret Waugh, has been a mentor for six of our seniors. Blyth Hazen has mentored three,” said Swaback, who gave an extra shoutout to Rick Longo, who is now in Pennsylvania. “Rick was so fabulous. He was a mentor for three or four years. He mentored Michael (Aghahowa) and John (Plunkett), both of whom graduated. He gave extra oomph to the Montserrat-RAW relationship.” There are 21 Montserrat mentors this year.
Several RAW students recently took a Figure Drawing class with Montserrat’s Jon Bolles. It was nude drawing, with a model, said Swaback. “The students also toured the galleries there and were served a beautiful lunch. … and it boosted many of the kids’ confidence. ‘I can handle this college thing,’ they told us.
“It’s amazing to have an art college up the road. They really care about the kids who go there. The faculty knows the kids’ names. Creatives are usually shy kids, and some might get swallowed up at a larger college or university.” Montserrat has 400 students.
Swaback said RAW has also benefited by having Montserrat instructors come to Lynn as guest artists. Karen Tusinski, who graduated from Montserrat, came to RAW and ran a full-day workshop for staff and alumni. Judy Brown, who shows in Boston and is a Montserrat teacher, has run workshops in Lynn.
“Montserrat’s pre-college program has helped so many of our students. They all can speak about how meaningful that program was to them. Some kids start their senior year scared and nervous and convinced they can’t succeed, and then they go in this program, and they realize, ‘Yes. I can explore what’s out there and I can be successful.'”
Steinberg met with Lynn Mayor Thomas M. McGee for 1½ hours last year, discussing how art and culture are helping to revitalize Lynn’s downtown and asking how Montserrat could be a part of that renaissance.
“It’s exciting, the college’s connection with Lynn and the students at Raw Art Works,” said McGee. “I was very impressed with President Steinberg, and his and the college’s commitment to Lynn, Raw Arts and all that’s happening in the Downtown Lynn Cultural District.” Lynn is one of only six cities in the state to sign a Cultural Compact with the Massachusetts Cultural Council, formalizing its commitment that municipal leaders and the arts community will make culture a transformative force in the city.
“It’s good to see that the president of a great college like Montserrat also sees the good things happening here, between the shows at the Auditorium, our community movies like ‘Selma’ for Martin Luther King Day, the theater productions at Arts After Hours, the galleries at LynnArts and throughout the city, the Museum, Beyond Walls … there’s a lot happening.”
McGee praised the staff at RAW and its students. “There is a lot of talent there. It’s wonderful that Montserrat gives students the chance to draw on their expertise and take the next step toward art as a career.”
Jo Broderick, dean of College Relations at Montserrat, said Montserrat staff has also met with Brickyard Collaborative principals and are very impressed with its makerspace plans. “We see some great opportunities to collaborate with them,” she said.
Montserrat College of Art celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2020. Nahant sculptor Reno “Ray” Pisano is its last living founding faculty member.