Dawn Nye
Associate Professor of Art

M.F.A., Cranbrook Academy of Art
B.A., University of Missouri–St. Louis

“People here embrace the idea of liberal arts, and they also embrace contemporary art. We engage traditional media and ideas, but nobody here is going to say that a graphic novel, a zombie film or a performance can’t be art,” said UMF Associate Art Professor Dawn Nye.

The University of Maine at Farmington Art program is progressive, very different from the programs at most other smaller schools, according to Nye.

“We are engaging a contemporary idea of what can be art as our students move forward,” Nye said.

Interactive Media

Nye specializes in teaching Interactive Media (sometimes called New Media), which for UMF students includes video, web, animation and digital print projects. Interactive Media describes the art that has developed since the last half of the 20th century, which can include everything from artists who use video to artists working with DNA, according to Nye.

“Students coming here will learn more than video editing software. They are going to learn to think about art in a bigger way — to look outside the things we do in the art studio and how it connects to the world,” Nye said. “In my classes we talk about art as this ongoing intellectual, emotional, social, political dialogue that has been going on between people and cultures for thousands of years.”

“Most of my classes have about 15 students, and that means I can spend a lot of time with each student. I can get beyond teaching just the software and the technology,” Nye said. “I can sit down with students talking about their ideas, their vision, and their perspective. If there are no ideas then there’s no reason to create the project.”

“I’m interested in my students’ development as artists. I require them to know their tools and to have an ease with them so they can accomplish their goals.”

The Art Lab

“The wonderful thing about Interactive Media is that you have access to amazing tools — the means of production — you can make anything as long as you’re willing to put the work in and be resourceful,” Nye said.

The UMF Art Lab gives students access to the tools needed for Interactive Media from the latest hardware and software to green screen technology and large-format, high-quality digital printers.

“We can’t turn out only traditional painters. We need to develop artists who are also programmers, film editors, and web designers, so our students can find their niche in the creative economy,” Nye said.

Student film and animation works are featured in the annual campus Pixel Hunter Video and Animation Festival. Nye has also submitted her students’ work to the Maine International Film Festival. Students whose films were selected attended the festival and participated in an artist’s talk with the audience after their films were shown.

Creative Living After Graduation

“I recently talked to one of my former students. She graduated in 2007 and is now working as a set designer for stop motion films at Bent Image Labs in Oregon,” Nye said.

One UMF grad is the designer and music editor of the Dispatch magazine, a print and Web portal for events in Maine and New Hampshire. Another graduate won entrance into the highly competitive California Institute of the Arts graduate program. Another is a grant writer at The Telling Room, an arts organization in Portland, Maine that focuses on oral storytelling and children’s workshops.

“One of our graduates was accepted into the Portland Museum of Art Biennial, which is amazing. The Portland Biennial showcases the best contemporary artists and it’s not easy to be selected. I’ve applied and haven’t gotten in, but my student was accepted and I’m incredibly proud of him,” Nye said. A recent Biennial attracted 900 art entries; only 65 pieces were included in the juried show.

“I have had students in national exhibitions even before they graduated. Our students are working in creative jobs and going on to graduate school; they’re competitive in jobs and school placement,” Nye added.

Student Art Studios

Senior House is a building on campus where students have 24-hour access to their individual art studio during their fourth year. Once about every six weeks, the Art faculty will spend a day critiquing works-in-progress, she added. “We felt if we were going to ask our students to be more ambitious, we needed to support them.”

“The Senior House is something we really worked for, because when students are taking on these more substantial projects during their senior year they need the space. Students have used their studios for installations, or large-scale paintings or to create a set for film.”

Zombie Film Class

“I always wanted to construct a class around the idea of zombies. They are such a rich metaphor for conflict — they are ‘us against us’ and ‘us against them.’ Zombie films are such a great example of how the things we make reflect our fears, limitations and hopes, even if they are fiction,” Nye said.

Recently, Nye realized her goal by co-teaching a Zombie Film class with UMF Theater faculty member Jayne Decker.

“We decided this would be a great opportunity — the students were really excited about it — the idea of the zombie is socio-political. All of these films have variations, but there are some common themes like mistrust of government, mistrust of science and mistrust of authority,” Nye said. “The zombie film speaks to our fears of extinction.”

“We opened it to all majors and found people who were interested in acting, filmmaking, writing and sound tech. We found some very creative students from across campus,” Nye said.

Nye and her students spent the first week looking at zombie films, how the contemporary zombie was formed by filmmaker George Romero and reviewing the older mythology. Then the class was divided into three groups to create separate films. One group actually did a series of three shorts. Films ranged from 15 to 30 minutes long, so each group made sizable pieces, Nye said.

“The students wrote the scripts, created storyboards to visualize the action, recorded the sound, recruited actors, did make-up and edited their work.” Nye said. “We even had a make-up artist, a UMF graduate, work with the students.”

“They had great ideas, but limited time and resources. That’s important for students to know — even when you’re working professionally, you don’t have unlimited resources — you have to get results and stay within your budget,” Nye said.

“It’s funny because after we did our Zombie Film course, I noticed a lot of other universities starting to develop courses about the zombie,” Nye said.

An Artist and a Teacher

Before coming to Maine, Nye was a successful graphic designer who also pursued her own art. A collaborative artwork made with artist Katrazyna Randall for a benefit for Hurricane Katrina victims, garnered Nye an invitation to apply to UMF. She and Randall made a joint application, were hired and continue to co-create artwork.

“I hadn’t planned on returning to teaching, but I loved the idea of a public liberal arts university where students have access to a strong liberal arts education that isn’t just oriented to one particular craft or job, especially in our society where things change so much — students need a robust education,” Nye said.