Spotlight Alumni

Melissa Weglein '19 MAT ’20


Melissa Weglien

You have a very unique trajectory for an MAT graduate, securing this job as Learning and Community Collaboration Coordinator for Portland Museum of Art. What attracted you to this position and what path did you take to get there?

I had an interest in alternative settings for art education prior to starting the MAT program. This includes teaching in museums, after school centers, and art education outside of the traditional art classroom. In 2020, I was running summer programming for a camp and as the summer was ending and kids were going back to school, I needed to look for full-time work in my field. This position with the Portland Museum of Art opened up right when I needed it to and it was an opportunity to get into museum education on an entry level.

We offer free tours for any educational groups, be it homeschool, preschool, public, private, college, university, or adult learning. I coordinate our accessibility resources, which includes arranging for ASL interpreters for our public programming, helping define our interpretation, working with a community dialogue specialist, and ensuring multilingual interpretation for a lot of our exhibitions. I’m making sure that we are communicating the needs and the intricacies of our facilities to these schools.

Transitioning from an academic environment to the workplace, especially with a workload like yours, can be daunting. Can you talk about how the MAT program and experience prepared you for that?

The way that I approach setting up the classroom, working with students, designing a program—it’s drawn directly from my values developed in the MAT program. Part of the reason that I was hired was because of my experience in teaching. The PMA needed an experienced teacher who was willing to work with them and help develop the program there. The administrative skills and teaching skills I gained from the MAT program set me up to be successful in my role.

Looking at the pillars of the MAT program, you have collaboration, studio practice, eclecticism, and experiential learning in the field. That’s a lot to develop and maintain all within a 10-month timeframe.

I graduated with a BFA from Maine College of Art & Design and went directly from there into my master’s studies. The way that I approached my BFA was very eclectic. I took as many intro level classes as I could all the way through senior year because I wanted to collect skills and be as varied as possible. Going into the MAT program, I was already prepared to balance the learning, teaching, community organizing, and administrative work because of my education. It was obviously a heavier workload and a lot more intense than the BFA experience, but I was already practiced in juggling all of those balls and was skilled at figuring out how to have one relate to the other.

Through the MAT program, how were you able to nurture the artist and the arts educator inside you? Do you think that those aspects of yourself still exist individually or, do they compliment each other more now?

After graduate school, my personal practice changed a lot and it can sometimes be hard to keep up with for many different reasons. Every time you go through a major transition in life, things like that tend to fall to the wayside. When I would change jobs or something major would happen in my life, sometimes my practice would fall away or change. What I’ve realized is that I still enjoy making. I personally have a lot of nervous energy that I need to channel somehow. I use all of the skills that I’ve collected and I am thinking about color, thinking about making, and thinking about why I want to make things and how I want to make them. A lot of people can get bogged down in the transition from being a student artist to having to go out and earn a living and some aren’t necessarily as lucky to work in a field or job that really fuels them. It’s important to keep that practice of making when you have time so that you can still feed your need for creativity.

What advice do you have for anyone who’s considering a career in arts education and why is Maine College of Art & Design such an appealing choice?

Know your values as an artist, know your values as an educator, and teach from that. I think there is an emphasis for art teachers to be the holders of all the information, and I realized in my own practice that I don’t know everything and I don’t have the capacity to learn everything. So positioning myself as someone who runs experiments and learns in the process and learns with my students was very important for me.

As far as choosing Maine College of Art & Design, the amount of experimentation in the program and the different voices that they bring into teaching helps you to discover what your values are and you know what you like in a classroom versus what you don’t like. I really admire how they hold classroom education in alternative settings in such high regard. There is just as much value in community education as there is in classroom education, and I really appreciated that that was part of the curriculum. I didn’t feel like if I wasn’t in the classroom, I wasn’t a teacher because we had voices from all across the field informing our education in the MAT program.