“In some ways, this is a restart,” says Montserrat College of Art president Stephen Immerman, with respect to the decision to keep Artrageous!31, the school’s 31st annual benefit auction, on the small side. The event’s popularity has grown to such a degree that finding a space large enough to accommodate it is difficult. This year’s fundraiser was capped at roughly 450 guests—in the past, they have hosted over 1,000, which, as Immerman points out, makes for one heck of a party, but it’s not cost-effective. It is, after all, a fundraiser. Going forward, the plan is to form a partnership to secure a size-appropriate venue each year. To that end, they are working with North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT)—the place where it all began, nearly 50 years ago.
The theme for Artrageous!31 was “Back to Our Roots,” a reference to the fact that the college was founded on the campus of NSMT, where it operated for 22 years. “We started at the music theater, so it’s symbolically important,” notes Immerman, adding that the venue, in combination with the college’s recent decision to operate independent of Salem State University, makes this year’s auction something special.
Immerman, as informed by four of the founding members, tells the story of the original school—the brainchild of eight Cape Ann artists, the majority of whom worked in Boston at the time. The impetus for finding a space and starting the school was a late-night car accident; the sleep-deprived routine of driving in from the city was clearly taking its toll. So, they bid it adieu in favor of opening an art school.
Their approach to art education was novel for the early ’70s, when students were expected to follow a kind of “lineage model,” whereby they learned the techniques and histories of their professors. Instead, the founders encouraged students to tell their own stories using materials and methods of their choosing. “It was an idealistic and wonderfully American kind of vision of self-empowerment,” enthuses Immerman. “[They were] creating the next generation of artists and designers.” Those guiding principles are still at the core of the curriculum.
Immerman notes the awe and pride today’s students feel around Artrageous! Many are called to submit work for possible inclu-sion. “In years past, some of the highest-selling pieces have come from young artists,” he notes. “That always generates an enormous amount of excitement and real thrill [at the auction].” Students also participate as paid employees. “For all students,” says Immerman, “I think it’s important to have a sense of work and being part of a team…. It’s a real campus affair—everybody pitches in in some way or another.”
Each year, the faculty, staff, trustees, and council discuss at length what it is they hope to achieve with the annual benefit.
“We think about it very carefully, especially this year, with the change in scope and focus,” says Immerman. Regardless of the theme, venue, or number of attendees, the goal remains constant: Raise the funds needed to support the 99 percent of students who need aid to earn their degree. Montserrat has a history of working with students who come from less-advantaged backgrounds—both financially and in terms of knowing how to harness their talent and turn it into a career-making skill set. “One of our greatest strengths,” explains Immerman, “is helping to focus students who may not necessarily know what the options and alternatives are in the world of art and design. There’s so much work to be had, but most students don’t realize the depth and breadth of opportunities. Our job is to help them figure out how to enter the professional field.”
Most of the students work part time in addition to tackling a rigorous curriculum, made all the more so by the required studio time.
“These are very serious, motivated, and talented young people,” says Immerman with audible respect.
“Every day they’ve got to get up and, whether the muse strikes or not, they need to produce.”
Another of the school’s responsibilities is to ensure students remain on the cutting edge. The digitized nature of the contemporary art world demands that the college keep its software programs up-to-date—a major expense.
All told, Montserrat is highly personalized, labor-intensive, and expensive—the very reason Artrageous! is so vital in its mission and nature. “The scholarships are absolutely central to what…produces truly transformational and remarkable results,” says Immerman, adding that it is a great privilege to be able to offer such an esteemed education.
It’s fair to say that downtown Beverly’s designation as a cultural arts district can be, in large part, attributed to the school. Mark Glovsky, a former Montserrat Trustees chair and longtime attendee of the auction, believes that “Montserrat College is to Beverly what the Peabody Essex Museum is to Salem.” It can certainly be argued that Montserrat is the pulse of the art-loving community’s heart.
North Shore Music Theatre
62 Dunham Road, Beverly