NHIA merger talk on hold, for now
School seeking support from its staff
The N.H. Institute of Art, which absorbed the Sharon Arts Center in 2012, announced a week ago that lackluster enrollment has put the college in a financial hole, and it is speaking with Southern New Hampshire University in Hookset about merging with them.
The Sharon Arts Center, meanwhile, has received assurances from NHIA’s acting president, Rick Strawbridge, that little will change on the Sharon campus and at its art gallery in Peterborough.
But Sharon Arts professors indicated they aren’t well-informed about the talks of possible merger with Southern New Hampshire. They are also worried about SAC maintaining its unique character.
Sharon Art’s Campus Director Camellia Sousa said Tuesday that Strawbridge reassured her that Sharon Arts will continue to be part of NHIA. Sousa said Strawbridge also said not much will change with Sharon Arts’ community education, its art gallery, or its Master of Fine Arts program.
In a press release issued Aug. 22, NHIA excerpted a statement it distributed to its faculty and staff the same day, noting the number of students enrolling in the college had slowed down unexpectedly, because of competition with other colleges for prospective students and other “unforeseen factors.” If they don’t increase the number of students enrolled from 500 to 650 students in five years, NHIA said they will “face the real risk of being unable to continue fulfilling the mission to which we are all committed.”
NHIA said they could try to hurdle this problem alone, or they could merge with SNHU. NHIA said it would be easier to partner with SNHU, but they are aware of the concerns the faculty and staff have expressed. NHIA has slowed down merger talks until they can vet the plan with staff and faculty, according to the recent NHIA press release . NHIA, meanwhile, is implementing a plan to increase enrollment in the next five years and review their finances. They are also resuming the search for a new president, Roger Williams having retired last year. Strawbridge is one of 11 candidates.
When asked if Sharon Arts’ Master of Fine Arts program could play a role in attracting more students, Strawbridge said Tuesday “very much so,” and that it would financially help NHIA.
He added that a larger graduate program in Sharon won’t take away Sharon Arts’ connection to the Peterborough and Sharon communities. The MFA students are only required to be on campus 20 days a year.
Strawbridge said NHIA is also looking to add one more certificate degree program to their SAC campus. They would also like to have the same price structure for community classes in Sharon and Peterborough as that of Manchester.
About NHIA’s possible merger with SNHU, Sharon Arts faculty member Joy Raskin said she has “mixed feelings” and that it is a “worry how it’s going to affect all of us faculty and students.” Raskin of Bedford was a staff member at NHIA for seven years until she parted ways with them. She has taught jewelry making at SAC for 11 years. “When I found out SAC was merging with NHIA, I wasn’t too happy to be back at NHIA,” Raskin said. “I know SAC was saved by the merger, but I worry about SAC losing its quirky regional flavor.”
Sharon Arts photography teacher Gyaki Bonsu-Anane said he has mostly heard about all the changes second hand, and that it’s like being “blindsided constantly.” He has taught at the Sharon campus for almost six years. He also works at the Peterborough Camera Shop. Bonsu-Anane thinks Sharon Arts should do a better job of promoting itself in the Peterborough area.
Eight-year writing professor at Sharon Arts Pam Bernard said a merger is a merger. I guess ultimately I don’t want to see it changed,” she said. “Certainly not change that’s going to take away its specialness.”