Donna Galluzzo, Executive Director, Salt Institute

Donna Galluzzo, Executive Director of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at the school's custom-designed Congress Street headquarters. (© Brian Fitzgerald/Fitzgerald Photo)

 

Editor’s Note: Donna Galluzzo has steered the Salt Institute since 2003, guiding it through a big physical move to a new space at 561 Congress Street and helping it transition from film and tape to digital cameras and recorders.   Galluzzo, a Maine transplant who has lived here off and on since 1981,  is focused on making sure that Salt continues a tradition of producing amazing stories and storytellers. 

 

 

IP:  Can you give us your bio, the bare-bones version?
DG: I moved to Maine in ’94 and I went to Salt in fall of ’97.   I was working working a bunch of part-time jobs and working on my masters part-time.  I took a little detour and came to Salt.  After I left, Pam Wood, Salt’s founder, called me in 2000 and asked me if I wanted to come here to work.  I think I literally held the phone away from my head and looked at it kinda like, ‘you sure you meant to call me? ‘and I came in to talk to her.

IP:  So it was a surprise?
DG:  It was really a shock, I have to say.   I came in and talked with them and I decided not to take the full-time opportunity.   I said I’d like to be here part-time and to contribute in any way that I could, so they hired me on to help with photography which was wet process back then.  Pretty shortly after I was here Pam stepped down as the executive director and a bunch of us took a more active role in running the institute.  I was one of those people.  By 2003 I was appointed as the interim executive director by the board and then eventually fulll executive director that fall.

IP:  Has Salt expanded?  I know you’ve moved.
DG:  It was a big move from Exchange Street to here.  We were never intending to expand the student base so we haven’t done that.  We still don’t intend to do that.  The only thing we hope in the future is to really increase our applicant pool.  We’d love the opportunity to be even more selective with our students.
IP:  Talk about the different tracks.
DG:  We have three tracks:  radio, non-fiction writing and photography.   We’re trying to introduce multimedia storytelling, almost as a fourth track.  We’re really struggling with how much theory we want in that class versus how much practice and product we want the students to make, but we definitely want to embrace the idea of multimedia.

IP:  Why are you a good fit here?
DG:  Two reasons.  For my position as executtive director I think I’m a good fit because I have a background both in the corporate worlds and the for-profit worlds and a lot of background in education in the non-profit world.  For me over the years I’ve really called upon the strengths from those two places a lot.  That’s been very helpful in making me be sucessful here.  Another reason iIm a good fit is that I like change.  While I’m at the helm I’m always going to push Salt to keep changing and growing and I think ultimately that’s a good thing.

IP:  Would you say Salt has changed more now—with the move, and the shift to digital—than at any time in the past?
DG:  Yeah, I would say definitely say that  in the last couple of years, moving here there was a huge change.  We finally changed from wet process to digital photography.  We’ve introduced multimedia storytelling.  We’ve upgraded our equipment;  everything is a much higher grade of technology.  We’re using digital more in all three tracks.   That was one of the exciting things about moving here because we had the means to do that.  I think in the three years that we’ve been here there has probably been more change in those three years than in the previous 15 or 20, to be honest.

IP:  It seems like you guys are in a stronger position now.  That the move was a positive and not something you had to do.
DG:  I think people were trying to figure out was it our death knell, or if this was a good thing.  There’s no doubt about it in my mind:   it was one of the best things Salt could have done. That [Exchange Street] building was great.  It  was very charming but it needed so much work inside and out and we needed to really upgrade all of our technology…and we owned the building. Selling the building was a great real estate move; we couldn’t have planned it any better.    It gave us the financial capital to upgrade the technology, put some money away, and to start saving money to continue to help Salt in the future, and then we were able to custom design the space and upgrade our technology so we feel like we can prepare our students to leave here and start to work if they want to…or go to some terrific masters’ level programs.  With the move here and the changing technology and what weve been able to give our student body, we’ve just better prepared them for what’s out there. And that was our goal.

IP:  Let’s back up a bit.  You came here in 1994 to go to school.  Where?
DG:  I did my undergrad here, yep. At Colby (College), from 1981 to 1984.  I fell in love with Maine.  I didn’t know much about Portland.  I fell in love with Maine and I thought, I’m going to make it back here.
IP:  What did you do after graduation?
DG:   I left Colby and went back home to New York. I taught third grade in the South Bronx and that to date remains my greatest educational experieence.  It was a huge, huge learning experience. Amazing for a young person of 21 to be thrown in to that.   I learned so much about myself and a lot of life came at me.  It was also the time in the early ’80s where crack had just exploded in the New York City areas and it was really bad right there.  Spanish Harlem and the South Bronx were some of the first early big drug busts and my kids all came from really hard family situations.

IP:  How different from Maine.
DG: You know, funny though, in the extreme urban and the extreme rural areas you do find some similarities and I think even back then I was able to see a little bit of that.  It’s funny, kids are afraid of different things and they’re surprised at what they’re afraid of.  My city kids were really afraid of the quiet of the woods.  They were literally afraid. Not bored or anything, but it scared them. They didn’t know what to do with that.  The country kids were just completely scared of the bigness of the city.  But they all dealt with their fear in the same way.  A kid scared is a kid scared.  There’s some consistency there as to how you calm them, how you deal with that.  It was a really crazy time. I loved it, but it was so hard. I kind of wish I could redo it. There have been many times in my life when I wished I could redo that year. They invited me to come back.  I moved to Washington, D.C. and started working for Merrill Lynch after that.

IP:  You changed your path.
DG:  I changed my path.  I think it was just a little too much at too young an age.
IP:  So you got burned out.
DG:  It was crazy, yeah. I was overwhelmed but Ialways stayed—even when I was with Merrill—I always stayed working in the education field somehow. I was in corporate training and I actually worked for Outward Bound after Merrill Lynch.

IP:  What made you come back to Portland?
DG:  I was finishing up my Masters in Education and like so many people even that come here today, I  was taking a couple of photo classes.  I saw a poster advertising Salt in a photo lab.  I thought, ‘that’s the kind of photography I want to do’.  My photography wasn’t strong at all, and I know that—and even today we’re still like this—what got me in was about my passion for wanting to do this, the drive that I showed. I wound up doing my Masters thesis as a documentary photography project.  I spent two years and documented survivors of domestic violence. I photographed people around New England.  I was really more interested in people who survived and thrived.

IP:  How would you describe what you do to a five year old?
DG: I feel like I have a hand ultimately in everything that goes on here. I could be working on the budget one minute and literally be changing a light bulb the next minute.
IP:  Can you simplify that?
DG:  That’s hard.  I feel like I’m part of the glue that keeps the whole place together.

IP:  You mentioned you grew up in New York City.  Where exactly?
DG:  Just outside of the city. Ossining, New York. It’s home to Sing Sing Prison. My grandfather was a guard there for 50 years.   I always say my hometown reminds me a lot of the city of Portland.  It has a sense of community and Portland has a very strong sense of community.

IP:  How would you describe Portland?
DG:  It’s a really manageable city.  It has great food and culture.  People can really be themeselves here;  it’s very welcoming and accepting.  it’s personal.  You can get to know people here, which I love.

IP:  What do you see hapening in Portland in the next year or two?
DG: I’m so glad Salt moved to the Arts District because I think specifically there’s going to be a lot of growth in this area.  I think this area of the city is starting to change and grow at a more rapid rate and Portland is continuing to grow a terrific reputation as a town that’s very culturally appealing.   The city is very appealing to our student body who, generally speaking,  are in their 20s.   If there were more employment opportunities a lot of our students would stay in town. They really like Portland as a city.
IP:  Is that one thing you’d wish for the city?
DG:  I’d definitely wish that for the city.  Absolutely.
IP:  It seems like everyone here patches together jobs in order to stay in Portland.
DG:  Absolutely.  I did it for years.  Until I became executive director for Salt, I was always working two or three jobs. And that is very common in Maine and even in Portland still.  It’s fun for me now to bump into people who knew me as a waitress at Katahdin [Restaurant].

IP:  Do you think Portland will ever explode in size?
DG:  I don’t know.  I don’t know if it really wants to explode.

IP:  Changing gears, what are you carrying in your pockets?
DG:  Absolutely nothing.

IP:  What’s something not generally known about you?
DG:  I like to—in the quiet of my own house with my partner—do lots of impressions.  Accents.  I can be good at doing a lot of accents, but I won’t do any.

IP:  What time do you wake up and go to bed?
DG:  I like to wake up really early and be at work by 7 or 7:15.  I can be a night owl as well.  I don’t need a whole lot of sleep.
IP:  So you don’t go to bed early?
DG:  No,Ii don’t tend to go to bed early.  I don’t like to miss anything.  So I’m to bed late and up early.

IP:  Why are you successful?
DG:  People say of me that I’m good at networking and I think that’s true.  I think I’ve done so many jobs that I’m good at networking and connecting with people in my community and putting people together,  and that’s helped me to be successful.  My friends tell me that I’m typically pretty steady and calm.  That’s served me well here in Portland.

IP:  If I wasn’t here what would you be doing?
DG:  It’s towards the end of the semester so I’d be bouncing around a lot.  This is the point of the semester where I’m connecting with the students a little bit more and today I’m editing and proofing some text blocks for the gallery.  Just a whole potpourri of things.

IP:  Are there any stories you’ve seen that are in development right now that you’re excited to see?
DG:  I know in the writing track, one of the students is writing about the Branding of Maine and I’m curious to see how that comes out.  One of the students in the writing track is writing about happiness.  To me that’s sort of pushing the edge of what we do here in creative non-fiction, and so I’m very curious to see that piece as well.  One of the things I love about the photography this semester is that is has a different aesthetic than it has traditionally for Salt in the past. I’m exited about that. We’re pushing the envelope of how you define visual documentary, so people who are coming to the show this year are going to see some different work.

IP:  Why is Maine so conducive to documentary?
DG: You can find just about anything here. There are so many interesting stories.  People are so welcoming here.  They’ll let you in…which is great for us as a documentary institute. I used to have this theory that border states were really interesting places.  Maine carries some of that.  It’s kind of the outer edge, the frontier, of the U.S. and I think there’s something unique about people who live on those edges.  Figuratively and literally, we live on the edgge here.  We’re just a little heartier.  The weather’s jut a little more challenging than it is in other places.  The people have to cull together from different jobs to make a living.  There’s something to that and Maine reflects that.  It’s a great place.

 

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