“It Mattered Then,” reads one of Anna Dugan’s two colorful, typography-rich slates. “It Matters Now,” says the other. They are vivid, highly designed chalk works that hang in the basement of Dugan Hall.
Dugan, a 2013 art & design graduate who lives in Salem with her music teacher husband Danny (a ’14 graduate in music), was invited back to campus by Prof. Jehanne-Marie Gavarini to be the first to render chalk designs on two of the historic slate blackboards (circa 1897) that were uncovered during the renovation of Coburn Hall. The restored chalkboards will hang in the basement of Dugan, to be used by students for either classwork or free expression, Gavarini says.
“I am glad these historical blackboards that have been used as teaching and learning tools by several generations of faculty and students will remain on campus,” says Gavarini. “It’s wonderful to know that they will now be used by student artists.”
Gavarini also invited Dugan to speak to art students about life after college. Dugan is a pro with chalk and has a budding business working in the impermanent medium.
Struggling to find a message for the boards, Dugan decided to speak to the need for art in higher education.
Her UMass Lowell education made all the difference to her, Dugan says. But it was a circuitous path that brought her here.
Dugan was seduced by art. In 2008, she was a freshman business major at Assumption College, largely to appease her parents, with whom she lived in Methuen. Her grades were fine, but she didn’t love business. She did love an elective, an introductory painting class.
“The day before I was supposed to go back after the break, I said, ‘I’m not going back. I transferred all my credits to UMass Lowell – where I am going for art.’”
Her parents were shocked. An artist, asked her mother? “You’ll be living in a cardboard box for the rest of your life.”
“It’ll be the prettiest box you’ll ever see,” replied Dugan.
Dugan took a drawing class when she arrived on campus, and it changed her future.
“I was in love,” she says.
After graduation, Dugan worked in a variety of jobs while finding her art niche.
Tired of one job and the commute to Boston, she wound up doing chalkboard menus at a Salem restaurant, Gulu-Gulu Café. In a project she dubbed 100 Days of Gulu, she executed at least one chalk drawing for the restaurant each day for 100 days.
It caught traction on Instagram.
“The beauty of chalk is, it was meant to be erased,” says Dugan. “I wasn’t afraid to try something different, and if I hate what I do, it’ll be gone in 24 hours.”
She now gets commissions for chalk designs. A condo place in Lynn. A building on State Street in Boston. A pet spa.
Drawing on the lessons she’s learned as a working artist, Dugan encouraged and challenged the students as they lean into their future.
“I challenge you to challenge yourself,” she told the class. “Be accountable to yourself. It’s hard work to keep creative. Use what is available to you. Things will happen.”