Brand-new logo, $75,000; MICA's explanation, priceless

The Baltimore Sun

The prestigious art school that spent a year studying a comma has devoted another to three lines.

The art school formerly known as the Maryland Institute, College of Art, and currently known as Maryland Institute College of Art, has, with help from a renowned international design firm, come up with a logo that makes its debut today. It amounts to three straight lines, inserted between the letters M-I-C-A.

A word to anyone out there from The-Emperor-is-Buck-Naked school of art criticism, the ones who think their toddlers can splatter as well as Jackson Pollock: These are not just any lines. First of all, two are vertical, and one is angled.

"The rules between the letters offer a visual reference to the architecture of the College's two most visible buildings: the 1907 Main Building ... and the 2003 Brown Center, a crystalline glass structure," a school news release says. "The logo's rhythmic lines echo the juxtaposition of the classical Italianate structure (Main) and the linear geometry of the building designed by Charles Brickbauer (Brown). The angled line specifically recalls the distinctive 'prow' of Brown Center's facade."

I got all that at first glance, didn't you?

The logo was created by Abbott Miller of Pentagram. (Another of the firm's projects: Creation of a Potemkin village for Disney's Celebration housing development, which I know sounds redundant. It created a "temporary sales center wrapped in flat, full-scale watercolor renderings of potential homes, complete with real front yards and fences," according to the firm's Web site.)

Asked about the news release description of the logo, Miller laughed and said it was "sort of a blend of my design-speak and their institution-speak."

Miller was good enough to explain it again, this time in English. He said the logo is supposed to suggest a mix of old and new, just like the architecture on campus. Some variations also incorporate patterns drawn from traditional and modern building materials.

The school spent $75,000 on the logo's design and implementation. It's not saying how much of that cost was the design, versus the printing of banners, new letterhead and such. Miller, who, like his wife Ellen Lupton, teaches at the school, said he gave MICA a good deal.

The 'Tute toots its own horn

MICA's new logo is part of the school's long quest to "brand" itself as MICA. Or, put another way:

"The logo marks the culmination of a seven-year evolution of Maryland Institute College of Art's nomenclature system towards valuing the acronym, MICA, as the College's primary identifier," the news release says.

The release goes on to say that the school, founded in 1826 as The Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, has been known by many names. "Many alumni, as well as long-time faculty, staff, and friends, still refer to the College as 'the Institute,' or even 'the 'Tute.'"

The 'Tute? Would art school types, people who are all about symbolism and double meanings, really use a nickname that evokes the latter half of artsy-fartsy?

Jefferson Jackson Steele, a freelance photographer and MICA grad, admits to using 'Tute, but only rarely and among friends.

"It's sort of an inside thing," he said. "It's like any other long-winded sounding name. It keeps getting shorter and shorter."

But Steele isn't convinced the whole comma-nixing, acronym-pushing strategy is the way to go. "You don't hear Harvard calling itself 'Harv.'"

A little fixer-upper funding for Lord Baltimore's digs

A tight state budget doesn't mean Maryland can't spare $670,000 for a drafty old mansion in England. Or rather, stables at the mansion.

Before taxpayers get on the horn to Senate President Mike Miller, whose two earmark-y additions to the capital budget will benefit Kiplin Hall, they should know that the place has a special link to the state.

Kiplin Hall was built in the 1620s by George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore and founder of Maryland. And Marylanders who don't get a kick out of stately ancestral homes might see the value in a more modern link: The University of Maryland runs a program there on historic preservation, urbanism and design.

The money will help expand and improve sleeping quarters, a classroom, dining room and other facilities in the former stables for the 150 University of Maryland students who study there each year.

Miller placed two "local Senate initiatives" into the capital budget to benefit the place. One provides a $170,000 grant. The other converts a $500,000 matching grant - awarded a couple years ago - into a no-strings-attached grant, since the matching funds on the other end didn't materialize.

(That means the $500,000 isn't considered "new" money that comes out of the current budget. But hey, it's still on this side of the Atlantic.)

A history buff, Miller has visited Kiplin Hall several times - on his own dime, he notes. And he thinks it's money well spent.

"It's Lord Baltimore. This was their home," Miller said. "We have very close ties to these people."

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