March 21, 2018

by Bob Keyes

PORTSMOUTH – Today’s world is layered with information and images. Technology evolves, paradigms shift and economies grow and retract. To sort it out and react to opportunities, companies are seeking to fill their ranks with the best and brightest.

Oftentimes, that means hiring artists, says Annette Cohen, a longtime professor of fine art at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth.

Artists are creative problem solvers, who are trained to reach large numbers of people across a variety of media. Artists embrace technology, are unafraid of change and, because of the nature of their creativity, are accustomed to feedback and criticism, which makes them good listeners and team players, Cohen said.

She is working to elevate the role of the arts at Great Bay, and expand the school’s emphasis on STEM education – science, technology, engineering and math – to STEAM — all of those things, as well as the arts. In today’s world, a good arts program goes hand-in-hand with good science and math, she said.

“The myth of the starving is artist is just that, a myth in the 21st century,” said Cohen. “There opportunities for artists to thrive in a variety of industries. Creative thinking and problem solving are not things that can be automated.”

Great Bay’s fine arts and digital media programs are thriving. Cohen has taught at the college for 18 years, and built the program from a single class into a two-year degree program with transfer opportunities. The college offers associate degrees in fine arts and digital design, and both are designed to transfer to four-year institutions. Great Bay has articulation agreements with several New England colleges, and Cohen works closely with area businesses to keep the program current, including Square360, Relyco, Mad Pow and Nessit LLC.

In addition, the Robert Lincoln Levy Gallery, Prevention Innovation, B2W Software and the Gigunda Group request interns from Great Bay’s art program, Cohen said.

Representatives of those organizations serve on college advisory, review and curriculum committees, assist with portfolio reviews and act as mentors to students.

The school offers studio classes in drawing, painting and sculpture, and courses in typography, color theory and design, art history and others. There are about 20 art majors at Great Bay, and many more students take classes in the program as part of their studies.

The digital design program teaches graphic design and some video and animation. Taken in conjunction with the computer technologies degree in programming, a student can prepare for a career in game programming and many other fields. Digital design is a growing field in New England, and is a general term that encompasses web design, graphic design, video editing, digital marketing, illustration and concept art.

“Digital media is the obvious career path if one is interested in pursuing the most marketable skill,” Cohen said. “However, there is also museum studies, animation and video, public art such as murals, mosaics and sculpture, teaching, working with interior designers and architects, marketing and being a studio artist.”

Lindsey Gagnon graduated in 2015 with an associate’s degree in Digital Media Communications. Great Bay was a perfect fit for Gagnon, who grew up and still lives in Somersworth, where she works as marketing and events manager at the Greater Somersworth Chamber of Commerce.

She became interested in digital media in high school, and became interested in Great Bay when, through the Running Start Program, some of her credits transferred from her digital media classes, giving her a jumpstart on her college career. “That really sold me on Great Bay, and instilled in me even more that this was something I wanted to do,” she said.

Further, Great Bay offered classes at night, enabling Gagnon to work a part-time job in her field and take an internship while studying. “Great Bay made it work well for me,” she said. “I graduated without debt and stepped right into a job in my field.”

Gagnon, 23, recently bought a house in Somersworth, where she is active on several volunteer boards and committees, including one commission that is charged with redesigning a prominent business plaza near the heart of downtown. She was president of the Somersworth Festival Association for several of her college years and now manages their website, and helped in marketing and managing the expansion of the holiday parade that now involves both Somersworth and Berwick as it did years ago.

In her job with the chamber, she established the city’s first food truck and craft beer festival. She also recently helped her mother open a new business in Somersworth, assisting with marketing and communications. In addition to her digital design coursework, Gagnon took hospitality classes at Great Bay, and studied event management and marketing. Between her work with the chamber and her volunteer service, Gagnon uses her Great Bay coursework and degree every day and in every way.

“Everything I learned at Great Bay dovetails into what I do today,” she said.

Emily Burr will graduate with an associate’s degree in the fine arts in May. She hopes to work in illustrative design, and is considering using her degree as a transfer tool to a four-year school. Among the schools she is considering is Maine College of Art in Portland. She also is thinking about staying at Great Bay to learn graphic arts through the digital media program. “Learning more about design is only going to bolster my skills in fine arts,” she said.

Like Gagnon, Burr recommends Great Bay and its arts program because of its flexibility and the college’s willingness to work individually with students. “I also liked that the classes were laid out in a way where people new to art could learn the basics, others with more experience  could really delve into new and interesting challenges,” Burr said. “Everything about the school, from the finances to the learning itself, has opened up a future I didn’t think was possible: a life spent pursuing art and design.”

Registration for the summer and fall semesters at GBCC opens on April 9th for new students. For a list of classes, visit

About Great Bay Community College

Great Bay Community College is a comprehensive postsecondary institution offering quality academic and professional and technical education in support of workforce development and lifelong learning. Great Bay Community College is part of the Community College System of New Hampshire, a public system of higher education consisting of seven colleges in Berlin, Claremont, Laconia, Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth.  The colleges offer Associate degrees and career training in technical, professional and general fields, including transfer pathways to baccalaureate degrees. The college’s second campus, the Advanced Technology & Academic Center is now open in Rochester offering academic courses and a degree program in Advanced Composites Manufacturing.   For more information on Great Bay Community College, visit