Growing up in rural Maine, Annie Aviles learned there are stories to tell on every corner. As the new chairwoman of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at Maine College of Art, it’s her job to train people to tell those stories and help revamp a documentary education program that was on the verge of closing before merging with MECA last year.

“I was always fascinated by where we live and all the different stories I saw here,” said Aviles, who grew up in a small town on the midcoast. “Maine is very homogeneous in some ways, but in other ways it’s incredibly diverse. At a young person, I recognized that and was curious about it. That’s what made me want to do this work.”

Ian Anderson, MECA’s dean and vice president of academic affairs, announced the hiring Tuesday morning.

Annie Avilés is the new director of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at Maine College of Art. Courtesy photo

Avilés, who taught at Salt in 2015, has worked in South America as a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio and Public Radio International’s “The World” and as a contributing editor at Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language podcast. She was a fellow in investigative reporting at the University of California, Berkeley, a visiting scholar at New York University and managing editor of the “Life of the Law” podcast. Aviles is also a writer and has been published by Harper’s Magazine, Smithsonian and Virginia Quarterly Review.

She has taught at Boston University, the Salt, the University of Southern Maine and UC Berkeley.

“Annie has an unusual combination of skills – as a writer, journalist, radio producer, and teacher – that makes her uniquely positioned to lead Salt. Annie, in collaboration with all of us at MECA, will provide the vision for Salt’s future, ensure the excellence of our graduate certificate in documentary studies, and teach the next generation of documentarians as they tell stories that are both modern and timeless, and seek to move our hearts and minds,” Anderson said in a press release.


Aviles has earned awards and fellowships from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Fulbright Program, the International Reporting Project, the Rona Jaffe Foundation and others.

Salt began in 1973 to train students in storytelling and documentary journalism. It merged with MECA in 2016, after Salt was on the verge of closing. MECA offers a one-semester graduate-level intensive in documentary storytelling with four tracks of study: radio, short documentary film, photography and writing. There had been talk of eliminating the writing track, but Aviles said that’s not happening – and since she’s been in conversation with MECA she’s not heard any discussion about doing so. “As a documentarian and as chairperson, I think writing it very important. I have spent half my career writing,” she said.

Given the turmoil in the world and people’s desire to connect with one another, Aviles thinks now is a perfect time to study documentary storytelling.

“It’s such an interesting time to be working in journalism and documentary work,” she said. “Everyone agrees there is a huge need for this work, after a series of years where people wondered where it was going.”


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