As a sculptor, Jay Coogan has worked in metal, wood and, more recently, butter.
In his new role as president of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the artist-turned-administrator is working with new materials, so to speak, to expand and improve students' experience.
"It's a lot like shaping a work of art," Coogan said. "You have materials you're working with — buildings and people. It's a little different than plywood and screws but you're shaping an educational environment that is going to provide a lot of people, hopefully, with very valuable educational experiences and help them to do what they're passionate about doing. I've become extremely passionate about shaping that environment."
Coogan joined MCAD in July 2009 after 27 years at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he had last served as provost. He's intent on raising the college's profile, spending at least half of his typical 70-hour work week networking and trying to build relationships, particularly with businesses, nonprofit organizations and city, state and governmental agencies that may provide students opportunities to work on real-world projects.
A Massachusetts native, Coogan misses the ocean but enjoys living near Lake of the Isles, and he appreciates winter here because it reminds him of the winters he grew up with and offers plentiful cross-country skiing.
His "official dunking into Minnesota culture" came at the State Fair in 2009, when he sculpted a Rhode Island Red Chicken in butter. "That plus eating everything on a stick that I could try with my family," he said.
Three and out with MCAD president Jay Coogan
- You're something of a collector?
My son and I started collecting business cards, many years ago. I've got a collection of shoe lasts, shoe trees and shoe stretchers. I have a collection of metal carpet beater, about 100 of those. I have a collection of embroidered maps of the United States. And beer bottle caps, that I started collecting with my daughter when she was seven.
- Where did you get your collecting gene from?
It may go back to the fact that my great-grandfather was president of the American Museum of Natural History in New York from 1908 to 1933 so he could collect on a grand scale. His name was Henry Fairfield Osborn. He was a paleontologist, biologist and geologist and was responsible for sending expeditions to the Gobi desert. ... He found the first dinosaur eggs that were found and identified as being from dinosaurs.
- How would you describe your own art?
I do everything from making functional objects, furniture, to large-scale installations to smaller-scale sculptural pieces. One piece I did was a large hat made out of 1,200 cast aluminum letters and numbers, which I did for Fidelity Investments, called "Thinking Cap."
Three more and out with Coogan
- Has MCAD met your expectations?
It's more than lived up to my expectations in terms of the quality of the students and the faculty and the staff. It's been exciting to participate in all sorts of things that the students want to get me involved in, including their musical production, where I had a cameo part on video. I haven't said no to anything yet. I figure you need to lead by example, so if you ask them to take risks you have to be willing to take a few.
- Any surprises so far?
I was concerned about living in the Midwest because I'd never lived here before. Most people who live on the coast tend to have a kind of limited view of what the Midwest is all about. I will say that I am loving living in this area.
- Have you found time to do any sculpting lately?
I had high hopes of doing some this summer but found myself traversing the country, keeping up with my wife and daughter who were on the East Coast for most of the summer and my son, who was also on the East Coast. Right now, sculpture is dormant. It will come out of hibernation at some point.