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In April, the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, in Old Lyme, became a school of the University of New Haven. The merger was the result of the Academy looking to boost enrollment and bolster its financial position.

“They fit us very well and we fit them very well, and we’re thrilled to be a part of their mission,” Dr. James McCoy, UNH’s vice president of enrollment management and a member of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s board of directors, said.
For the Academy, the merger means more resources. For UNH, it means adding an art school to the university’s academic departments.

Fritz Jellinghaus, the Lyme Academy’s vice president of development, said that upon arriving at the Academy four years ago, he realized it was undercapitalized in terms of tuition and contributed income, the latter stable but not growing. The art school’s student body was small and there was some concern about sustainability.
In terms of enrollment, Jellinghaus said, the school had seen “modest declines in recent years.”

“We weren’t really marketing ourselves properly,” he said, explaining that the Academy had long touted the benefits of being close to New York and Boston, instead of touting the cultural history of Lyme and Old Lyme. Working with Academy board member John Visiglio and his Essex-based marketing agency Outthink, which has provided pro bono consultations over the past three years, the leadership at the Academy reimagined how the school is presented to prospective students. That’s meant emphasizing the benefits of the school’s location and using social media to communicate that message and others.

“They’ve been extraordinarily generous to us,” Jellinghaus said of Visiglio and the folks at Outthink.

The leadership at Lyme Academy also contracted a Boston-based consulting group to help identify potential partners, like UNH. But it was serendipity that connected representatives of the two institutions. Trustees of the Academy were meeting at the Saybrook Point Inn and Spa, in Old Saybrook, where they had a conversation with the facility’s owner, Stephen Tagliatela, a UNH board member and one who Lyme Academy Campus Dean Todd Jokl said has a “deep vested interest in this community, in the area, (and) in the arts.” It was Tagliatela who connected Lyme Academy to UNH.

Before the two institutions merged, UNH President Dr. Steven Kaplan directed Lyme Academy’s leadership to raise $1 million in committed pledges per year for three years — to make sure the community was on board with and supported the merger. The Academy raised $850,000 in committed pledges (per year, over three years). The community, Jellinghaus said, turned out in generous fashion to communicate its belief in “the mission of the college and the desire to see it continued.”

This year, Lyme Academy has the largest freshman enrollment that it has in some time, Jellinghaus said — 38 freshmen, about half the school’s total student body. The boost was largely the result of the strategy the school employed at the urging of the folks at Outthink.

“There is now a business plan for admissions,” Jellinghaus said, explaining that the goal is to bring total enrollment to 160 students, the school’s capacity.

Today, Jellinghaus said, “we’re trying to explore how you take the department of art and design at UNH and this fine department here and maximize synergies.”

The plan, McCoy said, is to “leave the college for the time being as it always has been.” Still, he said, “it’s going to evolve.”

Under the UNH umbrella, Lyme Academy remains a private nonprofit institution. And that’s important.

“Lyme has a very … specific mission and educational and pedagogical approach,” Jokl pointed out, agreeing with Jellinghaus that there are synergies between Lyme Academy’s curriculum and UNH’s art and design department offerings.

“This (merger) allowed UNH to think about the arts more holistically,” Jokl said.
Lyme Academy’s focus on representational and figurative approaches to art remains firmly intact.

While “the emphasis on the fundamentals is not changing,” Jokl said, “we are developing different and new programs that will enable students from both institutions to really benefit from one another.”

An example of the benefits the merger has already yielded can be found on UNH’s campus in Prato, Italy.

What better place for academy students to study, Jokl asked, rhetorically, than “right in the cradle of the Italian Renaissance?”
Likewise, he can imagine UNH students in UNH’s forensic science department studying anatomical drawing at Lyme Academy and students studying sculpture at Lyme Academy learning about engineering at UNH.

“This is a sole altruistic decision,” McCoy said. “We want to be involved in the arts.”
Lyme Academy, he said, “is something worth saving.”

David Brensilver

This story appears in the December issue of The Arts Paper. Read more stories from this issue online via Issuu here