MN NICE: Year Nine

In November, we celebrated our eighth graduating class of Minnesota New Institute for Ceramic Education (MN NICE). The program is currently in its ninth year with another group of dedicated students. This exciting cohort seeks to focus their ideas and skills and build more cohesive bodies of work. Students enrolled in the 2022 cohort include:Jennifer Azzariti, Ray Caron, Lydia Gutowsky, Ivy Mattson, Janelle Pochart, Randy Schutt, and Doug Van Beek. As they finished the first trimester, Claire Miller, education manager at NCC, interviewed students to gather insight on their experience so far.

What was compelling to you about the MN NICE program and why did you choose to apply?
Jennifer Azzariti: I heard about the program on an episode of Tales of a Red Clay Rambler during the pandemic and thought to myself—I would love to do that. I was very motivated as an independent student at my community pottery, and sought out resources and inspiration, but I felt the need for uninterrupted time and guidance to further develop techniques and processes, amplify my personal aesthetic, push the conceptual boundaries of what I have been making, and develop a more cohesive body of work. I wanted to learn how to take control of the firing process, and gain enough knowledge to eventually have a studio of my own.

What experience have you found most motivational, and why?
Ray Caron: MN NICE has provided a forum which helps focus my adventures in discovering the potentials of ceramics. Class discussions are very fruitful as is delving into the abundant history of ceramics. With aesthetic discussions in class I’ve torn down my approach to creating works from clay. I’ve taken a hiatus from making mugs and vases to producing non-utilitarian, purely sculptural pieces which was a surprising and unexpected return to my initial work in clay, only with a new perspective. I have a refreshed excitement when I go to the studio and work with clay.

How has MN NICE changed the way you approach your ideas or process?
Ivy Mattson: Finding one’s flow is essential and uplifted through the MN NICE program. We’ve had the opportunity to engage with scaffolded self-reflection in which one reflects on life and practices. Through these observations we are then able to see a fuller picture of what the creative process looks like for each person in the cohort. I can enthusiastically say that my approach to the process and ideas is much more research-influenced now than it was before. It is great to have deepened historical and material context, and while my process is still developing, I’ve been able to further identify and improve it.

How does your interaction with the other members of your cohort influence or support your development?
Lydia Gutowsky: Having the others in the studio to touch base and check in with has been invaluable. Diving deep and finding one’s voice is neither comfortable nor easy, and having others in solidarity and support of this endeavor has been incredibly important to my pushing through moments of doubt and finding new solutions.

How does the MN NICE class dynamic differ from your experience with other education models?
Randy Schutt (RS): The small, personal classroom dynamic offers deep and meaningful conversations and insights!

Janelle Pochardt (JP): Our class is different from traditional classrooms because we often meet outside of NCC. We have also met a number of ceramic artists that come in and share their experiences with us.

What objectives has this program helped you to articulate and what are you hoping to accomplish in blocks two and three?
RS: Session one has helped me articulate a deeper and clearer vision that I have been trying to put my finger on the past couple of years. JP: MN NICE is helping me to really focus on my ceramic work. I hope to develop the skills needed to set up a business of my own in the next two sessions.