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MICA program merges art with business

UpStart MICA winner Julie Buisson1a small 600 tAfter a career in marketing, Julie Buisson decided to make change. She went from being a consultant to moving to Asia to learn about permaculture. Enlightened by the experience, she wanted to bring the practice to Baltimore.

“I decided to take a 180 turn,” she said.

Buisson attended Maryland Institute College of Art’s dual design leadership program with Johns Hopkins University where she met her business partner, Mark Verdecia. Together they founded MODERNature, a microgreen business that has a capacity to produce 480 servings of produce every two weeks in a trailer in the city. Buisson and Verdecia sell the produce to local restaurants and hope to replicate the trailer’s growing environment across the city to give people access to fresh produce.

In April, MODERNature won first place and $30,000 in grant money at the first Up/Start MICA competition, a pitch competition which is part of a college-wide entrepreneurship program that helps students and recent graduates turn their skills into a business.

Buisson plans to use the $30,000 award to start a pathogen elimination program, build a website to allow online ordering and sell to individuals, invest in research and development and build an office. MODERNature also wants to expand its product offerings to include algae and mushrooms.

“Right now we’re small so we’re flexible,” said Buisson.

Buisson and other MICA students are part of a new program at the Baltimore art school that helps artists get the tools they need to turn their craft into a job. The program is part of a three-year, $600,000 grant from the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation the college was awarded in March.

In a survey of graduates, MICA found that more than 50 percent of its graduates freelance or work for themselves in some capacity, a trend that is seen among art students across the country. A 2012 national survey by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project found that alumni wanted more entrepreneurship training in art school.

“It’s hard for people to make money out of art,” said Monyka Berrocosa, entrepreneur and business owner who is leading MICA’s entrepreneurship program. Making money in art in Baltimore is especially difficult, she said.  “We don’t have as robust an art market here.”

In the fall, MICA will be offering two entrepreneurship courses that may become degree requirements. The program may also open up for sophomores and juniors who want to get a head start.

Even outside of school, Berrocosa wants to see more community support for artists.

“We have to support our artists,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is just one of the ways to do that.”