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McCluney reflects on 17 years at MIT

Ed McCluney
Ed McCluney

In his 17 years as director of MIT's Student Art Association, Ed McCluney has become a familiar figure on campus. Known for his affable personality and his nurturing of young artists, he has been dedicated to the SAA as a pressure-free refuge for students and staff seeking to pursue interests in the visual arts. But McCluney is a multitalented artist in his own right--a printmaker, illustrator, photographer and faculty member at the Massachusetts College of Art. In recent years, he has also pursued a career in acting and voiceovers. At the end of this month, he will leave his MIT position and move to Los Angeles to focus on his acting career.

Although he will no longer be an active presence at MIT, McCluney can still be seen and heard in the Boston area. His television ad for Tufts Medical continues to run, and he will be the voice of a service manager in a new General Motors animated ad for certified used cars. He can also be heard as the voice of God in the recorded tours for the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a role he says is his favorite.

Lynn Heinemann of the Office of the Arts spoke to McCluney about his memories and future plans.

Q. What attracted you to the job at the SAA?

A. I was working at Mass. Art where the studios were much larger and better equipped, but the idea of teaching art to scientists seemed an interesting and challenging concept; I was smitten with the SAA studio sitting quietly among the giant math and science labs. I kept my part-time job at Mass. College of Art, planning to administer the Student Art Association for two, or no more than three years. It has now been 17 years. I have truly loved this place and this job and all of the friends that I've made.

Q. Has the SAA expanded and grown during your tenure?

A. During the first dozen years of my tenure our enrollment doubled. It's been stable ever since. Barring none, we have the best-equipped photo studio and darkroom on campus. Our clay studio is well-equipped and probably more in demand than any studio or lab on campus.

Q. What kinds of changes have you noticed in the students or their talents in the past 17 years?

A. Our students have always been talented, but I find that the Institute is admitting more students who seem to have artistic leanings alongside their technical skills. In the atmosphere that the Institute and the SAA provide, I feel that many more students come forward to express their artistic talents. The SAA is a relaxing place with no pressure on students, whether they have art or problem sets on their minds.

Q. How are MIT student artists different from your students at the Massachusetts College of Art?

A. The MIT students think they are working in the world of realism, whereas their concepts are based on abstract "what if" principles. The Mass. Art students think they are dealing with abstraction to the exclusion of realism; they're not aware that their art is all first based on realism. Actually, they are each dealing with both concepts.

Q. What special memories will you have of MIT?

A. Fond memories abound. Guiding students like the artist Eto Otitigbe [S.B. 1999] and the actor Daniel Rodriguez [S.B. 2001] while keeping their eyes on science as they pursue their other interest was true pleasure for me.

Independent studies and creating sets for stage, galas and balls were always interesting group endeavors. I also enjoyed winning the first Johnson Games with the smallest, ragtag group of students and colleagues ever to form a team. Other highpoints include winning the Kepes Prize in 2001 and voicing the graduation procession each year.

Q. How did you get interested in acting and voiceovers?

A. My friend Paul Parravano [co-director of the Office of Government and Community Relations] convinced me that I had a voice worth selling. I gave it a try and was fairly successful--producers and directors noticed me and began to put me in front of the camera. I had acting experience from high school and college and I love slipping into other identities. But I don't like the waiting and waiting and waiting, nor the constant rejection that all actors suffer at some time in their careers. Most actors are always looking for work even as they shoot today. I still love the biz.

Q. What do you enjoy most about it?

A. I love to be on stage, where the action is. When the microphone is hot or the camera turned on, I'm ready to assume the character before me. Voiceover is the best kind of acting; I get to be alone in a sound booth hamming it up for product and money.

Q. What will you do in Los Angeles?

A. I'll pursue acting, voiceover and my visual art--printmaking, drawing and painting. I have two agents for my acting in Los Angeles and that will be my concentration. If acting and gallery connections are slow, I will probably teach art if time permits and I can't resist the call.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 17, 2003.

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