Glenn Gissler - Blog - 2015 - RISD

Rosanne Somerson and others on stage at her RISD Inauguration   Photo: Jo Sittenfeld / RISD Media

RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) had much to celebrate with the inauguration of its 17th President this past week. Under an enormous tent near the school’s campus, hundreds of faculty, staff, friends, parents, dignitaries and alumni joyously celebrated. I am grateful to have been there to join the celebration!

After an exhaustive two year global quest to find the next President of America’s oldest art & design school, the President of the Board of Trustees Michael Spalter and his search team found exactly what they were looking for in Providence; they hired truly one of their own – Rosanne Somerson…

Somerson has had a long and deep relationship with RISD as a student, faculty, department head, Assistant Provost, Provost, Interim-President and now President.

There are many, myself included, who are reassured by the new President’s understanding of the long and unique culture and values of the 137 year old school and museum. Somerson herself is an accomplished artist, who has exhibited her furniture at galleries and museums around the world, with her furniture in the collections of the RISD MuseumSmithsonian Institution, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Smith College Museum of Art and the Yale University Art Gallery, among many others.

I had many opportunities to celebrate with the local community and the RISD community; at one party I met a woman I had never seen before. I was introduced as a member of the Board of Governors (of the RISD Museum) and was told she was Gina Raimondo the Governor. I told her she must be a new member of the Board as we had never met, only to find out she was the Governor of Rhode Island – I told her “That is so cool, we are both Governors!”. She laughed….

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Members of the RISD Board of Trustees and others  Photo: Jo Sittenfeld / RISD Media

There were hundreds of people at the inauguration, including my new friend Gina, as well as other dignitaries who offered support and encouragement to President Somerson: U.S. senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse; the President of Brown University Christina Paxson; RISD Museum Director John W. Smith and former Tate Modern Director Chris Dercon.

Glenn Gissler - Blog - 2015 - RISDA number of distinguished alumni shared the stage and spoke to the enthusiastic crowd, including artists Kara Walker, Janine Antoni, fashion designer Nicole Miller, and RISD Trustee and artist Lisa Pevaroff-Cohn.


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Pauline and Stephen Metcalf   Photo: Jo Sittenfeld / RISD Media

Artist Janine Antoni Antoni, a sculptor and performance artist, asked those in attendance to stand and hold hands in a snaking line starting with the matriarch of Somerson’s extensive family on one side of the tent, and and two descendants of the Metcalf family whose Great, Great Grandmother was one of the founders of the school and museum in 1877 – Pauline and Stephen Metcalf — both very active members of the Museum’s Board of Governors. The ‘snake’ was created by Antoni to pass on an accumulated spirit of good intention and support from the various communities in attendance at the inauguration to the new President.

Speaking about the future, Somerson said that “As an artist I have always felt that my best piece was the one I was working on next, and it is in that spirit that I pledge to work with you to create the best RISD yet!”

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The inauguration ceremony ended on a very high note, signaled by the remarkable Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Tony Johnson singing a rich and soulful ‘Lean On’!


I am looking forward to the bright days ahead at the Rhode Island School of Design!