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In responding to an assignment to rebrand RISD, Illustration major Amy Lee proposed a series of smartphone apps.
In a course that
explores the business of art as a design problem, Illustration faculty member Oren Sherman 78 IL helps students to bridge
the gap between what goes on in the studio and the practical concerns of
marketing, employment and business savvy. Called Entrepreneur, Sherman’s class has evolved in recent years – meaning
it doesn’t just walk artists through the ABCs of mission statements and business
plans, it helps students to better position themselves and their work by drawing
on the greatest asset they already have: design thinking.
“I’m always stunned
seeing kids really tackle a business problem as a design problem and seeing
what they do with it,” says Sherman. “A big part of what RISD has been about for a long time is
this lifelong obsession with the crafted object – the things we make. But to
me, what really makes RISD RISD isn’t just the crafting skills. It’s the thought
Starting this fall, Entrepreneur will be more fully woven into
the curriculum, offered as an interdisciplinary course co-taught by Sherman and
Bill Foulkes, an adjunct faculty
member in Graduate Studies. In introducing students to business
basics, the course will challenge them to develop a studio project as a formal
business, complete with market analysis and the exploration of issues such as competition,
finance, operations and marketing. It’s open to students in Illustration,
Graphic Design and Industrial Design and there’s already a waiting list.
The key is creative thinking
“In a lot of circles
the idea is finally starting to catch on that it’s not that there’s art over
here and business over there. It’s all creative thinking,” says Sherman, who
worked for years as a commercial illustrator before reshaping his freelance
business into one with an emphasis on custom artwork and
textiles. “Artists can
be brilliant marketers if you pose business challenges to them as design
In last spring’s studio, Sherman asked students to rebrand RISD – a
challenge that led in a number of different directions, from a proposal for a
traveling RISD pop-up gallery to products like a
custom-designed RISD app that would allow students to quickly access
campus-related information from their smartphones. “The deliverables weren’t
just objects,” Sherman says. “It was about a beautifully explained thought
process.” Other student projects included objects made from sustainable
materials and campaigns to tie the sale of artwork to disaster relief.
Like previous iterations, the latest round of Entrepreneur helped launch graduating students in new and
unexpected career directions, Sherman reports. Many of the award-winning
artists, designers and entrepreneurs who visited as guest speakers
also gave students leads to internships, interviews and jobs.
Among the participating professionals were John Lloydof Magnet Inc., a specialist in branding and marketing
strategy who has worked for organization such as the Metropolitan Opera; Mark Pollack 76 TX, founder and principal of the high-end New
York-based textiles firm POLLACK; Joe Ginsberg, head of the interior design firm Tempo Home, whose corporate clients include Sony, Dreamworks,
Izod and Steuben Glass; and Andy Cutler,founder of the
Providence strategic communicationsfirm Cutler & Company,
who helped connect each student in the class with personal contacts in the
local entrepreneurial community. Other
speakers included RISD’s legal counsel Steve
McDonald, who offered a primer on copyright law, RISD Trustee Michael
who champions the digital arts, and Foulkes.
Nationally, recent studies have already begun to dismantle traditional
stereotypes about students in the arts failing to find success after college.
Last spring a study by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) found
that despite the myth of the struggling artist, graduates of arts
programs are likely to find opportunities, good compensation and satisfaction
in pursuing creative careers.
Oren Sherman’s website
survey results from SNAAP
, Graphic Design
, Industrial Design