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RISD Partners with US State Department

01/31/2012

Sculptor Jim Drain (far left) working with students in his Art in Embassies: Morocco studio. | photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

As it approaches its 50th anniversary, the US State Department’s office of ART in Embassies (AIE) has chosen renowned sculptor Jim Drain 98 SC to create a site-specific work for a new US embassy compound being built in Rabat, Morocco.

The unique, multiyear collaboration with the State Department – only the second of its kind between the federal agency and an art and design college – involves a select group of RISD students who are working with Drain to explore the history and culture of Morocco through the intensive Wintersession studio Art in Embassies: Morocco. The partnership is made possible by funding from RISD Board of Trustees Vice Chair Lisa Pevaroff 83 TX, whose own work is on view at the US Embassy in Montenegro, and also involves Dean of Fine Arts and Textiles Professor Anais Missakian 84 TX and Interim Associate Provost and Graduate Studies Professor Patricia Phillips.

Last week AIE Chief Curator Virginia Shore and representatives from the multidisciplinary design firm SmithGroupJJR, which designed the new embassy, visited RISD to review the building’s design and explore possibilities for Drain’s site-specific work.

“This is only the second type of project we’ve done at this level of involvement with a university,” says Shore. “Once we identified RISD as the institution we would partner with, we looked at a number of RISD graduates who are established artists and we were unanimous in deciding it would be Jim.”

For Drain, a Miami-based artist and 2005 recipient of Art Basel’s prestigious Baloise Prize, the commission offers a rare opportunity to collaborate with future artists across disciplines to create a work on a global stage. “The crossover between disciplines is valuable, as each student brings a specific interest and expertise to the ideation process,” Drain says. “Together, we are focusing on how to incorporate materials in new and unorthodox ways, building models, researching and discussing issues relating to cultural diplomacy.”

In examining Morocco’s visual culture and history, Drain and about 15 students from various disciplines are seeking to understand the evolution of cultural diplomacy, the impact of borrowing symbols from another culture and the symbolic significance as well as complex logistics of designing for a US foreign embassy. The work will be unveiled on November 30 in Washington, DC in a State Department celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of AIE, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton slated to be on hand for the event. Ultimately, the sculpture will be installed at the new Moroccan embassy once the building is completed in either 2014 or 2015.

The collaboration between AIE and RISD is designed to promote cross-cultural exchange, a key component of AIE since it was first established in 1963. Initially run in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art, the agency organized exhibitions of work by American artists around the world. But over time it has evolved as a major facilitator of more wide-ranging cross-cultural efforts, inviting a global exchange of ideas.

As part of its mission of public diplomacy, the agency today operates a number of programs and initiatives, producing temporary exhibitions by American and host-country artists, building permanent collections for chief-of-mission residences around the world and organizing artist exchange programs that encourage international dialogue around the visual arts and culture. 


tags: alumni, governmental, interdisciplinary, local/global, partnerships + collaborations, public engagement, students, Sculpture, wintersession, Textiles

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These FAV students are using shadow puppets to create an evocative film.