Rosanne Somerson | Interim President

An accomplished educator and academic leader, Rosanne Somerson 76 ID has deep roots at RISD – first established when she was an undergraduate student here in the 1970s. The Board of Trustees appointed her interim president as of January 1, 2014, with an international search for RISD’s 17th president set to begin the same month.

A dynamic professor and talented studio furniture designer and maker, Somerson has helped to articulate, revitalize and lead RISD’s academic mission since 2011, when she was appointed interim provost. The well-respected faculty leader also served as interim associate provost for Academic Affairs from 2005–07, and in 2012 an international search led to her full appointment to provost.

An eloquent speaker, writer and thought leader, Somerson frequently presents at museums, conferences, corporations and schools around the world, has served on many panels and juries, and appeared in several videos and television segments. She is an honored subject interviewed for the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art oral history project and has received citations for her work as a designer, artist and teacher, including two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the James Renwick Alliance Distinguished Crafts Educator Award.

As provost, Somerson led the campus-wide effort to develop the academic core of the 2012–17 strategic plan, a flexible vision for RISD's near-term future. “The implementation of the initiatives outlined in the strategic plan has already begun to guide how RISD changes and adapts in the coming years,” Somerson notes. “The Strategic Plan will enable RISD to continue its leadership role in art and design education. The plan explores and expands emphasis into new areas of research and making. It builds processes to provide the best services for our students, to increase diversity and strengthen our community of lifelong learners, and to extend our technological capacity to support learning and administrative processes. It allows us to initiate an ambitious campus master planning process, to develop systems to more effectively maintain academic and institutional facilities, and emphasizes fundraising efforts to support our institutional goals and initiatives.”

Somerson graduated from the Industrial Design (ID) department at a time when furniture design was a program within ID. After joining the faculty in 1985, she ran the graduate furniture program in ID for 10 years before helping to conceive of and found a full Furniture Design department. In 1995 she assumed the top leadership role in the new department, overseeing both the BFA and MFA programs and helping to establish its solid reputation in the field.

In addition to her various academic roles at RISD, Somerson has maintained her own studio since 1978, where she designs and makes furniture on commission and as a means of furthering her own practice. Her work is featured in numerous books and publications, and has been exhibited throughout the US and internationally – in museums such as the Louvre in Paris. It is also included in a host of private, corporate and museum collections, most notably at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Fuller Craft Museum, the Huntsville [AL] Museum of Art, the RISD Museum of Art, the Smith College Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In 2013 Somerson and Mara Hermano co-edited The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice(Wiley, 2013), an influential book that looks at the meaning and value of critical making, both within and beyond the realms of art and design.

RISD’s Strategic Plan

Interim President Somerson led a campus-wide effort to thoroughly discuss and think through Critical Making / Making Critical – the college’s 2012–17 strategic plan, which articulates a clear vision for RISD’s near-term future. The plan is now providing the direction needed to help prioritize various initiatives.

read the strategic plan »
Recently Published

As co-editor of The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice, Interim President Somerson helps illuminate the importance of what goes on in RISD’s studios. The book is aimed at a general audience interested in better understanding the concept of ‘critical making’ and the value of an art and design education.

read more about The Art of Critical Making »
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RISD has a long history of offering Saturday and after-school classes for children and teens, as this photo from c. 1910 confirms.