Shaping the Future

Shaping the Future

Artist and maker Tanya Aguiñiga MFA 05 FD (left) at work in her studio in LA.

In conjunction with the inauguration of President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID as the first alumna to lead RISD, the college is producing a new series of video interviews looking at various ways alumni artists and designers shape our world today and are poised to invent the future. Collectively, as the series unfolds during this academic year, these short vignettes will also illustrate the impact of RISD’s immersive, studio-based education on selected leaders at the forefront of their creative fields.

In the first film in the series – which premiered at Somerson’s inauguration ceremony on October 9 – four fellow alumni join the president in speaking about the challenges they face every day in their own practices, suggesting various ways critical thinking and hands-on making are more relevant than ever to 21st-century needs for innovation, agility and process-driven problem solving.

Film director Gus Van Sant 75 FAV – best known for early films such as Mala Noche and My Own Private Idaho, along with more mainstream successes like Milk, Finding Forrester and Good Will Hunting – speaks about how creative people thrive at a place like RISD since it allows them to discover their own individual “super power.”

Urged to experiment, take risks and accept failure as an important part of the learning process, RISD students graduate with an entrepreneurial spark and the confidence to embrace uncertainty, develop their ideas and shape their own future, as Van Sant’s own career so aptly epitomizes.

"The world needs a kind of nimble thinker, a creative mind—a mind that sees things in multiple perspectives at the same time."
RISD President Rosanne Somerson

After growing up in a working class family – the daughter of recent immigrants from Mexico – Tanya Aguiñiga MFA 05 FD didn’t really realize “you could make a living through art” until she discovered “a whole new language from which to design” at RISD and went on to create her own thriving studio practice in Los Angeles.

Pakistani-born artist Shahzia Sikander MFA 94 PT/PR, who has earned a MacArthur “genius” award for her groundbreaking work, speaks to the universal language of art in discussing one of her most recent projects, Gopi-Contagion, which has been screening on Times Square’s electronic billboards every night this month as part of Manhattan’s Midnight Moment series.

Also working in an urban context, architect and social activist Michael Maltzan BArch 85 has been making a huge impact on the city of Los Angeles since launching his practice there 20 years ago, designing stunning housing for the homeless on LA’s Skid Row, supporting urban connections through a mixed-use development known as One Santa Fe and helping to radically alter urban infrastructure through the massive Six Street Viaduct project.

"Design—and the way RISD teaches it—teaches you to see the world and to be confident enough in your ideas [...] to make something of consequence."
Michael Maltzan BArch 85

“Architecture is difficult to deny,” Maltzan says. “It belongs in this world. Design – and the way RISD teaches it – teaches you to see the world and to be confident enough in your ideas…to make something of consequence.”

Teaching and inspiring students to make meaningful work “of consequence” and go on to make positive contributions to their local communities are at the core of a RISD education. As a former student, faculty member, department head, provost and interim president, Somerson not only understands this at an almost instinctive level, but is ideally positioned to help students and alumni to advance the power of art, design and studio practice in both imagining and making a better future.

“The world needs a kind of nimble thinker, a creative mind – a mind that sees things in multiple perspective at the same time,” Somerson says. The world needs people like the alumni who will be profiled this year: artists, designers and thinkers “who feel very comfortable being in that uncertain space of creating something entirely new.”

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