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RISD Board of Trustees Names Provost Rosanne Somerson Interim President


The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Board of Trustees announced today that Provost Rosanne Somerson will serve as RISD’s interim president, beginning January 1, 2014. Somerson, who was named provost after an international search in 2012, is an acclaimed furniture designer with deep roots at RISD – starting as a student and moving on to alumna, professor and academic leader. The Board of Trustees will begin a search for the institution’s 17th president in January.

“Provost Somerson is an inspiring, passionate and dedicated leader for RISD,” notes RISD Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter. “The Board genuinely appreciates Provost Somerson’s willingness to lead our institution at this time. We have every confidence that she will do so with the same passion, grace and unwavering commitment to RISD that she has demonstrated throughout her career.”

Somerson was instrumental in the creation of RISD’s 2012–17 strategic plan, Critical Making | Making Critical, and co-edited the book The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice (2013, Wiley) with Mara Hermano, which was released this fall.

“I am honored by the trust in me demonstrated by RISD’s Board of Trustees,” notes Provost Somerson. “As we search for our next president, I will work diligently with everyone in the RISD community to honor this trust. I am fortunate to partner with Chief Operating Officer Jean Eddy, who brings great expertise and experience, all of which are invaluable to RISD. In consultation with the faculty and academic leadership, I will soon name an interim provost so that the important work of advancing our strategic plan's academic initiatives can continue seamlessly.”

Somerson earned her BFA from RISD in 1976 and joined the faculty in 1985, going on to help found and then to head the Department of Furniture Design. She served as interim associate provost for Academic Affairs from 2005–07 and as interim provost during the 2011–12 academic year. In addition to her academic roles at RISD, Somerson has maintained her own studio since 1978, where she designs and makes furniture. Her award-winning work has been exhibited internationally and is included in private, corporate and museum collections, most notably at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Members of RISD’s Board of Trustees who have already expressed their enthusiasm for Somerson’s appointment include: 

• Lisa Pevaroff-Cohn, Vice-Chair of the Board, artist (RISD BFA ’83 | Textiles)

“Provost Somerson, a renowned global thought leader, has demonstrated time after time her ability to lead RISD and its academic programs with vision, creativity and humility. Her countless admirers – former students, current colleagues and members of the Board of Trustees – know her as a decisive, collaborative and respected leader. She is mindful of RISD's traditions, strengths and core values, yet able to embrace change as well as imagine the boundless possibilities of art and design. We look forward to working with her as our interim president.”

• Susan Dryfoos, RISD parent, Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize nominee, member of educational and cultural boards including PEN USA and the New York Urban League

“Provost Somerson is an exceptional leader dedicated to vigorously advancing RISD’s academic excellence and global presence. She will be a superb interim president.”

• Maggie Williams, Partner, GriffinWilliams

“I’ve long admired Provost Somerson’s unwavering commitment to preparing the next generation of artists and designers at RISD. Her commitment to and longevity with our community speak to the fact that we will be in good hands.”  

• Joe Gebbia, co-founder and CPO of Airbnb (RISD BFA ’05 | Graphic Design + Industrial Design)

“During my time as a student at RISD, Provost Somerson modeled the values and importance of critical making and thinking. Now, working alongside her as a trustee, I am impressed with how she employs the same timeless values to advance RISD's mission across the globe.”

RISD’s 16th president, John Maeda, announced last week that he has accepted a position with the Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

About Rhode Island School of Design

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has earned an international reputation as the leading college of art and design in the United States. Recently ranked #1 in Business Insider’s survey of The World’s 25 Best Design Schools, approximately 2,400 students from around the world study at RISD, pursuing full-time bachelor’s or master’s degree programs in a choice of 19 studio majors. RISD is known for its phenomenal faculty of artists and designers, the breadth of its specialized facilities and its hands-on, studio-based approach to learning – one in which critical thinking informs making works by hand. Required courses in the liberal arts provide an essential complement to studio work, enabling graduates to become critical and informed individuals eager to engage with the world. Through the accomplishments of its 26,000 alumni, the college champions the vital role artists and designers play in satisfying the global demand for innovation. Founded in 1877, RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) and the RISD Museum of Art help make Providence, RI among the most culturally active and creative cities in the region. For more information, visit or

At RISD there's nothing unusual about suddenly finding a doorknob on a tree trunk, shown here across from Carr House,
the charming home of Student Life offices and the student-run Carr Haus Café.