Sarah Cunningham Appointed Inaugural Vice Provost for Strategic Partnerships at Rhode Island School of Design

September 16, 2021

The first person to assume this role at RISD, Cunningham is charged with overseeing several key areas of the college, including Continuing and Expanded Education, RISD Research, Careers, Co-Works, Center for Complexity, Strategic Partnerships and the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab.

PROVIDENCE, RI - Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has appointed Dr. Sarah Cunningham as the college’s first-ever vice provost for Strategic Partnerships. Cunningham previously served as associate provost, a position that will be phased out as she transitions to this new role following an international search process.

The purview of the vice provost for Strategic Partnerships is broad and encompasses offices charged with bringing to life several key elements of RISD’s strategic plan, RISD NEXT: RISD 2020-2027, including Continuing and Expanded Education, RISD Research, Careers, Co-Works, Center for Complexity, Strategic Partnerships and the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab. 

“Sarah’s deep experience in securing external support for faculty research, developing long-term relationships with strategic external partners and building durable and effective structures to support the creative work of all faculty and students will serve us well in the years ahead,” notes RISD Provost Kent Kleinman. “As RISD realizes its collective vision for greater access, impact and relevance, the vice provost for Strategic Partnerships will be a key institutional leader and campus resource. We are fortunate indeed to have Sarah in this role.”

Before coming to RISD in 2019, Cunningham was the first executive director for research at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, where, over eight years, she founded the VCU Arts Research Institute, developed a policy for research centers and institutes across campus, led the School of the Arts’ cluster hire initiative, fostered international partnerships with institutions like the Tate Modern and the American Academy in Rome and increased the average grant award by 190%. Before VCU, she served for six years as director of education for the National Endowment for the Arts, where she managed the largest portfolio in the agency and built operations and systems for many organizations, including the Alliance for Arts in Research Universities, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project and Turnaround Arts California. 

Over the past two years as associate provost, Cunningham has led RISD’s division of Research and Strategic Partnerships, deepening the college’s relationships with partners such as Infosys and Hyundai to include faculty and students from all four academic divisions, overseeing the buildout of a research office and leading RISD’s Expanded Education initiative. 

Cunningham received her PhD and MA in philosophy from Vanderbilt University and her bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College, and she has delivered talks and papers across the world on numerous topics, ranging from arts policy to Kantian aesthetics.

About Rhode Island School of Design
RISD’s mission, through its college and museum, is to educate students and the public in the creation and appreciation of works of art and design, to discover and transmit knowledge and to make lasting contributions to a global society through critical thinking, scholarship and innovation. The college’s strategic plan NEXT: RISD 2020–2027 sets an ambitious vision for educating students for the future and bringing creative practices to bear on the creation of just societies, a sustainable planet and new ways of making and knowing. RISD’s immersive model of art and design education, which emphasizes critical making through studio-based learning and robust study in the liberal arts, prepares students to intervene in the critical challenges of our time. Working with exceptional faculty and in extraordinary specialized facilities, 2,225 students from 60 countries engage in 44 full-time bachelor's and master's degree programs. RISD’s 30,000 alumni worldwide testify to the impact of this model of education, exemplifying the vital role artists and designers play in today’s society. Founded in 1877, RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”) and the RISD Museum help make Providence, RI among the most culturally active and creative cities in the region. Find more information at