Brown|RISD Dual-Degree student Njari Anderson discusses the emotions behind Fountain, his Dorner Prize-winning sculpture now on view at the RISD Museum.
Dorner Prize Competition Winners Foster an Ecologically Responsible, Inclusive RISD Museum
Every year the RISD Museum’s Dorner Prize Competition invites students to submit proposals for temporary, site-specific projects that “engage the public and examine or critique the museum’s collections, architectural idiosyncrasies, habits of visitation or web presence.” This year’s contest jurors, Assistant Curator Emily Banas and Architecture Department Head Jacqueline Shaw, selected two winning installations, which are now on view. The first is Passive Pollination by Landscape Architecture student Claudia Peck MLA 25, and the second is (un)heard voices by comrades in the Interior Architecture department’s Exhibition and Narrative Environments track Priyata Bosamia MDes 23 and Shivani Pinapotu MDes 23.
“I wasn’t responding to the museum’s collection per se, but to the role institutions like the RISD Museum play in utilizing the land they occupy in ecologically responsible ways.”
“I wasn’t responding to the museum’s collection per se, but to the role institutions like the RISD Museum play in utilizing the land they occupy in ecologically responsible ways,” says Peck (shown above working on her piece). “In my work, I’m always trying to highlight the relationship between humans and the environment and inspire people to think about changing their own behaviors in order to make a difference.”
Peck’s outdoor installation in the green space outside the museum’s Radeke Building on Benefit Street diversifies the landscape (which previously included only one species of non-flowering sedge grass and one tree species) by introducing a variety of flowering plants native to Rhode Island. She used nutrient-rich soil sourced from RISD’s Tillinghast Place property in Barrington. “These plants,” the designer explains, “provide vital corridors and food sources for native hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects that we rely on. My hope is that Passive Pollination will allow the RISD community to connect to plant life cycles and that it will make tangible the ecological crises that are so easily overlooked.”
Inside the museum, near the Benefit Street entrance, visitors will find Bosamia and Pinapotu’s colorful installation, which invites their hands-on participation. Offering a collection of hand-drawn maps reflecting the ideas and experiences of noncuratorial staff members and visitors, (un)heard voices attempts to elevate friendly, nondidactic perspectives of the museum.
“The way exhibits are understood and interpreted is usually prescriptive and places the art and the curator at the center of the experience,” the project creators note. “There are so many other people who work behind the scenes to make the museum work. We wanted to make them visible.”
Bosamia and Pinapotu worked with Director of Public Programs Deborah Clemons and other museum staff members to gather people’s thoughts via a series of informal workshops. “People were really excited about participating,” says Pinapotu, “and their input helps create a more layered narrative within the museum space.”
“The museum experience can be fun and conversational. It doesn’t have to be super serious.”
The designers also created a zine that includes some of the stories they heard, which visitors are welcome to pick up at the entrance and use as an informal guide to the museum. “There are some really funny stories in there,” Bosamia says. “People have told us that they opened the zine inside a quiet gallery and could not stop laughing! That’s exactly what we wanted to hear. The museum experience can be fun and conversational. It doesn’t have to be super serious.”
All of the winning designers agree that conceiving, designing and installing their pieces was a learning experience that complemented the work they do in studio. “There were a few surprises along the way in fabricating my piece,” Peck says, “and I had to switch materials to find something more suitable. Working with the staff at the RISD Museum really made me appreciate what they do on an ongoing basis. It’s not about the physical space—it’s about the community.”
—Simone Solondz / images courtesy of the artists and RISD Museum