Glover Connects with Campus Community

Actor, producer and humanitarian Danny Glover wrapped up his visit to RISD last Friday with a heartfelt, stream-of-conscious talk delivered to a packed house in RISD’s main auditorium. “Design is a deliberate act of imagination,” the dapper 68-year-old declared in presenting RISD’s 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. keynote address. “It is our mandate to use art as a platform for love and empathy.”

In welcoming him, interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID described Glover as “a role model for fellow creatives—a community activist and philanthropist who uses his visibility to effect positive change.” And faculty moderator Ann Fessler—a professor in RISD’s Photography department—applauded his successful efforts to “shine a light on injustice.”

Glover walked side by side with civil rights leaders in the 1960s and has since worked tirelessly for social justice at home and abroad. He has served as an ambassador for the United Nations and UNICEF, supported union laborers, earned a Pioneer Award from the National Civil Rights Museum and the Medaille des Arts et des Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of San Francisco, in the city he has called home his entire life.

Addressing the RISD community, Glover was characteristically humble, admitting that when it comes to social justice and creating a better world, he has more questions than answers. He liberally referenced the words of great artists such as James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry and Clifford Odets, among others. “The precise role of the artist,” he said, quoting Baldwin, “is to illuminate the darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest so that we will not in all our doing lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

Glover also spoke favorably of the time he’d spent at RISD earlier in the day, noting that his spirit was fed by Kindred, a show featuring work by students of African descent at the Gelman Student Exhibitions Gallery. He encouraged students in the audience to reflect on the women—“the nonconformists and rebels”—who founded RISD in the 1870s, 40 years before women had the right to vote in the US, and to doggedly consider their own ethics as artists. “A new world is possible if we imagine it so,” he professed. “That is our task, mandate and salvation.”

After his talk, Glover answered a few questions from the audience and signed autographs. In response to a question about his own journey, he noted, “I stand on the shoulders of those who came before. The deep responsibility I feel becomes deeper as I advance in age. It keeps me up at night and wakes me in the morning.”

text by Simone Solondz / photo by David O'Connor

March 4, 2015

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