Growing a Culture of Philanthropy
Westen Johnson 19 ID is one of many current students who rely on scholarship support from RISD.
With a “love for making things that increase a user’s quality of life,” Westen Johnson 19 ID has designed systems and products for everything from growing fresh greens for students in RISD’s dining hall to preserving body heat in premature infants. The Industrial Design senior is just one of many students benefitting from increasing philanthropic support in the past year.
“The scholarships I receive from RISD have allowed me to continue my education and push myself and my work,” says Johnson. “Without my scholarships, there would be no way I could afford to attend.” Most of the support he receives comes from the generosity of donors to the RISD Fund, but this year he earned an additional scholarship from the ID department’s Mary E. Wardwell Fund. After graduation, Johnson plans to design projects and products that promote health, wellness and environmental sustainability.
A growing culture of philanthropy at RISD is driving fundraising success. During fiscal year 2017/18—when RISD’s operating budget was $148.4 million—the books closed on June 30 with more than $16.7 million in new support for the college and museum, making it the second best fundraising year in RISD’s history. The recent success is part of an upward trajectory: giving has increased by nearly $10 million in the last five years, a 64% rise. A $5-million gift from the Opus Foundation, along with a $5.5-million anonymous gift, contributed to the overall success of the year and stood out as among two of the three gifts RISD has ever received at or above the $5 million mark.
Support from the Opus Foundation has enabled RISD’s Campus Master Plan to move forward with such projects as a recently completed Student Success Center on the first floor of 20 Washington Place that houses offices for the Registrar, Student Financial Services and the Career Center, along with advising rooms, exhibition areas and an auditorium. These funds also contributed to the completion of a state-of-the-art sound studio on the mezzanine level of 15 Westminster.
The $5.5-million anonymous gift—the largest ever from an individual donor—included $3 million for financial aid, which set a new record in scholarship support from a single contribution. In addition, the gift also supports RISD’s Experimental and Foundation Studies division, where first-year students are introduced to the rigorous approach to risk-taking, process, materials, critique and collaboration that set the school apart.
“One of RISD’s top priorities is to offer generous financial aid so that all students—no matter their socioeconomic background—have equal opportunity to attend RISD, to use appropriate materials to create their work and to take full advantage of travel and internship opportunities,” says President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID. “Most importantly, we want to ensure that students graduate from RISD free from levels of debt that force them to defer their dreams.”
With gifts totaling $5,011,874, RISD raised a record amount for financial aid in 2017/18. This includes more than $4.6 million for scholarships, fellowships and related prizes and over $384,000 for its Social Equity Fund, which provides eligible students with supplemental support to buy the materials needed for studio projects, to participate in global travel courses and to gain professional experience through supported internships.
“Philanthropy has the power to transform the lives of RISD students,” notes Michael Spalter P 22, chair of RISD’s Board of Trustees. “Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of alumni, parents and friends, 100% of eligible first-year students received some financial aid last year, which is a remarkable step forward. I’m also grateful for the strategic investments made by our corporate and foundation supporters and for the creative partnership RISD enjoys with many state and federal agencies.”
Positioned at the forefront of art and design education, RISD continues to strengthen and expand its programs through faculty scholars, artists and designers who lead new inquiry in fields as diverse as biodesign, robotics, healthcare, virtual reality and environmental studies. In addition, two new graduate programs—in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies and Global Arts and Cultures—are just getting off the ground.
With students around the world recognizing the value of a RISD education, applications are surging, leading to a 46% increase in the past decade. At the same time, the Admissions Office has become more selective, with its admissions rate dropping from 27% to 20% in the past 10 years.
“There is something very special about how the RISD community works together for the institution and students we all love,” say William and Alison Schweizer P 19, co-chairs of the Parents’ Council, which funded 10 student internships in 2017/18. “We care deeply about the next generation of artists, designers and architects who are studying at RISD today. What we do now—by volunteering our time and advocating for the college—will have a positive effect on RISD students for generations to come.”
“It is a pleasure to build upon the strength and enthusiasm of RISD’s alumni, parents and friends,” says O’Neil Outar, vice president of Institutional Engagement. “We have created two new platforms to support their generosity: The RISD Fund encourages donors to direct their annual giving to what matters to them most: scholarships, campus facilities, faculty, unrestricted support or other purposes. We have also introduced the 1877 Society to recognize RISD’s most generous and loyal supporters. Working in partnership with our leadership volunteers and with the support of the entire RISD community, we anticipate a record-setting year in 2018/19.”
After earning a Somerson Scholarship, graduate student Sanié Bokhari MFA 18 PT is able to evolve her artistic voice by commenting on her experiences as a Pakistani living in America.
Funding from a $280,000 EAGER grant will enable RISD to develop a maker space and K–12 curriculum focused on bio-design and its relationship to real-world problems.
As a summer intern at Running Man studio in NYC, Film/Animation/Video major Sarah Novak-Sheward 19 FAV gets a feel for TV production.