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Open Intro to Studio Life

When prospective graduate students visited campus on November 16 for Graduate Studies’ annual IN FOcus session, they responded especially well to opportunities to talk with current students, who were eager to share information about their work, their program and life at RISD.

Brian Goldberg, interim dean of Graduate Studies, served as MC for a two-hour afternoon program designed to orient visitors to campus. Along the way, he noted that given the strength of the studio experience, a range of relevant interdisciplinary electives and support from a caring community, grad students “leave RISD well-equipped to live a creative life.”

Among the key speakers, Provost Rosanne Somerson addressed what sets RISD’s programs apart from others. “What’s different is how you learn here,” she pointed out. “It’s about so much more than great equipment and amazing facilities. It’s about the deep, disciplinary rigor of our programs. It’s about object-based learning and the peers who will fuel your experience here. It's about you defining for yourself how you’re going to practice.”

The provost also spoke about three core priorities in RISD’s new strategic plan of particular relevance to graduate students: developing pedagogy, investing in research and the creation of “new interdisciplinary spaces centered around making.” And she promised that RISD would be “challenging and disruptive at the highest levels,” but that it would help students to “fill in weaknesses with new strengths.”

Several current students made informal presentations to provide prospective students with a range of perspectives. Amanda Sim MFA 13 GD spoke about a recent project to help curate and design the early fall Showcase exhibition focused on thesis books. Maya Krinsky MFA 14 PH, Shou Jie Eng MArch 15 and Cristina Sirbu MFA 14 TX each spoke about their experiences as curatorial assistants at the RISD Museum. “Working in the Museum’s Education Department, I’m getting a rich art history lesson and improving my own skills in talking about art,” Krinsky noted in discussing the work she does with school children. Sirbu summed up the value of her own immersion behind the scenes at the museum with: “Who needs Google when I can hang out with the incredibly knowledgeable curators at the RISD Museum?”

Yuki Kawae MIA 13, president of the Graduate Student Alliance (GSA), welcomed prospective students by noting that “RISD is this wonderful strange place” where students learn from each other. “Graduate school is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we’re here to make it memorable,” he said, speaking of the role of the student organization he leads. “As a community, we lift each other up.”

After a lively question and answer session with the presenters and other key RISD staff members, current students led IN FOcus participants on tours of campus, including visits to specific departments of their own choice. Informal meetings with the 16 Graduate Program Directors followed.

Organized by the GSA, the evening Open Studios event and after-party capped off the day, offering opportunities for the more informal, open-ended in-studio conversations that help prospective students figure out whether RISD is right for them. All five RISD buildings that house grad studios were open from 7–10, with students from each department showcasing their work and available on site to discuss it.

The community-wide effort to welcome visitors proved to be hugely rewarding, Kawae reports. “One prospective told me: ‘I actually had a great time. I usually don’t expect much from these school tours, but wow, this was amazing!’”