A Record Year of Engagement
The RISD community offers record-setting support for the college and its mission.
In 2019–20, RISD raised more money for student financial aid than ever before in its history. In the 12 months ending June 30, the college received $24.7 million from alumni, parents, students, friends and donors—its second-best fundraising year ever. Of this total, a record $15.8 million will be directed to student financial aid.
“The outpouring of generosity from our community continues to be extraordinary, and I am especially gratified to see such support for broadening access to the RISD experience,” says President Rosanne Somerson. “It has also been heartening to see how the ever-strengthening ties among us are helping RISD meet one of the most significant challenges in our history. I am encouraged by how we are adapting together to emerge stronger and more resilient for the future.”
Providing enhanced support for graduate students emerged as a clear priority among RISD’s benefactors this year. Launched as a new initiative in August 2019, the Society of Presidential Fellows is a program for improving recruitment and retention of highly talented prospective graduate students. Fellows are selected through a competitive process and receive full-tuition funding for the duration of their programs.
RISD secured $13 million in support for the initiative in its first year and welcomed its inaugural round of Society of Presidential Fellows to five incoming students: Aaron Christopher Jelinek MArch 23, Lilly E. Manycolors MA 22 GAC, Zoë Pulley MFA 23 GD, Diana Sanchez MFA 22 D+M and Tzyy Yi Young MFA 22 FD.
Manycolors, who has an undergraduate degree in Individualized Studies in Decolonization from Goddard College, recently completed an installation depicting a sculptural rendition of a sweat lodge made from red dresses that inhabited the Boston Common.
“I am the first in my family to attend higher education and also a mixed Indigenous single mother without access to family or resources other than what I create,” Manycolors said in a recent interview. “The fellowship provides me with the financial liberation to continue my education and manifest my work in the world. I hope the fellowship will engage in reparations and redistribution of access to resources that will benefit not just myself but also other Indigenous people.”
“It is exciting that the first group of fellows has begun to learn, make and grow at RISD,” says Hillary Blumberg 92 IL, a RISD Trustee and supporter of the new fellowship program. “It is vitally important to make the RISD educational experience accessible to talented graduate students who are already enriching our community and will go on to build impactful creative careers in art and design.”
Creating community during a pandemic
2019–20 was a year of steep challenges: lockdowns, economic upheaval and social unrest. Despite the troubles, however, RISD Institutional Engagement (IE)—which is responsible for both fundraising and creating opportunities for alumni, parents, students, friends and donors to engage with the college—found a willing and receptive audience in RISD’s alumni and friends, says IE Vice President O’Neil Outar.
“Our aim is to welcome all members of the RISD family into our community and provide them with opportunities to get involved, and we have been inspired by how much they embrace new opportunities to support our students,” Outar notes. “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, our donors gave generously to provide emergency funds for impacted students, to increase financial aid and to invest in new programs.”
Through IE, Outar says, the Alumni Association and the newly created Families Association have offered hundreds of online events and launched a wide range of new programs this year. From 10 new alumni affinity groups to an insurance program to a new alumni library collection (in partnership with RISD’s Fleet Library) to a special project-for-hire program offered through the RISD Network and a new peer mentoring program for the families of first-year students—alumni and RISD families have been dedicating their time, energy and financial resources to the college at an unprecedented rate.
For example, Outar notes, when the campus had to close in March, the college needed to come up with more than $2 million in emergency funding for student support, to preserve work they had left on campus, ship making kits and laptops to students around the globe, train staff and faculty to deliver education online and much more.
The response among alumni was led by the Chair of RISD’s Board of Trustees, Michael Spalter, who along with his fellow trustees launched the RISD Together Challenge—which ultimately drew 516 donors (75% of whom were alumni) to make $2.4 million in gifts.
“I saw our community gripped by a crisis that was playing out at educational institutions around the world, and I knew we could make an immediate difference for RISD students,” Spalter says. “It was up to the trustees to lead by example and encourage the entire community to join together to help.”
“The RISD Together Challenge was an extraordinary demonstration of loyalty and generosity by our board and our community,” says Somerson. “Their support empowered us to keep the RISD experience intact for our students, and we are all deeply grateful for the support.”
—photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
The RISD Alumni Association honors art and design professionals Todd Bartel 85 PT, Deborah Berke BArch 77 and Grace Jun 09 GD.
Thanks to two generous gifts, exceptional graduate students selected for the Society of Presidential Fellows will have tuition-free access to a RISD education.
A $20-million gift from the Rayon Foundation Trust honors RISD’s historic roots in the study of textiles.