RISD Celebrates Leaders in Art and Design
On Saturday, May 31, four leaders in contemporary culture will celebrate with approximately 700 bachelor’s and master’s degree recipients at RISD’s 2014 Commencement ceremony. This year’s special guests include two honorary degree recipients: author and multitalented designer Todd Oldham and cultural, diplomatic and health advocate Jean Kennedy Smith. Design visionary Bruce Mau, whose groundbreaking work on disruptive innovation has influenced artists and designers to take on significant global challenges, will deliver the Commencement address. In addition, architect and social justice advocate Hildegard Vásquez BArch 94 will accept the 2014 Alumni Award for Professional Achievement.
Known for his unique sense of color, extravagant details and fun, lighthearted approach, Todd Oldham has influenced many areas of art and design in the three decades since he started out as a fashion designer. The founder of Todd Oldham Studio in New York City is known for everything from film directing and photography to furniture, graphic, interior, exhibition and product design. A noted author and editor of more than 22 books, Oldham has produced monographs on artists Charley Harper, Wayne White, Alexander Girard and John Waters, among others, and this fall he will release monographs on illustrator Ed Emberley and photographer Gerald Davis. Since 2009 his Kid Made Modern art and craft book for young artists has inspired the All About how-to series for creative kids along with a collection of art supplies for children. In 2008 Oldham’s Place/Space series included Home Studio Home – an edition on the unfettered creativity he found when photographing the way selected RISD students live.
Jean Kennedy Smith, a former US Ambassador to Ireland (1993–98) who served under President Bill Clinton, played a key role in the peace process in Northern Ireland and has long been an advocate for art as a catalyst for health, empowerment and equity. For the last half century she has served as a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Boston, where she is now an honorary member of the board. In 1974 Smith founded VSA (formerly known as Very Special Arts), the well-known international organization dedicated to providing people with disabilities with increased access to the arts and education. Her 1993 book Chronicles of Courage: Very Special Artists, written in collaboration with George Plimpton, points to the underlying principles behind the VSA and the impact it has had around the world. In 2012 President Barack Obama awarded Ambassador Smith the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her lifelong commitment to public service, peace and social justice.
An innovator, designer and author, Bruce Mau is the co-founder of Massive Change Network, a strategic business consultancy in Chicago dedicated to promoting the power of design as a holistic global change agent. His 25 years of achievement through design thinking include collaborations with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, MoMA, Herman Miller, Shaw Industries, The New Meadowlands Stadium and Arizona State University, along with countries such as Denmark, Guatemala and Saudi Arabia. From 1985–2009 Mau served as creative director of Bruce Mau Design, a multidisciplinary design studio still based in Toronto. He is the author and designer of several award-winning books, including Massive Change; Life Style; S,M,L,XL (in collaboration with architect Rem Koolhaas) and the iconic and celebrated ZONE BOOKS series. Translated into 17 languages, The Incomplete Manifesto for Growth presents Mau’s personal philosophy and design strategies.
Born and based in Panama, architect Hildegard Vásquez BArch 94 is being honored with the 2014 Alumni Award for her extraordinary work in helping to revitalize the Old Quarter of Panama City. Since establishing her practice Hache Uve in 1998, she has used architecture as a catalyst for social change, infusing new life into the urban core of Panama City through a thoughtful approach to renovation and renewal and the people it’s designed to serve.
Each year RISD’s Honorary Degree Committee vets scores of nominations made by the entire campus community before presenting a slate of potential recipients to the Board of Trustees for approval. Patricia Phillips, dean of Graduate Studies and Research, chaired the 2014 committee in her former role as interim associate provost. Other members of the committee are Head of Furniture Design John Dunnigan MFA 80 ID, Assistant Professor of Foundation Studies Daniel Lefcourt, RISD Trustee Mary Lovejoy, Museum Associate Curator Emily Peters, Dean of Students Jerri Drummond, former President of the Student Alliance Alexander Dale BArch 14 and former President of the Graduate Student Alliance Yuki Kawae MIA 13.
Recent alums Annika Berry 16 FAV and Eliza Doyle 16 FAV are conducting artistic research on NYC survivalists with support from Project Anywhere.
New grad Julie Benbassat 19 IL earns an Adobe Design Achievement Award for her work with the National Park Service.
Emerging photographers Steph Foster MFA 19 PH, Viktor Hübner MFA 19 PH and Izabela Jurcewicz MFA 19 PH offer penetrating views of American life.