News And Events

New Professorship In Sustainability

New Professorship in Sustainability

A generous gift helps RISD bring art and design to bear on the future of the planet.

Sustainable oyster farming

photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

Thanks to a generous gift, RISD is creating the Houghton P. Metcalf Professorship in Sustainability. Established through a donation from the Metcalf family, the new fully funded faculty position will allow RISD to recruit an academic leader to develop institution-wide initiatives in sustainability.

“This remarkable gift empowers RISD to make rapid progress on values that have come to define our community.”

President Rosanne Somerson

“This remarkable gift empowers RISD to make rapid progress on values that have come to define our community,” says President Rosanne Somerson. “As artists and designers, RISD faculty and students bring tremendous power to the intractable problems of sustainability, climate justice and the local impacts of global challenges. We specialize in new methods that identify problems, conceptualize what is possible—and then bring inventive solutions to life. We are deeply grateful for this support.”

Structure composed of wooden hexagons

Named in honor of the great-grandson of RISD Founder Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf and father of current trustee Stephen A. Metcalf, Houghton P. Metcalf was appointed a RISD Life Trustee in 1958 and honored for his lifelong involvement and contributions to the college with an honorary degree in 1996. Metcalf, who passed away in 2003, was a former RISD trustee, the first chair of the Museum Committee of the Board and a member of the Fine Arts Committee.

“The sustainability initiatives undertaken by faculty and students are a testimony to RISD’s commitment to... a more inclusive future.”

trustee Stephen Metcalf

“The sustainability initiatives undertaken by faculty and students are a testimony to RISD’s commitment to educate artists and designers for a more inclusive future,” says Stephen Metcalf. “This gift provides the college with resources to prepare students for leadership roles in meeting the challenges presented by sustainability.”

Large aquarium area containing plants and fish, in the Nature Lab

“Climate change and its impact on the planet has presented persistent challenges,” Somerson notes. Despite a steady stream of interventions intended to address and promote sustainability, she says, “Technology and public policy on their own are not meeting the challenge. RISD’s ability to embrace new inputs and collaborate across disciplines, to work in context and to address systems from new perspectives can offer pathways to new thinking about old problems.”

“RISD can address challenging social, political and ecological issues facing the world right now through... interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Assistant Professor Johanna Barthmaier-Payne

The RISD community has deep ties and a profound commitment to sustainability, at every level. In a 2019 survey of first-year students, 97 percent said they believe climate change is a national priority. And more than 40 percent of RISD faculty members are working directly on sustainability-related projects and courses. Several departments have completely transformed their academic programs to help students address the coming climate crisis; others have introduced new programs to address the intersections between social justice, sustainability and other art and design disciplines.

Aerial view of building and surrounding land with large word "land" sitting on the grass

NEXT: RISD 2020–27, the institution’s strategic plan, identifies sustainability as one of the organizing principles around which RISD will pursue its future. In a 2018 survey, RISD alumni ranked sustainability and climate change as the most important topics they are eager to engage with as part of their relationship with RISD.

“RISD can address challenging social, political and ecological issues facing the world right now through design problem-solving and interdisciplinary collaboration,” says Johanna Barthmaier-Payne, head of RISD’s Landscape Architecture department. “Our mission is to strengthen these values by becoming a leading, world-class institution where science, research, making, expression and social and environmental justice collectively form the guiding principles of our practice,” she says. “This professorship empowers RISD to make rapid progress on our mission.”

Student tends to plants under lights while in front of a wall of green growth

In addition to recognizing the significance of a scholar’s work, endowed professorships support their recipients and provide them with a research stipend. This is RISD’s fourth endowed professorship and 14th philanthropically funded professorship, all of which were established within the past five years.

Related stories

Society of Presidential Fellows Takes Flight

Since August 2019 RISD has raised $15 million to fund a new program that recruits and supports outstanding graduate students.

A Record Year of Engagement

The RISD community offers record-setting support for the college and its mission.

RISD Launches “Race in Art & Design” Cluster Hire Search

As part of its commitment to address institutional racism and advance social equity, RISD is hiring 10 new faculty as part of a cluster hire initiative focused on race and decolonization in art and design.