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Alumni Offer Inspiring Advice

Alumni Offer Inspiring Advice

The Career Center presents its annual RISD Mindshare lecture series, providing current students with real-world guidance about life after college.

british musician jacob banks

Photographer and RISD alum Grace Rivera 15 PH created a series of intense, colorful portraits while on tour with British musician Jacob Banks.

“When I’m setting rates for a shoot, I follow my instincts and make sure the images are going to be good for my portfolio,” says commercial photographer and RISD alumna Grace Rivera 15 PH. “I try to move away from toxic people, but I’m careful not to burn bridges and to stay polite and calm if a client is misbehaving.”

Rivera was offering professional advice to current students as the last speaker in the 2021 RISD Mindshare series. Organized by the Career Center, the lectures are what Senior Advisor Scott Malloy describes as RISD’s version of TED Talks focused on the professional trajectories of recent graduates. Each year since the series was launched in 2013, alumni are invited to share practical advice about anything from launching a personal project to starting an innovative business or otherwise making a positive impact on society.

close-up of two identical models wearing unusual makeup
Commercial photography by Grace Rivera.

The most recent (all-virtual) series also included husband-and-wife team Jeff Barnett-Zunino 06 PH and Bowie Barnett-Zunino 09 SC, co-executive directors of rural arts center and artist residency program the Wassaic Project; RISD Trustee Ashleigh Axios 08 GD, owner and chief experience officer at digital design agency Coforma; and local self-starter Yarrow Thorne 12 ID, founder and executive director of Providence-based public arts organization The Avenue Concept.

“I try to move away from toxic people, but I’m careful not to burn bridges and to stay polite and calm if a client is misbehaving.”

Photographer Grace Rivera

“Public art can open eyes and minds, build a sense of place and community, raise public awareness about community issues, bring streets, plazas and buildings to life, boost local economies and connect neighbors,” Thorne said in his talk. “There’s always another question to ask, another space to transform.”

wood and steel sculpture in downtown providence
Lotus by JaeHyo Lee was the first sculpture The Avenue Concept installed in Providence.

Like many art and design entrepreneurs, Thorne needed to hit the ground running when he launched his organization. He shared a story about his first sculpture installation back in 2015, when he landed a piece by South Korean artist JaeHyo Lee. The artist was showing his work in an exhibition at the Boston MFA at the time, and Thorne and his crew were able to install Lotus, a 20-foot wood and steel sculpture, in downtown Providence within days of signing the contract.

“There’s always another question to ask, another space to transform.”

Yarrow Thorne, The Avenue Concept

The Barnett-Zuninos also began by responding to needs within their community, but they built their business—which started as a summer music festival—slowly over time. It all began with Maxon Mills, a seven-story grain elevator headed for demolition that they purchased and renovated in 2008. “Since then, we’ve exhibited more than 90 artists, hosted three summer camps, released 100 limited-edition prints and three publications on top of a series of workshops, lectures and artist residencies,” says Bowie.

maxon mills at the wassaic project
The Wassaic Project was built around Maxon Mills, once a seven-story grain elevator headed for demolition. photo by Verónica González Mayoral

“It’s about starting small and following your creative impulses,” Jeff adds. “So much of what we do is seeing a need in the community and figuring out how we can get involved. RISD opens a lot of doors. That’s a privilege that you all have and should use.”

“So much of what we do is seeing a need in the community and figuring out how we can get involved.”

Jeff Barnett-Zunino, The Wassaic Project

Axios has been working in government and public health since graduating from RISD. “Impactful by design is the mantra at my company,” she explains, “taking something from its current state to a better future state. We measure success by the positive impact we’re able to make, not by dollars and cents.”

us antarctic project
The Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Drilling (WISSARD) camp in central Antarctica run by Coforma client the US Antarctic Program. photo by Rachel Murray

All of the speakers agree that RISD’s approach helped them to make positive impacts in their careers, allowing them to ask the right questions of themselves and then present their ideas clearly. “You may not realize how specific classes and assignments will tie in until later,” says Rivera, “but RISD gives you the confidence and the structure to talk about your work, which is invaluable.”

Simone Solondz

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