Updates on Upcoming Events + Programs

RISD seal in blue

Today I write to share a number of decisions and updates concerning RISD Commencement, other landmark spring semester events, and summer programming. While there is information in this communication for all members of our community, I want to especially speak to students and your families today, as this news most directly and deeply impacts you.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to progress, predictions for when it will recede remain uncertain. Still, it has become increasingly clear that we cannot hold Commencement and other academic year-end traditions this spring as planned. This is truly one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make as president, and I make it after considering many alternatives. I wish for nothing more than to bring our campus community back together, especially for our most special and celebratory milestones. Commencement is one of our most anticipated annual events, one that marks the extraordinary accomplishments of our graduating students and represents a lifetime milestone years in the making. Personally, Commencement is one of the most joyous moments of being a president, as all of us—faculty, staff, trustees and honored guests—come together to celebrate your proud accomplishments in the company of your families, friends and partners.

To fully honor all of you, we want to convene a RISD Commencement (including the Graduate Hooding) at a time when it will be safe to do so, and when travel is possible. Therefore, our plan is to postpone our Commencement festivities to October (specific date to be determined) in conjunction with RISD Weekend. I write “our plan” because there is still global uncertainty, but we hope that the COVID-19 circumstances at that point will allow us to hold a complete recognition of your RISD achievements and your degree conferral. Scheduled to be held October 9-11, RISD Weekend is our annual alumni reunion and family weekend. Hosting these traditions around the same time and bringing these various parts of the extended RISD family together this year will be a special way for the entire RISD community to honor and celebrate the Class of 2020; and I believe that this particular graduating class will especially need that confluence of so many celebrants to welcome you into the fold as our newest alumni.

Students who complete their degree requirements will have their degrees conferred at the end of the semester as usual and become RISD graduates and alumni. This way, those of you who are starting jobs or internships will have the distinct official credential of the RISD degree that you earned, deserve, and worked so hard to achieve. While we have to make new plans, our hope and intention is to fully recognize your important accomplishments. We will send more details in the coming weeks as we finalize plans for the 2020 celebration of this conferral of degrees.

We will continue to keep you and your families informed as planning around specifics for the Commencement ceremony, Graduate Hooding, and other events for the graduating class are clarified; there is much to adapt to and plan for in a new way. We know returning to campus next fall may be a challenge for many of you, and we are currently working on associated planning to offer assistance to those of you who may need financial support for travel and accommodations. We are also looking at the possibility of creating a few global Commencement events in places that large groups of our international students call home, to offer another way to celebrate those from far away who are unable to return in the fall.

In addition to Commencement, we have also been evaluating and altering plans for other spring events, exhibitions, and summer programming. Please read on for an update from our academic leadership team.

I hope that having a sense of Commencement discussions for this year will bring some relief, especially during such a stressful time, one that is full of uncertainties. We are aware that this decision may create new complexities for some of you, and we will try to work with each of you to resolve what we can. As we look at all of the work that was necessary to successfully resume classes with such short notice, we are reminded every day that RISD remains a resilient and collaborative community of artists, scholars, and makers. I hope we can continue to support each other and move forward with purpose and with collective support and care.

Rosanne Somerson

Spring Semester

Graduate Thesis Show | The format and timing of RISD’s 2020 Graduate Thesis Show—or potentially multiple shows—have not yet been finalized. A Task Force representing RISD’s graduate programs has formed to work with RISD Exhibitions, museum staff, graduate program directors and academic leadership to explore options ranging from augmented virtual exhibitions to future exhibitions in the RISD Museum and RISD galleries to global satellite exhibitions.

Senior Shows | The format and timing of RISD’s 2020 senior and year-end shows have not been finalized. Under the leadership of the Student Alliance, a Task Force representing RISD’s undergraduate programs has formed to work with RISD Exhibitions, museum staff, deans and department heads to explore options ranging from augmented virtual exhibitions to exhibitions on campus scheduled to coincide with the re-programmed Commencement event.

Collection 2020 | The Department of Apparel Design, together with RISD Media, is developing a publication for seniors that will be distributed physically and digitally. It will incorporate images shot for the Collection program prior to campus closure, as well as include expanded process materials and narrative texts by students.


Given the uncertain projections for when COVID-19 will slow, we have decided the most responsible course of action for summer is to not hold any programming on campus or in person in other locations.

Summer Foundation Programs (undergraduate) | RISD Experimental and Foundation Studies will offer three 3-credit courses (Drawing, Design and Spatial Dynamics) for transfer students remotely this summer, extended from the usual six weeks to eight weeks. Summer 2020 courses will start on June 29 and end on August 21.

Summer Foundation Programs (graduate) | Graduate programs will modify their 2020 summer programming as follows:

Landscape Architecture | Landscape Architecture will offer one 3-credit course remotely in summer 2020. Six credits of field-based work, normally offered to the incoming cohort during their first summer, will be deferred to summer 2021. Summer 2020 courses will start in August, specific date to be determined.

Interior Architecture | INTAR’s MDes program will offer one 3-credit course remotely in summer 2020. Six credits, normally offered to the incoming cohort during their first summer, will be redistributed to Fall semester 2020 and Wintersession 2021. Summer 2020 courses will start in August, specific date to be determined.

INTAR’s MA program in Adaptive Reuse will reschedule the DIS-based 2020 summer program in Denmark to summer 2021.

Architecture | Architecture’s MArch program will offer three 3-credit courses remotely in summer 2020. Summer 2020 courses will start on July 20 and end on August 28.

Teaching + Learning in Art + Design | Master of Arts in Teaching (1-year) will offer one 6-credit course remotely in summer 2020. The summer 2020 course will start in mid-July, specific date to be determined.

For multilingual graduate students, the Division of Architecture and Design, with staff from the Center for Arts & Language, will offer a 1-credit online course in conversational, studio and academic communication skills in English from August 3 to August 28, 2020. Priority will be given to Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture and Architecture graduate students; it will be open to all other departments on a space-available basis.

For additional information about the summer foundation graduate program offerings, please visit the Graduate Study site.

Global Summer Programs | RISD Global summer courses are cancelled for summer 2020. Deposits will be fully refunded.

Pre-College Program | Pre-college courses are cancelled for summer 2020. Deposits will be fully refunded. New, remote summer courses for teens will be available for registration in mid-May.

RISD CE Summer Programs | RISD CE’s Young Artist program will offer a selection of courses remotely this summer. RISD CE on-site, for-credit courses are cancelled, and select courses will be offered remotely this summer. Select RISD CE Adult Extension courses will continue to be offered remotely.

Fall Semester

At this time, we anticipate holding the fall semester in person and starting on time. However, we are carefully watching COVID-19 and assessing how this might affect our plans. Similarly, we currently intend to hold off-campus programming as planned.

European Honors Program | We anticipate that the European Honors Program will proceed as planned in fall 2020, led by Chief Critic Daniel Heyman. The RISD Global office will continue to monitor circumstances in Italy and notify students of any changes.