} }

The Art & Design

of Leadership

As President Rosanne Somerson prepares to leave the institution she has called home since 1972, the RISD community celebrates her deep commitment and lasting contributions to its legacy. The first alumna to be named president during RISD’s 144-year history, Somerson brought a unique understanding to the role as well as a gift for building community and addressing the needs of students, faculty and staff.

During the past 15 months, Somerson has responded to an avalanche of challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic that rocked institutions around the world to the unprecedented financial crisis it triggered to the unending parade of racist violence perpetrated against Black people here in the US. She has taken a strong stand for BIPOC members of the RISD community and positioned social equity and inclusion at the core of the institution, building a more diverse student body and faculty, increasing the number of racially diverse new hires by 13 percent, exponentially increasing scholarship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, and pushing for a more inclusive, less Eurocentric pedagogy and curriculum.

As a teacher and mentor, Somerson has influenced generations of creative thinkers and makers, demonstrating a quiet sense of confidence combined with accessibility and a relentless desire to learn. By shifting RISD’s focus from art and design star power to environmental and societal impact, she offered the world a veritable road map for using privilege to effect real, measurable change for the greater good. Here we reflect on the many ways she helped to transform RISD as president and share some of the voices raised in her honor.

The Presidential Years

Academic Path &

Studio Practice