risd alumni weekend

Monday, October 12, 2009

After 20 years and much cajoling from my apparel friend Liz, I went ahead and attended alumni weekend at RISD (pronounced "riz-dee" and also known as the Rhode Island School of Design) in Providence, RI.  My good sport of a husband came along to see what the mystique of RISD is all about. How does an art school located in the unassuming little state of Rhode Island keep up with the heavy-hitting schools located in New York, LA, and Chicago?  RISD is actually ranked #1 for fine arts schools by US News & World Report and continues to consistently produce great artists and designers such as glass artist Dale Chihuly, apparel designer Nicole Miller, and children's book author/illustrator David Macauley, to name only a few. To me, one of the best things about the school is that it is NOT located in a major city, but exists in it's own bubble, protected from too much outside influence. Just walking into the apparel studio and sitting at my old table brought back that protected cocoon feeling despite the notable addition of computers and better equipment.
Up the hill, on Benefit Street, the alumni and student sale was buzzing with energy and variety. After the Crafty Bastards show last weekend, I was in the mood for more.

I gravitated toward the apparel offerings this time and sniffed out this cheerful childrenswear by a contemporary of mine, Catherine Andreozzi. It turns out she is now a faculty member of the apparel department.

There have been a few other changes around campus since I attended.  In addition to nice improvements to the refectory and student housing, the museum recently underwent a drastic renovation and expansion with the addition of the sleek Leed-certified Chace Center designed by Spanish architect Jose Rafael Moneo. The building took over the one parking lot on campus. The center is quite spiffy and useful, but I couldn't help but wonder... where do students park now?

Chace Center - Courtesy of the RISD Museum / Photo by Erik Gould
The reunion dinner was held in the museum galleries where the exhibit Subject to Change: Art and Design in the Twentieth Century was on display.  We apparel folk enjoyed the juxtaposition of clothing, furniture, and art in the exhibit.  As students we had access to a vast collection of apparel from every era.

Another big change for the school was the inauguration a year ago of new president John Maeda. When we glimpsed him casually browsing the student and alumni art sale, I did a double-take. He looked just like a student, such is his young appearance and attitude. He actually is quite young for a college president at age 43 (same as our graduating class). A graduate and former faculty member of MIT, he has been a high-profile practicing graphic designer, computer scientist, and educator. He is famous for his philosophy of "humanizing technology" and his book The Laws of Simplicity which I might just have to get.

Maeda has even been dubbed "one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century" by Esquire magazine. We're only nine years into the 21st century, but still that's nothing to sneeze at! I was eager to hear him speak after seeing a few of his lectures online and he did finally make it to our dinner for a short but entertaining speech in his signature casual, rambling style. Alas, no meet-and-greet!

Stacey Guggenheim of Hartstrings, Christine Best of Barnes & Noble.com, Lorraine Howes, me, Maria Bassett of Jhane Barnes
We did manage to nab our beloved mentor and former apparel department head, Lorraine Howes, for a photo op on her way between parties. She still teaches History of Dress in the apparel department and critiques student work. Like the true style icon that she is, she looks poised and up-to-date, even after all this time.

It was a quick whirlwind of a visit, but it was enough time to soak up some of that RISD energy and feel reconnected to the place. I think even my husband might "get it" now. A nugget of an idea that my 8-year old daughter might like to attend here has lodged itself in my brain. Guess we'd better pick up the pace with the 529 plan!

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