NEA Chair Jane Chu Visits RISD


Jane Chu enjoyed a brief tour of selected highlights at RISD.

Yesterday, August 18, leaders of the RISD community welcomed several special guests to campus: Jane Chu, recently appointed chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), US Senator Jack Reed  (D-RI) and Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.


As Board Chair Michael Spalter, Provost Pradeep Sharma and Museum Director John Smith greeted the group in the Chace Center, Sharma talked about RISD’s STEAM initiative, explaining how it inextricably links innovation, collaboration and technology within a clear social context.

In providing Chairman Chu with historical background on the STEAM movement, Vice Provost Carol Strohecker noted that since 2010 the National Science Foundation (NSF) has been working with the NEA and an international community of researchers, educators and leaders to revitalize ailing economies. 


Associate Vice President Greg Victory offered concrete examples of how current students make an impact well beyond the typical realms of art and design, citing the work being done by recipients of the Maharam STEAM Fellowship in Applied Art and Design. “They’re able to have a real impact because they’re not afraid to pose questions and take risks,” Victory noted.


Assistant Professor of Industrial Design Cas Holman demonstrated her Rigamajig building kit for kids, explaining to Chairman Chu and Senator Reed that the role of designers in the STEAM movement is to “enrich and contextualize” the other disciplines. What’s important for educators working with her kit, she noted, is not so much the things that kids create with it, but the act of freeform making itself.


RISD Board Chair Michael Spalter listens intently as NEA Chair Jane Chu responds to what she’s seeing during her visit to campus.

Chairman Chu expressed interest in how the Rigamajig is used in classrooms and also in the notion of object-based inquiry introduced by Assistant Dean of Faculty Tracie Costantino.

After the informal gathering at the Chace Center, the group enjoyed a quick tour of the Nature Lab led by Director Neal Overstrom and a demonstration of RISD’s ever-inspiring electronic jacquard loom. 


all photos by David O’Connor

Colbert Ready to Share?

When Brian Chesky 04 ID made a guest appearance on The Colbert Report last week, Stephen Colbert welcomed him by asking the difference between “Airbnb and, uh, just home prostitution.” He also took the opportunity to spoof “the sharing economy” that Chesky and his business partner Joe Gebbia 05 GD/ID are often credited with helping to jumpstart.

Vote for RISD’s Proposed Panels at SXSWedu


Now that plans are in the works for the 2015 SXSWedu Conference, organizers are asking online voters to help pick the best proposals for panel discussions. Interim President Rosanne Somerson and several other RISD people have made proposals covering various aspects of art and design education, so please go to the SXSW PanelPicker to help get them on the agenda in Austin (the conference runs from March 9–12, 2015).

Somerson has proposed a talk on the impact of critical making, while Chief of Staff Mara Hermano and Assistant Dean of Faculty Tracie Costantino are working on an interactive panel called Visualizing Critique. If you’re attending the conference and would like to hear more about entrepreneurship, activism and education, vote for the panel proposed by Dean of Liberal Arts Dan Cavicchi, Industrial Design Critic Bill Foulkes, HPSS Department Head Damian White and Assistant Professor Jennifer Prewitt-Freilino. And finally, consider casting a vote for Industrial Design grad student Mariya Sitnova’s proposal on 3D technology in education.


(Anonymous) voting is open until September 5, and the public is also welcome to submit notes and comments on any of the more than 1,000 panel ideas that have been submitted. Community voting accounts for 30% of the final scheduling decisions (to be announced in October), so make your picks now!

Transformation of ISB Continues

A little over a year after breaking ground, the renovation of the Illustration Studies Building is moving along on schedule, with the addition of a slender glass tower on the east face of the building and massive amounts of interior work continuing this summer.

“The project is coming along beautifully,” affirms Department Head Rob Brinkerhoff. While the building remained in use during the 13/14 academic year, construction work continued in the addition.

This summer workers are tearing out the old bathrooms and stairwell in the main building and installing ductwork for the new HVAC systems.

Fundraising continues to keep the project on track, but if all goes as planned, Brinkerhoff says that by next fall (2015) “we’ll have what amounts to a brand new building, more working space and – most importantly – an appropriate home for the 300 students and 43 faculty members who make up the largest departmental community at RISD.”

Providence-based jewelry maker Priya Himatsingka 00 JM has launched an updated website to promote her sizable collection of elegant, handmade pieces made of silver, high-karat gold and diamonds. Born in India to a family of textile designers, Hamatsingka studied at Parsons and NYU before coming to RISD. Her beautifully understated necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings are available online, through wholesale distribution and at scores of stores throughout the country.

Controlled Chaos Coming Soon

imageSunset Overdrive is all about fun in the end times and I wanted to reflect that in the art style,” notes art director Jacinda Chew 99 IL in a recent interview. She’s speaking about the latest computer game she has been developing with the team at Insomniac Games in California.

imageThe Insomniac team is in overdrive itself as artists and developers work to finalize a bazillion details before the game releases this fall. In this video (below), Chew talks about street fashion, the thinking behind the character development, questions of diversity and why she feels Sunset Overdrive will appeal to an international audience.

Chew also says that in developing the apocalyptic environments, she looked to some of Havana’s old buildings for inspiration, noting that she loves “how the peeling paint and plaster would often reveal other colors underneath. This eventually made it into our game as brushstrokes that are splashed onto the asphalt, buildings and even clothes. Not only did I want the world to be a happy place full of vibrant color, but a place where you didn’t have to follow any rules. This is why we didn’t bother to paint within the lines. It’s controlled chaos.”


When asked which game character she’d most like to be, Chew doesn’t skip a beat before responding: “I’d be Bunny Girl all the way.” 

Rising Interest in RocketSkates

After dreaming about motorized skates for nearly a decade, Peter Treadway 96 ID is about to see his dream come true thanks to a phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign. His California-based startup ACTON launched the campaign to raise $50K for the initial run of RocketSkates™, but has already brought in more than $445K in pledges. “I developed 50 or 60 prototypes,” the designer says, “and now we’ve finally got the product rolling, literally and figuratively.”


The lightweight electric skates attach to shoes and propel the skater along at up to 12 mph. Three models will be available (with increasing range and run times before a battery recharge is needed) at prices ranging from $499 to $699. Skaters use their feet to kick off, tilt forward to accelerate and backward to slow down.


RocketSkates have been generating a lot of buzz on tech-savvy media outlets such as the BBC Newsletter and, and have been highlighted on a number of TV news shows. As Treadway explained to a Fox news reporter, the objective is to get people out of their cars for local errands and spins around town.

RISD Grads Contribute to Simpsons’ Wins


Chuck Ragins 91 IL, a longtime layout artist for The Simpsonsrecently won an Emmy for his design work on last season’s Halloween episode. As America’s perennial favorite animated series celebrates 25 years on the air, Ragins points out that dozens of artists and animators he’s worked with over the past 18 years are fellow RISD grads. “We have had a lot of influence over the visual evolution of the show since the second season,” he says.


Ragins won his first Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation in 2010 for his work on the episode Postcards from the Wedge. In a tip of the hat to his home state of Alaska, he also made a cameo appearance as a chairlift operator at a questionable ski resort in the 2000 episode Little Big Mom.

Happily Ever After

imageIn late July Los Angeles-based artist and steampunker Andrew Fogel 09 FAV surprised Kate Walsh 08 IL by getting down on one padded knee to propose on stage at the sixth annual Starburner Awards at the 2014 Comic Con convention in San Diego. Despite the fact that Walsh had previously told Fogel he was “not allowed to propose on stage,” it looks like she said yes as members of the couple’s tribe were being honored for outstanding contributions to the steampunk community.


Cozzens Wins Recognition at Foo Fest


When Providence arts collective AS220 celebrates independent music and arts at its annual Foo Fest tomorrow (August 9), it will also present Free Culture Awards to avant-garde performance artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and transgendered printmaker Ian Cozzens BArch 05 (above), who creates prints as “strategic solidarity maneuvers against the forced hetero-normativity of late capitalism.”


The biennial awards recognize artists “whose work has made a significant contribution to grassroots, participatory culture and freedom of expression, and whose art and/or process embodies the organization’s unjuried, uncensored mission.” The prize itself is a glass (society-shaping) hammer designed by AS220 Artistic Director Umberto Crenca and artist Steve Easton.


“Shared, self-made graphics hold power for creating our lives and realities,” says Cozzens – “for piecing our stories together based on memory, delight, the irrational, the impossible, the failed and the beautiful.”

Standing in the center of Woods-Gerry Gallery, David Harrison took a quiet moment to size up What’s Left Behind, a rust-stained garment adorned with large metal nails. Pre-College student Gillian Yerington made the piece during the intensive intro to college-level studio work she has been experiencing this summer at RISD.

“It would be completely impractical to wear this,” notes Harrison. “There’s a real possibility you could get slightly impaled if you bumped against the hardware. But it’s totally inspiring to see how the artist went about making it. It’s really powerful.”

The sharply designed textile is on view through tomorrow, August 8, in the Pre-College Exhibition, a collection of engaging works made by teenage artists enrolled in the six-week program. On Wednesday evening, hundreds of students celebrated the show of their final projects at a bustling opening reception.

Harrison (pictured above) also debuted his own textile imprinted with a grid of graphics based on US license plates. “The owners of a diner in my hometown strung up funny vanity plates to a wall,” explains the native of Exeter, NH. “That image has always stayed with me. I thought it would be an interesting visual pattern to silkscreen.”

While taking a break from welding in RISD’s metal shop to visit the show, Amy Lubinstein 17 SC was immediately taken with Letters, a statuesque mannequin made of delicate paper (to the left in the second row above). Cyrus Glanzer made the arresting piece while studying Sculpture this summer with faculty member Lu Heintz 01 SC.

“I’m drawn to the sheer size of this paper doll,” explains Lubinstein. “And the texture of the layered paper is just elegantly beautiful.”

If you’re on campus, act fast! The exhibition at Woods-Gerry closes on Friday, August 8.

Joyful Anarchy Rewarded!

New graduate Josh Sehnert 14 FAV has won the grand prize in Cartoon Brew’s Student Animation Festival with his film Mr. Piggy Dies in 25 Dimensions (see below). It’s as over-the-top as the “cartoons intended for human consumption” he features on Farkey, his Vimeo site.

In explaining why Sehnert’s unusually long film (16-minutes pushes the limit for this format) stands out, Cartoon Brew notes that it’s:

…an increasingly manic 25-chapter saga of a pig, Mr. Piggy, who dies. If you ever wanted a definition – or a parody – of the New Aesthetic art movement, this is the film you’d show. Sehnert understands that animation and technology are inseparable nowadays, and he makes you aware of the technology behind his images every single step of the way.

The film represents what every student film should aspire to: joyful anarchy that revels in the fact that as a student, you can do anything. You can try everything. Doesn’t matter if it works or fails. Surely, every idea in Mr. Piggy Dies doesn’t succeed. That’s hardly the point. Sehnert experiments. 


“As a character, I wanted Mr. Piggy to be a sympathetic narcissist,” Sehnert explains. “Given the title and repetition of his death as a constant joke, the inevitability of his demise mixed with his misguided optimism set up the perfect atmosphere for Mr. Piggy’s comedic tragedy to constantly reinvent itself.”

To hear more from Sehnert about how and why he developed Mr. Piggy Dies, check out the full story on Cartoon Brew.

New Documentary Looks at Trans Issues


TransJourney, a new documentary by Literary Arts + Studies faculty member Alexia Kosmider, will premiere this weekend as part of the Rhode Island International Film FestivalThe film – which Kosmider began with her late partner, director Deb Monuteaux – follows the interwoven paths of three women whose lives are changed by the realities of transitioning from one gender to another. It explores new ways of understanding identity, family and belonging.  


“Young people are glad we’re making these films,” says Kosmider. “They can see role models [and realize] that they’re not alone – that their decisions are important. These stories are about courage, affirmation and acceptance. They allow viewers to see transgendered people in a different way.”

Kosmider has also made documentaries called Not Your Mama’s Roller Derby (2009) and Sappho’s Fire (2011), a film about 10 aging lesbians. At RISD she teaches courses on queer cinema and LGBTQ literature and culture.

TransJourney will be screened in the Chace Center’s Metcalf Auditorium this Saturday, August 9, at 7 pm. 

Bradley Promotes Accessibility

When arts administrators from across the country gathered in Chicago over the weekend, they recognized Rebecca Bradley MA 10 with a 2014 Emerging Leader Award at the Kennedy Center’s Leadership Exchange in Arts and Disability (LEAD) ConferenceThe goal of honoring selected leaders in the field is to increase awareness and focus on the importance of accessibility at artistic venues and cultural institutions across the country.


Bradley coordinates accessibility for Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which includes the de Young Museum and the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Golden Gate Park. Since joining the organization in 2012, she has introduced Artful Discoveries, an interactive program for museum visitors living with early-stage dementia. 



RISD will have an unusually strong presence at next month’s Ottawa International Animation Festival, which runs from September 17–21 in Canada’s capital city. One of the leading festivals in the world, OIAF received 2,033 entries from 70 countries, with judges selecting 101 short films, five features and 71 showcase films to be screened. 

Among the five features chosen for the competition is Truth Has Fallen, a one-hour animated documentary by Sheila Sofian 83 FAV on James McCloskey’s work to free prisoners who have been wrongly convicted of murder.

The RISD School Reel, a 38-minute curated collection of animated films made by 10 juniors and seniors, has been selected for inclusion in the official school category.

The Divide (3:50) by Brent Sievers 14 FAV is among the films that will be screened as part of the RISD School Reel, while also competing in the Undergraduate category. 


Superjail!, a boisterous series co-created by Christy Karacas 97 FAV, will compete in the Television Series category, while Hockey Dream, an ad for Oreos by Dan Abdo 00 FAV and Jason Patterson 99 FAV, competes in the promotional category.

Other great films by RISD people to look for next month in Ottawa include:

Toro by Lynn Kim 14 FAV in the Undergraduate competition, along with Lesley the Pony Has an A+ Day! by Christian Larrave 15 FAV and The Divide by Brent Siever 14 FAV.

Jiro Visits the Dentist by Gina Kamentsky (FAV faculty) and Totem and Yield by Caleb Wood 11 FAVwill compete in the Experimental category.

Hundred Waters ‘Cavity’ by Michael Langan 07 FAV will be screened as part of the Music Video competition.

And the following films will also part of the festival’s non-competitive showcase:
Ladies’ Night by Simeon Kondev 14 FAV

Happy Holidays! by Leah Shore 09 FAV

Happy and Gay byLorelei Pepi 87 IL (former FAV faculty) 

Goodbye Rabbit, Hop Hop by Caleb Wood 11 FAV

All in all, RISD-related films comprise roughly 10% of the work selected for OIAF worldwide – a great showcase for some of the finest films to emerge this year.