Founders Day graphic

Founders Day

RISD was founded on March 22, 1877. We set aside this day—Founders Day—to celebrate the college and its mission to educate its students and the public in the creation and appreciation of works of art and design, to discover and transmit knowledge and to make lasting contributions to a global society through critical thinking, scholarship and innovation.

The ideas that led to the founding of RISD were nurtured by a small group of women who had joined forces to raise funds for Rhode Island’s contribution to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876. In 1877—four decades before women in the US gained the right to vote—Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf and the 34 other members of the Rhode Island Women’s Centennial Commission invested their group’s surplus of $1,675 in founding a school of art and design.

The modern celebration of Founders Day was launched in March 2019. Faculty, staff, students and alumni each join in the celebration of Founders Day by participating in events and service activities occurring locally, nationally and globally. Please join us in this milestone moment to celebrate RISD’s history and accomplishments, and its exciting future!

Welcome from President Somerson

President Rosanne Somerson kicks off a month of Founders Day celebrations with a brief, pre-recorded video address. Faculty, staff, students and alumni around the world are invited to reflect on the women who founded RISD in 1877 and honor the work and dedication of our vibrant community.

2021 Events 

Women's Spheres: Connections and Relationships


The RISD Museum celebrated Founders Day with Women’s Spheres: Connections and Relationships, a close look at key paintings and sculptures in the collection led by curator Maureen O’Brien and Mariani Lefas-Tetenes, assistant director of the museum’s school and teacher programs. Consider the historical context of the works in their time and place along with the multiple ways the museum has supported education since 1877. 

Indigenous Landscapes: Narragansett Homeland & History


Learning about Rhode Island history begins with understanding the ecological and cultural history of Narragansett homelands, settler colonialism’s dispossession of land and culture, and contemporary methods of Indigenous survivance. Cassius Spears Jr. (Narragansett) and endawnis Spears (Diné/Ojibwe/Chickasaw/Choctaw) led an interdisciplinary discussion of the Narragansett landscapes upon which RISD was founded. They reviewed ecological knowledge, kinship, culture and resilience and contextualize the reclamation work tribal nations are doing here within movements across Turtle Island. 

RISD Serves Panel


Lina Sergie Attar MArch 01, founder of the Karam Foundation for Syrian refugees, hosted a panel of alumni speakers who work in socially-minded nonprofits. Panelists included Stacey Ascher 07 IL, Child Mind Institute; Max Frieder 12 PT, Artolution; and Jonsara Ruth 92 ID, Healthy Materials Lab at Parsons

    RISD Archives and Special Collections Live Tour


    Alumni and New Urban Arts board member Lois Harada 10 PR hosted a tour of RISD’s storied archives with digital archivist Douglas Doe and archivist Andrew Martinez. 

    Alumni Founders Panel


    This year's panel discussion in honor of Women's History Month featured alumni designer founders carrying on the entrepreneurial spirit of Helen Metcalf. Hosted by Rene Payne GD 83, founder of FAVOR and included. Panelists include Sara Durham 92 IL, founder of Big Duck and Advomatic, Annie Evelyn 99 FD/MFA 07, co-founder and deputy director of Crafting the Future, and Keita Turner 91 AP, founder of Keita Turner Design and Livvy & Neva. 

    RISD Serves 

    As part of our Founders Day celebration, we honored the core values of RISD through community service projects all around the globe. Alumni volunteers are giving back to their communities, whether by organizing events in their area, participating with their local alumni club or volunteering on their own.

    Five members of the Alumni Club of LA standing on a beach for RISD Serves 2020.
    Alumni Club of Los Angeles Beach Cleanup 2019