Historic 19th century photo of students painting in a studio.

History of the Alumni Association

The RISD Alumni Association was founded on June 2, 1894 to strengthen ties among alumni and to support RISD. Sixty-seven alumni attended the Association's first meeting held at the RISD Museum.

The group’s stated goal was to “...awaken a wider and more intelligent interest in the subjects taught by the school and in the school itself.”  Its constitution set out four objectives:

  1. Sponsor an annual course of lectures and talks
  2. Foster a fraternal spirit through an alumni dinner and other activities
  3. Host an annual exhibition of alumni work
  4. Follow the occupations of past students to understand the benefit the school had provided to them.
Historic 19th century photo of students in the studio.

From its very beginning, the focus of the RISD Alumni Association was different from groups at other schools that were focused primarily on social gatherings.

In a June 1898 letter to Eliza Radeke, then chair of RISD's Committee of Management, Mr. A. Browning described the Association's recent activities: "Last Saturday night we met at about eight o'clock and stood around looking over the exhibition, having a sort of social time until about eight forty-five when a business meeting was called, at the close of which the members left the building." Sometimes, he went on to explain, tea was served after a lecture and other times there was dancing, but their meetings always had business or educational components as well.

The Alumni Association reported in 1902 that it had hosted gatherings of past students, lectures, and talks. These activities, it asserted, "...have been valuable in developing the higher ideals of the subjects taught at the school."

The Alumni Association raised $8,000 over two years for a "traveling scholarship" that would be a permanent fund to provide an annual student award, according to a report in RISD's 1914 yearbook. The goal of the scholarship was to provide students with sufficient means to explore art and design beyond Providence and to bring back their knowledge to RISD.

Frederic Carl Ferry, Jr. became RISD's first Director of Alumni Relations in 1943, while simultaneously shouldering responsibilities as Director of Admissions and Director of Placement. He initiated an alumni records system, reorganized the alumni network from a local organization into a national one, and instituted local chapters. Alas, the chapters were not sustained and died out in the 1950s. 

The Alumni Association gained renewed energy in the 1980s when RISD provided more professional staff support and funded the reestablishment of local chapters. In the ensuing decades, the Alumni Association has continued to serve as a home for alumni volunteer and philanthropic work on behalf of RISD as well as a broad network of creative professionals working in many fields around the globe.

Today, the RISD Alumni Association is at another exciting moment in its history. Hong Kong resident Donald Wun Hing Choi BArch 82 P 07 took the helm as the Association's first president residing outside of the United States in July of 2019. With increased investment by RISD, the Alumni Association is establishing more regional clubs around the world, organizing new affinity groups that unite alumni who have shared interests or professions, and offering new programs on diverse topics of alumni interest such as business skills, marketing and sustainability.