Oren Sherman Mad for Plaid
Nov 2021

Getting Creative

By bequeathing his intellectual property, Oren Sherman is initiating an exciting new avenue of philanthropy at RISD.

Artist-illustrator, educator, brand strategist and entrepreneur Oren Sherman 78 IL of Boston and Truro, Massachusetts, is always pushing boundaries in his work centered in the space where fine art meets commerce. He’s also a fierce advocate for the RISD students he teaches. “I tell my students they will have a mentor for life,” he says.

Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges 66 IL, a professor of Illustration, recruited Sherman to teach part-time 20 years after graduating. She advised him to ask himself if what he’s doing is in his students’ best interests. “I still ask myself that question, which guides how I teach to this day,” he says. “I have been involved with RISD for most of my life and I began to consider what I could offer that is in RISD's long-term best interests.”

In addition to his role as senior critic in RISD Illustration, Sherman designs exclusive artwork for major brands. He also works at Elkus Manfredi Architects in Boston to create strategic narratives and original art for their clients and to help inform how their architects implement the project vision. “I am an artist who works in the world of architecture and business, and I try to take the same creative risks at work that I ask my students to take,” he says.

As part of the RISD alumni and faculty communities, he is a loyal donor and member of the RISD Centennial Society, which honors and recognizes donors who provide steady support. “A student would call every year asking me to donate to RISD, and of course I gave, but I wondered how I could do more,” he explains. He was inspired by the values of the estates of comic book writer Stan Lee, who created Spiderman, and actress Marilyn Monroe. The vast majority of the value of those estates came from income generated by their intellectual property rights. “Stan Lee could not have dreamed his character would one day be a billion-dollar franchise,” he says.

“What if intellectual property is the most valuable asset for many RISD alumni? My physical assets will go to my family, but I decided my digital rights and intellectual property should go to RISD. I literally use everything I learned at RISD every single day in my professional life,” he says. Sherman began to explore bequeathing to RISD the intellectual property rights of his work and credits former RISD General Counsel Steve McDonald for helping him find a way to make it happen. Noting that the idea was Sherman’s, McDonald says, “Copyright owners may donate the rights to selected items or entire bodies of work. This way of giving could be a huge benefit to RISD, especially if we are able to accumulate a significant portfolio of intellectual property over time. As an example, the Andy Warhol Foundation, which owns the intellectual property to his life’s work, makes millions of dollars a year in licensing income from just his work. Under current law, copyrights last for 70 years after the creator’s death, so there’s a potentially very long income stream."

“I encourage alumni to join me in this innovative way of giving. We can make a potentially incredible gift because RISD made a bet on us and our futures.”
Oren Sherman

Much of Sherman’s work is licensed. “While I own the design, I license it to companies who use my design and make products such as carpets and wall coverings. These licenses generate income for me, and someday I hope they will continue to provide income for RISD,” he says.

“When I attended RISD, it was much less expensive than it is today, and I have always been interested in living in and engaging professionally with a diverse landscape. The racial reckoning we are all experiencing has given me a deeper understanding of my privilege, which equals responsibility. I have had my share of struggles, but the privilege afforded me in attending RISD made it possible,” he says. “Helping to fund students’ educations in perpetuity would fulfill a lifetime ambition and make RISD possible for a more racially and economically diverse population. It would realize a career goal beyond my wildest expectations.”