RISD President Crystal Williams in a bright blue multicolor blazer, red earrings standing in an office setting
May 2023

A Culture of Care

Presidents Letter

Given what I know of my parents, I was likely an infant the first time we went into a museum, far too young to claim that memory with any honesty. Had I to guess, it was likely the Detroit Institute of Arts, my hometown museum. As a youngster, I especially loved the twenty-seven panels that make up what I have always considered “The Rivera murals.” These images of industry reminded me of my father and his work in Ford Motor Company’s foundry and exalted, in my young mind, the essential importance of hard work to the individual, the collective and the society.

The museum did then and does now fill me with wonder—each image the result of another human’s imagination, their attempt to communicate something about the world in which they live, the world they envision, worlds simultaneously similar and different from my own. The museum, and that museum in particular, was, after books I obsessively read, a vital place of discovery and human connection.

Indeed, museums reflect society—our history and culture—back to itself. In this way, cultural caretaking is a great responsibility that we all bear for ourselves and each other.

For this issue, we’ve asked people how the RISD Museum excites and inspires them and how they view their role as caretakers of culture. For some, the museum provides a space to experience joy and practice generosity; for others, it is a place to learn and find community. I prefer to experience museums listening to jazz and, whenever possible, alone—all the better to muse and ponder and dream. How do you like to experience museums?

I hope you’ll enjoy reading about different ways people make meaning via museums: experiencing exhibitions together, quietly contemplating a work of art, discovering a new cultural tradition, studying an artifact intensely, or donating their time, resources and expertise.

Our students also share stories about how they learned to strengthen connections in new ways during the pandemic’s most isolating days. I’m in awe of how their enthusiasm and resolve have grown and how they discovered new possibilities and passions through art making.

For many of us, art and design allow us to be more authentic and to know ourselves more deeply. This spring, as I reflect on my first year as RISD’s president, I remember fondly the opportunities I’ve had to get to know the RISD community. From connecting with students, faculty and staff on campus through dinners, listening sessions, studio visits and more, to meeting alumni and friends at events worldwide, I continue to be impressed and inspired by all of you.

As the temperatures warm and crocus bloom, these stories will energize you, inspiring joy in your creativity and calling you higher as a keeper of culture.

Crystal Williams
President, Rhode Island School of Design