Susie Matthews MAT 98/ MFA 04 CR underlines the importance of arts education.
Walking through OVERLAP, the light-filled exhibition space and gallery in Newport, Rhode Island that Susie Matthews MAT 98/MFA 04 launched in the winter of 2023, the work of artists and designers is everywhere. It is not only in the large paintings by Sue McNally that spark questions about how memory alters the way experiences are rendered, or among the ceramics, sculpture, textiles, jewelry and glass pieces in the retail gallery. It is in the building itself, which Matthews, working with Jim Estes BArch 71, transformed from a former plate glass repair shop into an art studio and a bright, welcoming space for the public.
Designed with a workshop and studio in the back where Matthews, a ceramicist and textile artist, can make her own work, OVERLAP can accommodate dynamic community programming.
“This is my teaching place,” Matthews says. “A lot of the things I learned in my Master of Arts in Teaching program, surprisingly, come into running the gallery because it really is about educating people. For me, the real goal is to show people things that they perhaps were not aware of, or to help an artist articulate their vision and present it.”
As an artist and educator, Matthews, who grew up in Stonington, Connecticut and New York City and now lives in Jamestown, Rhode Island, was influenced by RISD faculty like Paul Sproll, who led RISD’s Department of Teaching + Learning in Art + Design for nearly three decades, as well as ceramic artists like Larry Bush P 09, Denise Pelletier and Jacquelyn Rice P 91.
Now, Matthews is part of a broad network of artists, including many who manage the difficult balancing act of teaching part time while maintaining their practices. Knowing how demanding teaching can be, and how important it is for faculty to have time not only to teach but to “think and learn,” she says, Matthews has chosen to honor that essential work and create an endowed professorship at RISD.
“I realized that, for me, the teacher is the most important part. Facilities and resources are important too, of course, but if you don’t have good people there teaching you, what do you have?” Matthews says. “To me, that’s the most important thing— supporting the people.”
To carry out her vision, Matthews joined the Jesse + Helen Rowe Metcalf Society by including RISD as a beneficiary in her will and creating the Susan M. Matthews (MAT 98/MFA 04 CR) Professorship. When fully established, the position can be held by a faculty member working in any discipline at RISD. While estate planning is a practical necessity, Matthews says, it also offers an opportunity to express one’s values.
“Arts education ripples out,” Matthews says. “If you teach an architect about sustainable design and they then make beautiful buildings that are environmentally responsible, it has a larger effect. We have to keep looking for beauty and hope and also creative solutions, creative thinking.”
Matthews says she is also glad to have the opportunity to strengthen RISD at a time when it is looking to the future in a principled way.
“RISD is a really great institution, and it is doing important, forward-thinking and challenging things right now,” Matthews says, “like pushing for diversity, equity and inclusion. It is becoming more diverse, more international. RISD is making efforts to build financial resources that will bring greater stability to the institution and more opportunities for creative people and creative solutions.”
If you are interested in learning more about gift planning at RISD, please contact Rebecca Dupras, senior planned giving officer at email@example.com or 401 427-3151.