Chris Baer by Tamzin B. Smith
May 2024

Design is for Everybody

Chris Baer 95 ID supports the RISD Fund and the college’s culture of innovation. 

Chris Baer 95 ID says he’s always been curious and willing to take risks. Both of those characteristics served him well when he decided to co-found Sunstone Therapies, a healthcare services and research company committed to advancing the safe, accessible delivery of psychedelic therapies within the medical setting. 

“Our medical system is running out of tools to treat mental illness,” he says. “Co-founding Sunstone Therapies and helping to design space for these treatments is exactly what RISD trained me to do: consider new perspectives, try something different and apply design to serve humanity.” 

Baer’s appreciation for his RISD training goes back to when he was a high school student visiting campus. He was a creative teenager who liked art class, but design? Design was something new to him. He says that it blew his mind to see all the different ways that students worked with design principles, in disciplines from apparel and animation to architecture and industrial design. He discovered that RISD could help guide him from a person with a lot of creative ideas to someone who could use those ideas to think through complex problems and use design to create solutions that make a difference. 

Baer started his career in the early days of web design and strategy and designed digital products for brands big and small. Then, he says, he “made a hop from designing for products and services to designing for the mind and human behavior.” He spent time at Marriott International, eventually overseeing the company’s global leadership development initiatives. His interest in how people behave led to his work with Sunstone Therapies, where he advises the board and advances design principles. 

“Working with the co-founders, who are physicians and hospital administrators, we envisioned and created a purpose-built, state-of-the-art center for administering advanced trial psychedelic therapies, using compounds like psilocybin, MDMA and LSD to treat things like PTSD, depression, addiction and other tough psycho-social conditions,” Baer explains. 

The resulting space, the Bill Richards Center for Healing, is located in Rockville, Maryland and provides clinical care alongside psychological and emotional support for cancer patients, their families and caregivers. It includes space for individual and group therapy, yoga classes and educational sessions. The building received a 2022 Healthcare Design Award from the International Interior Design Association. In 2023, Sunstone treated more people with trial psychedelic therapies than any other center in the world. 

Innovation drives Baer’s work. During his time in leadership development, he realized that innovation largely springs from culture rather than process— if an organization has a culture where people always need to be “right” or fear failure, it is difficult to produce ideas that are truly innovative. Lucky for him, RISD was—and still is—a place where risk-taking and new ideas are celebrated, even if they don’t work out according to plan. 

“I’ve seen RISD evolve and make itself available to more people. I believe in that because design brings people together and is for everybody."
Chris Baer 95 ID

Baer recalls a class taught by the late Professor Emeritus Jack Massey. He and a fellow student worked on a project that involved a chimney in an old building on Waterman Street and creating a column of light. 

“As Massey was looking at it, the lights in the installation basically exploded. It smashed into bits of glass and was a total disaster. But, he gave us an A because we tried something. It was a failure, but it was also completely cool and awesome, and we learned from it,” Baer says. 

Today, in addition to advising the Sunstone team, Baer is the founder of the Mandala Institute, an organization dedicated to helping leaders foster better cultures in work and life. 

Baer gives to the RISD Fund to support the culture of innovation that proved formative for his life and career. He is a member of the 1877 Society, a giving society named for the year of the college’s founding that honors donors who make leadership gifts and make it possible to respond to the institution’s most pressing needs. The flexibility to respond to emerging needs means that RISD will continue to grow. 

He says, “I’ve seen RISD evolve and make itself available to more people. I believe in that because design brings people together and is for everybody. I want to see RISD continue to be the flagbearer for design, just as it has been for almost 150 years.” 

To learn more about supporting the RISD Fund or joining the 1877 Society, contact Sarah Caggiano, executive director of the RISD Fund, at 401 454-6799 or or make a gift at online


Photo by Tamzin B. Smith