Support from the Materials Fund allowed Ji Zou MFA 24 IL to purchase paints, canvases and frames and create pieces like Delivered by a Meteorite, above.
May 2024

Material World

Thanks to donors to the Materials Fund, students have access to the supplies that can turn an idea into reality. 

Jars of paint, bolts of fabric, sheets of metal, foam boards, sketchbooks, canvases—depending on a student’s major and project vision, their shopping list can get pretty long. And expensive. 

RISD is a place of experimentation, pushing boundaries and following through on a bold idea. To develop as critical makers, students must be guided by their vision rather than by worries about the final total at the RISD Store or Jerry’s Artarama. 

The Materials Fund allows students who qualify for financial aid to submit their projects to a faculty review board and receive funding for supplies. Jennaca Davies MFA 07 JM, an alumna as well as a member of the faculty review board and critic in Industrial Design, says, “As artists and designers, we are not buying books for our courses. We’re buying materials, and those materials are often specialty, hard to find and more expensive than a standard textbook. The Materials Fund gives students an opportunity to explore in a way that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.” 

Elissa Scott Della-Piana 64 IL, a donor to the Materials Fund, knows that experimenting with media can create new opportunities. Early in her journey as an illustrator, she began incorporating fabric into her designs, which she says led to an unexpected career turn as a costume designer. 

Elissa Scott Della-Piana 64 IL, pictured in her studio as a senior, says that the generosity she experienced from her fellow students is one of the things that motivates her to give to the Materials Fund today.
Elissa Scott Della-Piana 64 IL, pictured in her studio as a senior, says that the generosity she experienced from her fellow students is one of the things that motivates her to give to the Materials Fund today.

Alan and Fuyumi Cannon P 19 have supported the Materials Fund on an annual basis since 2017. Alan says that their daughter, Maya Cannon 19 PR, interned at a traditional papermaker in Tokushima, Japan, and continued to experiment with the form, which of course required her to invest in supplies. When considering a gift to RISD, Alan remembered Maya’s experience and directed the family’s support to the Materials Fund. 

“The combination of Japanese appreciation for natural materials and the recognition that materials can be key to making but are not covered by traditional financial aid made the Materials Fund a natural fit for us,” he says. 

Davies says that the Materials Fund benefits students beyond support for a particular project. 

“When students submit an application, they have to lay out their plans. This teaches them about professional practices,” she says. “We have to figure out what we need and why, we have to create a budget and determine a timeline. Students may not ordinarily have to do all that, but it’s something they will certainly do after graduation if they continue as artists and designers. When they leave school with these skills, it gives them an advantage.” 

For Della-Piana, supporting the Materials Fund is practical as well as emotional. Thinking about a student with limited access to supplies brings her back to her own days as a young artist. 

“I remember going into painting class with an empty palette,” she says. “I’d pass it around and each of my classmates would add a squeeze of paint. Without that, I don’t know what I would have done. My RISD education means everything to me—it made the life I wanted to live. When I think of what RISD has done for me, it just feels right to give.” 

To see what the Materials Fund has made possible recently, read on. 

Possession by Metal Demon; Interlude; Delivered by a Meteorite; and Parallax
Possession by Metal Demon; Interlude; Delivered by a Meteorite; and Parallax

Ji Zou MFA 24 IL 

“In this series of paintings, I delve into the profound and often enigmatic realm of dreams, specifically those that emerge from meditations on the female biological reproductive experience. Drawing from a middle-class, creative class perspective, these works aim to explore and articulate the complex interplay of creation, identity and transformation inherent in the female experience. The use of vibrant colors, fluid forms and symbolic imagery invites the viewer into a contemplative space where the boundaries between the physical and the ethereal blur, reflecting the intricate dance of life and creation that defines the female body. 

“The Materials Fund allowed me access to paints, canvases and frames. Now these paintings are circulating in various galleries around the world and in New York City! The Materials Fund was crucial to my success.” 

Community Cabinet
Community Cabinet

Ellie Cody MArch 24 

“Inspired by curiosity cabinets of the past, this modular scaffold acts as a defined space for collection and curation. Deployed as a “device” at the El Paso Citizen Collection Center, a sorting and waste disposal site for local domestic waste, the cabinet engages with material culture: an altar for the transient objects that define daily life in the neighborhood, and by extension, for the labor and economic forces that produce those objects. 

“The Materials Fund significantly offset financial barriers to entering my program and I’m so grateful to be building my foundation toward future financial stability while doing what I love. Being able to complete my assignments without constant anxiety about the costs completely changed my educational experience here at RISD.” 

High-Five Totem
High-Five Totem

Sarah Alix Mann MID 24 

“I try to have every class project push my knowledge or skills in a new direction. This particular project was the first time I was integrating electronics into an already-complicated interactive piece. It was such a relief to know that there is a fund that was supportive of my vision and my learning experience. I was able to create a project that checked all the boxes of my goals, without having to worry about limiting myself creatively because of financial reasons. 

“Thank you very much for the materials, which made this learning experience possible.” 

Knotweed Raft
Knotweed Raft

Maxwell Fertik MID 23 

“This piece defines the least labor-intensive method of utilizing knotweed, a nonnative plant. Each bundle was harvested from either Mashapaug Pond, Morley Field in Pawtucket or East Side Train Tunnel Valley and sealed with local beeswax. This is an island made of invasive ecosystems in the middle of a polluted pond. Using the pollution of Gorham Silver on Mashapaug Pond as a case study, this raft uses Gorham’s model of reproduction and subverts it to instead regenerate the environment. 

“I want to offer my deepest thanks to each and every donor for allowing me to purchase this unique and local resource of beeswax. Without this funding, I would not have been able to produce something this vibrant.”
Maxwell Fertik MID 23
Onda and Sync Touch
Onda and Sync Touch

Sara Yoon Choi 24 ID 

Onda revolutionizes dog nail care by transforming it into an enjoyable experience for pets and owners, while Sync Touch innovates communication by merging touch and sound experiences through advanced haptic technology, fostering a sense of presence. 

“With Onda, my goal was to simplify daily routines while strengthening the bond between pets and their human companions. The inclusion of replaceable scratchpads provides a convenient solution for maintaining effectiveness over time. 

“Users interact with Sync Touch by touching and manipulating the device, generating unique tones with each touch. When two users produce matching tones, it triggers a vibration response. Because it operates on a feedback loop, user input influences subsequent interactions in real-time, enhancing engagement and creating immersive tactile. Thanks to the Materials Fund, I have been able to acquire the necessary materials to create a truly innovative and interactive project.” 

To learn more about supporting the Materials Fund, contact Sarah Caggiano, executive director of the RISD Fund, at 401 454-6799 or

All images courtesy of the artists.