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RISD gets $1 million for new teaching post

The benefactors specified the gift must be used to promote Indian culture and artistic endeavors

The Rhode Island School of Design received its largest-ever gift from an international donor — a $1 million donation to fund a new visiting scholar position in the painting department, according to a March 1 press release from the institution.

Vikram and Geetanjali Kirloskar of Bangalore, India were inspired to make the historic donation after their daughter, Manasi Kirloskar, graduated from RISD in 2012 with a degree in painting, Manasi Kirloskar said. The gift has few restrictions attached, but the Kirloskars did stipulate that the visiting scholar  promote connections to Indian art and culture at RISD.

Manasi Kirloskar said the gift came as somewhat of a surprise to her, adding that her parents were pleased with her growth as a student and the excellent teaching she received at RISD. She said her parents were also motivated by a desire to promote Indian culture and art at the school.

“There are a lot of really good teachers, painters and artists from India who aren’t necessarily recognized in this country or even at RISD … so I’m really looking forward to a lot of exchange from India,” Manasi Kirloskar said.

The gift’s aim to promote new connections with India corresponds with a broader push by the administration to increase the school’s global engagement. Provost Rosanne Somerson said she recently created the new position of director of global partners and programs to replace an old administrative post primarily responsible for study abroad programs.

Somerson said she was delighted when she learned of the Kirloskar family’s donation. “It’s actually essential for an art and design school to be engaged globally in all kinds of ways, not just study abroad,” she said, citing the value of this gift to RISD’s global outreach. She added that she plans on visiting art schools and foundations in China and Sweden this month to continue promoting RISD on the global stage.

Somerson said RISD’s international engagement comes at a time when the institution’s student body is diversifying, adding, “It’s just such a wonderful, rich sort of textile in that classroom to have students coming from all over the world, because so much of what we do is about culture and about the human being.”

The gift also came as a tribute to teaching excellence. Professor Dennis Congdon, a former chair of the RISD painting department who taught Manasi Kirloskar during her sophomore year, served as a primary inspiration for the gift, according to RISD’s press release. Congdon noted the RISD faculty works in a collaborative manner.

“In truth, the faculty is a team,” Congdon said. “Individuals can lead the team from time to time, but in the end it’s a team.”

The painting department is excited about the rare opportunity the gift has created, Congdon said, adding that he approved of RISD’s global outreach strategy. “In a discipline like painting, people bring their personal history… Their politics, their poetics and their voice is shaped by where they come from,” he said.

Somerson said RISD sometimes faces inaccurate perceptions of its fundraising efforts. The assumption that it is harder for RISD to raise money because it is an art and design school and “not producing the doctors and lawyers in droves” is somewhat of a fallacy, she said. Though RISD’s alumni base is relatively small — numbering around 26,000 — Somerson said that since RISD President John Maeda took office in 2008, the school has raised over $8 million in scholarships for students, the highest total ever raised for scholarships in the institution’s history.

Isabel Sicat ’16, an international student from the Philippines who is enrolled in the Brown-RISD Dual Degree Program, said she did not see a downside to greater global integration. She added that the countries of South and Southeast Asia often do not get as much exposure in the art world as do Western countries. “It’s always a plus to integrate more internationalism into the mix,” she said.

Elisa Palluau, a RISD sophomore, said she had a positive view of RISD’s fundraising. “We have a lot of very successful artists that come out of RISD so we have this bond,” she said. “There are lot of people that are very grateful they were at RISD …. so they are more willing to give back money.”

Somerson said she is hopeful this donation may lead to others that fund teaching positions. “I would like to see others recognize that teaching is so important,” Somerson said, adding that faculty members serve as key mentors. “At some universities or colleges it’s a very different kind of relationship.”

Congdon said he does not yet know when the first visiting scholar will be selected, but expressed enthusiasm for the start of the selection process. The painting department looks forward to proving itself worthy of the gift, he said. “It’s going to be our very delightful task to earn this vote of confidence.”


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