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Annual RISD Craft supports over 100 RISD alums, student artists

Student artist selected by lottery, alums chosen by committee of RISD graduates

RISD Craft, the juried art sale organized by the Rhode Island School of Design every fall, showcased the artisan talents of RISD alums and student artists last Saturday on Benefit Street. Despite gloomy weather, the sale attracted a large crowd of students and local residents eager to engage with the multimedia artworks displayed.

The sale featured handmade crafts and design works created by 90 alumni artists and 25 student artists, according to RISD Craft’s official website.

The craft sale has become an increasingly popular way for student artists to showcase their work.  “There’s a lot more self-driven student participants in it,” said Rebecca Claire Ford, recent RISD graduate who sold her art Saturday. Alumni participants in RISD Craft are selected by an anonymous alumni committee, and student artists are chosen to host tables displaying their artwork through a lottery process.

Lucy Freedman, a student artist featured in the craft sale this year, suggested that the “high visibility” and alumni presence at the craft sale makes it a great opportunity to showcase artwork and receive constructive feedback. She added that, after the results of the lottery are made public, those whom have not been selected often ask the chosen ones to share their tables.

Some student participants have expressed concerns about the fairness of this process: “They say it’s a lottery, but I’m not totally convinced. It doesn’t feel like a lottery, it feels very handpicked,” Freedman said. “The students who seem the most marketable for RISD seem like the ones who get chosen to sell.”

Meanwhile, the alumni application process is designed to be competitive. “They give you a lot more supportive attention if you’re coming in as an alumnus,” said Sarah Lee, a 2016 RISD graduate who participated in RISD Crafts as a student artist her junior year. She added that the RISD Alumni Association helps with promotion and exposure leading up to the sale — even curating a website, “RISD Crafts,” to spotlight all the alumni artists and their works.

Up until a few years ago, alumni artists were selected through a blind lottery. Now, there is a juried selection process to decide who is featured, said Lois Harada, an alum, former coordinator of RISD Craft and artist who hosted a table Saturday.  “Jurying helps keep things balanced, now it’s kind of a scattered mix of people depending on the year,” she added.

Harada explained that coordinating the sale comes with a number of challenges: “It is a huge staffing commitment,” she said. “It’s not making any money for the school, (but) it’s providing alums a place to come back to. I think there’s a hard balance between what alumni think they should be getting and what’s actually possible.”

Up until two years ago, the RISD Alumni Association organized a winter holiday sale to complement RISD Craft, which was held in the Convention Center to make room for vendors from the greater community to sell their artwork. But RISD has since decided to host only fall and spring craft sales. Ford said she missed the winter fair and hopes to see it return.

Still, the participants remain enthusiastic: “I love seeing people that I went to school with and other alumni that I know through being an artist,” said Ashley Schwebel, an alumni artist who has participated in the sale for the past five years.


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