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Creative Differences at RISD

The design school and its alumni respond to the cancellation of the annual holiday art sale

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In April, a group calling itself Friends of the RISD Art Sales started a Change.org petition in response to RISD’s decision to cancel its annual Spring Art and Holiday Sales. The announcement that both events would be discontinued while resources were redirected to an online marketplace for alumni came in January from RISD Alumni Relations.

“We plan to launch the directory in the summer of 2017, and there will be no charge to participate. This new marketplace will have the flexibility to promote and benefit RISD artists and designers who have not been able to participate in RISD-run sales because of location, transportation and insurance issues, and other factors,” the letter explained. “As part of the creation of the directory, we will phase out our Holiday Sale but will continue to strongly support RISD Craft during RISD Weekend.”

In response, the petition, which will be delivered to RISD President Rosanne Somerson, Director of Alumni Relations Christina Hartley and RISD Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter, argues that in addition to celebrating nearly two decades of tradition, these sales “regularly attract design enthusiasts and gallery owners from all over the country” and “provide economic benefits not only to RISD alumni and students, but also to the restaurants and many small businesses of Rhode Island’s Creative Capital.” As of press time, the petition had 585 signatures.

Christina points out that the decision to cancel the sales was not made casually and that alumni feedback was an important part of the process. “While many alumni responded positively to the Providence sales, overall we received mixed feedback,” she says. “In addition, we took into account the enormous staff effort and resources that managing a series of sales requires, and our desire to use these resources to support our alumni more broadly.”

There are nearly 25,000 RISD alumni in more than 90 countries around the world, she points out. The online marketplace – which, she says, is “not meant to replace the sales” – will go live later in the year and will attempt to offer that broader support to the school’s global community of artists.

RISD Craft, which is held during the school’s reunion and parents’ weekend in the fall, will continue despite the cancellation of the other two annual alumni sales. RISD is committed to adding additional resources to this event, as well as helping local artists connect with other art sales in the Providence area, such as the newly organized Art Providence Holiday Sale. Planned for December 9-10 at the Rhode Island Convention Center, the Art Providence Holiday Sale intends to serve as the successor to the RISD Holiday Sale.

“The US makers’ movement is exploding at the moment, and Providence is on the leading edge of that trend,” says Laura Burkett, founder of ArtSmart Productions and executive director of the Art Providence Holiday Sale.

“We’re excited to be producing this event and pleased with the positive response from both RISD and the broader artist community.”