RISD redefined


A local bright spot amid all the bleak economic news is the growth of RISD and its potential as a creative and economic incubator.

Tomorrow marks the grand opening of the art school's new $34 million Chace Center, which Greg Cook describes in this week's Phoenix. Peter Kadzis puts it in context.

As part of the same package, I talk with John Maeda, RISD's impressive new president.

You pointed to a recent auction of works by the artist Damien Hirst in noting art’s enduring value, even at a time of international economic upheaval. Rhode island, when it made stuff, used to be a prosperous place. So what lessons does the enduring value of art offer as Rhode Island continues to struggle with economic development?
Well, one of my favorite places is the country of Italy — Rome, Milan, Venice. You should never dig in your backyard, because you’re bound to find something. And once you find something, they’ll actually come in and not let you live there anymore because there’s something. You dig this much into your soil, you’ll find an ancient rune or something great. By the same token, I think Rhode Island’s the same way.

If you dig a little bit in the history, there’s something really fascinating about what’s there. And I think it’s about making that into the new equity of what Rhode Island stands for. It’s like seeing The Beverly Hillbillies — you know, Texas tea?

That’s the goal, the equity of this cultural kind of revolution, industrial revolution, that happened here. And that has to be activated, has to be made the voice of Rhode Island. Because right now, as we know, the world is about natural resources, exploiting natural resources. We don’t have oil — we have culture. That’s the asset that’s here, so I want to be able to activate that asset. And that can lead to economic prosperity, because we have what’s authentic and real here.

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