After completing their degree programs, graduate students join a remarkable network of alumni making their mark in a diverse range of fields. In the stories below you will discover how, whether collaborating across disciplines to start arts organizations or leading globally renowned design firms, RISD graduates continue to pursue the inquiry they begin here through dynamic practices with influential reach.
Born and raised in Nassau, Bahamas, Anina Major MFA 17 CR works with clay to investigate the relationship between self and place as a way of cultivating moments of reflection and acceptance. She studied at the College of The Bahamas and Drexel University prior to pursuing her graduate studies at RISD. Among the numerous awards she has won are the St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artists Award for Sculpture, the Watershed Summer Residency Zenobia Award and a residency through the MASS MoCA Studio Artist Program. Her work has been exhibited in The Bahamas, the US and Europe, and she currently teaches ceramics at Pratt Institute.
Based in Brooklyn, Doreen Garner MFA 14 GL earned a BFA in Glass from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University before coming to RISD for her master’s degree. After completing a 2016 residency at Pioneerworks, she has been practicing as a sculptor and “inscriber of flesh.” Her work has been featured in exhibitions at the Antenna Gallery in New Orleans, Essex Flowers in New York and Vox Populi in Philadelphia. Winner of an emerging artist fellowship from Socrates Sculpture Park in 2017 and a current artist-in-residence at Recess in New York, Garner also hosts an occasional, critically acclaimed, culture-focused podcast called #trashDAY with the artist Kenya (Robinson).
By experimenting with various mediums and exploring the impact of installation work, Laura Swanson MFA 11 DM unpacks representations of physical difference in popular culture and investigates how identity is developed and reinforced. The work of the New York-based artist has been exhibited widely—from the Arsenal in Berlin, Germany to the Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art in South Korea—including in solo exhibitions at the Laurie M. Tisch Gallery in New York, the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester, UK and Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, NY.
A 2006 MacArthur Award winner, Shahzia Sikander MFA 95 PT/PR received her BFA in 1991 from the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan and her MFA from RISD in 1995. Pakistani-born and internationally recognized, Sikander’s takes Indo-Persian miniature painting as a point of departure for her pioneering practice. Sikander’s work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among many others.
The extensive international solo exhibitions and projects of Spencer Finch MFA 89 SC include A Certain Slant of Light at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York and The Skies can’t keep their secret at the Turner Contemporary in the United Kingdom. Finch is perhaps best known for Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning, an installation at the 9/11 Memorial in NYC which features 2,983 hand-painted squares of Fabriano Italian paper painted 2,983 different shades of blue—one for each victim of the terrorist attack. In 2017 alone he showed his work in five solo exhibitions in Europe and the US: at Lisson Gallery in Milan; Galerie Nordenhake in Berlin; Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, FL; Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, WA; and MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA.
Raised in Tijuana, Mexico, Tanya Aguiñiga MFA 05 FD now lives in Los Angeles, where her work is informed by border experiences and infused with cross-cultural influences. She sees furniture as a way to translate emotions into 3D objects, tell stories through color and touch, and encourage people to reconsider the objects they use every day. Aguiñiga, whose work has been exhibited from Mexico City to Milan, is a United States Artists Target Fellow in the field of Crafts and Traditional Arts and was a recipient of a NALAC and Creative Capital Grant in 2016. As the founder of AMBOS (Art Made Between Opposite Sides), she uses creative interventions to tell stories of identity, community and transition along the US/Mexico border. In 2018 she became the first person to earn the Johnson Fellowship for Artists Transforming Communities.
Grain (James and Chelsea Green Minola)
California natives Chelsea Green Minola MID 07 and James Minola 07 ID met while participating in a RISD Wintersession course in Guatemala. After earning graduate and undergraduate degrees respectively in 2007, they married, relocated to the Pacific Northwest and founded Grain, a design studio dedicated to social and environmental responsibility. The company was named to Sight Unseen’s 2016 American Design Hot List and counts Design Within Reach, Hem and Anthropologie among its clients, Grain embraces a collaborative approach to research and sustainability to create unique products that stand out for their wise use of materials and clean, sophisticated designs.
Ian Quate MLA 11 is a New York-based landscape architect. In 2013, two years after graduating from RISD, he joined the team at Nelson Byrd Woltz. He considers issues of settlement, tourism and human ecology in his work. Involving himself in design and fabrication, his projects revolve around the cultural integration of ecology at sites including Overlook Farm in northeastern Pennsylvania, Ashbourne Farms in La Grange, KY and Hamilton House in Montauk, NY. Quate also spearheaded BK BioReactor, a research initiative dedicated to mapping the microorganisms found in the the Gowanus Canal, an EPA-designated superfund site in Brooklyn.
Michael Rock MFA 84 GD is a founding partner and creative director at the leading global design consultancy 2x4, where he leads a wide range of projects for clients such as Barneys, Prada, Nike, Kanye West, Harvard and CCTV. He also directs the Graphic Architecture Project at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and writes design-focused articles for a wide range of publications. A past recipient of the Rome Prize in Design from the American Academy in Rome, Rock now serves on the academy’s board.
Workstead is a design studio founded in 2009 by Architecture alumni Stefanie Brechbuehler MArch 06 and Robert Highsmith MArch 08 (fellow RISD graduate Ryan Mahoney MArch 06 joined the project shortly after it had been established). From their studios in Brooklyn, New York and Charleston, South Carolina they focus on architectural and interior design, lighting, furniture and exhibitions. In 2012 Workstead designed the public spaces for the highly acclaimed Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn and in 2016 they completed work on The Dewberry Hotel in Charleston. Their installations can be found in the offices of Barneys, Facebook, Levi’s, Google, Yelp, the Harpoon Brewery and in private residences all over the world.
Museums and nonprofit organizations
Reem Al Thani
Reem Al Thani MDes 15 graduated from RISD with a degree from the two-year program in Adaptive Reuse. Now the head of exhibition design for Qatar Museums, she is responsible for design and production of temporary and permanent exhibitions for all affiliated museums and exhibition venues. Most recently, Al Thani has been growing Qatar Museums’ design department and developing policy and procedures for exhibitions while also working on the management, planning, design and implementation of several exhibitions, including the recent Contemporary Art Qatar exhibition at Kraftwerk in Berlin and Dia Al-Azzawi: A Retrospective (From 1963 until Tomorrow) at Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art in Doha.
The Wassaic Project
A 501c3 non-profit organization and collaborative effort by several RISD alumni, the Wassaic Project provides a genuine and intimate context for art making by strengthening the community of Wassaic, New York through the promotion and creation of contemporary visual and performing art. In the seven years the Wassaic Project has been operating, its annual summer festival attendance has grown from 500 to 4,000 and the exhibitions program includes three or more exhibitions per year. Working with guest curators from all over the world and collaborating with local school systems, the Wassaic Project has been seamlessly integrated into the community and architecture of Wassaic. The Project has created collaborative programming with MASS MoCA, Recession Arts, the Invisible Dog, Galapagos Art Space, New Amsterdam Records, The Aldrich Museum, Allegra Laviola Gallery, Columbia University, the New School and CUNY Hostos.
Education and academia
Malcolm Rio MArch 15, a graphic and architectural designer from Amherst, MA, is currently studying urbanism at MIT. After earning degrees in philosophy and graphic design from Towson University, he pursued graduate study in Architecture here, where his thesis work explored the intersection of cybernetics, the structuring of bodies and architectural space. After graduation, Rio became an AICAD teaching fellow at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), where his research focused on class and racial exploitation embedded in mobile network technologies. His current research at MIT investigates the relationship between data analysis and urban planning to produce new forms of subaltern or “blackened” citizenship.
Tamara Kaplan MA/MAT 00 built on her BFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University by simultaneously pursuing two master’s degrees in Art Education at RISD. In 2000, she began working at New Urban Arts, a nationally recognized community arts studio for urban high school students and emerging artists in Providence. Kaplan earned the RISD Alumni Association’s Art and Education award for her work at the organization in 2013. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, New Urban Arts continues to pursue its community-centered mission: to empower young people as artists and leaders as they develop a creative practice they can sustain throughout their lives.
RISD graduates go on to work at:
- Alexander Wang
- Calvin Klein
- Cartoon Network
- Cheim & Read
- Chronicle Books
- Cooper Hewitt
- Creative Mornings
- Department of State
- Design for America
- Discovery Education
- Google Creative Lab
- IBM Design
- Kate Spade
- Landor Associates
- Library of Congress
- Maya Lin Studio
- National Park Service
- New York Times
- Owings & Merrill
- Panasonic Avionic
- Philips Healthcare
- Scientific American
- Skidmore College
- Sony Music
- Stanford University
- Todd Oldham Studio
- Vice Media
- Whitney Museum
- Yale University
- ZGF Architects