On May 25, 2020, a 46-year-old man was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His name was George Floyd and he was black. A police officer kept his knee on George’s neck for nearly nine minutes after he was already handcuffed and lying face down and killed him by suffocation. Since the video of George Floyd’s murder became viral, protests, riots and counter-demonstrations started all over the US and the world. It has been the beginning of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. A political and social movement originating among African Americans, it emphasizes basic human rights and racial equality for Black people and campaigning against various forms of racism. George’s death has been the drop the straw that broke the camel's back after several unjustified killings of unarmed Black people all across the country.
The BLM had, and still has, a huge influence on our society. It urges people to face the presence of racism in the 21st century and inspire change. Of course, the art world hasn’t been indifferent: artists across the country responded the way know best, not with signs and slogans, but with paintings, graffiti, short films, performance, articles and artistic initiatives. Museums and galleries sold works to support protest-related causes, unveil new equality and diversity plans and archive this vital moment from history by documenting the protests.
The Black Lives Matter slogan painted on Hollywood Blvd (Los Angeles) will become a permanent art attraction
Kirby Lee via AP
The Rohde Island School of Design (RISD) as well is taking a significant step forward by launching a job search for 10 new faculty members specializing in race, decolonization, and cultural representation as part of its commitment to address institutional racism and advance social equity. RISD has posted all 10 openings simultaneously: four in the Liberal Arts and Experimental and Foundation Studies divisions, three in Architecture and Design and three in Fine Arts. The new hires will be funded by one of the largest anonymous donations in the institution’s history that will cover the first five years of the faculty members’ salaries.
Ideal candidates should be engaged in research-based creative practice and/or scholarship addressing the lives, experiences and cultural traditions of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities and ready to lead cross-disciplinary dialogue in support of RISD’s Center for Social Equity and Inclusion (SEI). The goal is to expand RISD’s pedagogy to address the systemic structures and power relations that continue to shape our society.
Matthew Shenoda , Associate Provost for SEI, says “The cluster hire is a concrete and significant step forward for RISD, but I see it as the impetus behind a much larger and more durable initiative. Over the coming years, we’ll continue to focus on issues of racism and colonialism and how they intersect with other key issues like sustainability.”
In fact, also the RISD museum is taking actions. They will dedicate 75 percent of their acquisitions budget to works by underrepresented artists collection. Moreover, they will remove objects from their collection, such as Native American burial artifacts and the looted bronze Benin bust, Head of a King (Oba).
Benin bronze, Head of a King (Oba), probably 1700s.
These initiatives confirm the open-minded and forward-looking reputation of The Rohde Island School of Design, that has been known as something of maverick. As a matter of fact, RISD has a remarkable history: it has been founded by a small group of women before women in America even gained the right to vote and it is one of the first independent colleges of art and design in the US.
One core aspect of the RISD college and museum’ s mission is to “make lasting contributions to a global society through critical thinking, scholarship and innovation” and one of their principal values is to “value a classroom, studio and campus environment that advances principles of social equity and inclusion, environmental and climate justice, and equal access to resources and opportunities”, those ideologies perfectly align with the “Race in Art & Design” cluster-hire initiative.
For more information about the job openings at RISD, visit RISD Human Resources.