Apparently, there is such a thing as a free ride. The Rhode Island School of Design plans to launch the Society of Presidential Fellows, which will offer full tuition and professional development opportunities for select graduate students throughout their studies. The program is designed to attract leading global students to help them pursue advanced degrees at RISD. The society is being bankrolled by a catalyst gift of $10 million from an anonymous donor and an additional gift from an alumna.
The anonymous $10 million gift is the largest amount that has ever been given for financial aid at RISD. That recordbreaker was meant to inspire others to pitch in to help build the fellowship program. Hillary Blumberg, a graduate of the class of 1992, did just that contributing what is the largest known gift for financial aid made by a RISD graduate. Her gift permanently endows a graduate fellowship and provides separate funding to kick-start the broader program’s launch. The New York-based Blumberg has been a freelance design director consultant for nearly a decade. She previously worked as senior vice president and design director at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and prior to that deputy design director at Swid Powell and Calvin Klein Home.
Every student who is admitted to a RISD graduate program will be considered for the fellowship, with the first troupe to be named with the class entering in fall 2020.
RISD administrators have another reason to celebrate — what started as an initial gift of $100 by savvy investor Royal Little in 1944 has morphed into a cumulative investment of $19.9 million. At that time, the Rhode Island entrepreneur set up the Rayon Foundation Trust to support the study of textiles at RISD. In the years that followed, more than $7.3 million in quarterly distributions have benefitted RISD’s Textiles department. As the trust matured, its value increased to $19.9 million and now stands as the largest single gift in RISD’s history. This cumulative investment of $28 million represents one of the most sizable gifts made by an individual to an art and design school. Little, who started Textron in 1923, turned a small textiles firm, the Special Yarns Company, into what is now a $14.2 billion conglomerate with businesses in different industries.
Little banked on the multipurposes of rayon, which had been introduced as a synthetic silk for the fashion industry. After developing a rayon parachute during World War II, he personally proved its strength. After a four-day training session at Fort Bragg, Little leapt from a plane wearing his rayon parachute. That innovation helped to lay the groundwork for Textron. The company continues to support RISD in different ways including scholarships, studios, fellowships and the RISD Museum’s current exhibition “Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance: 1850 – 1970,” which is up through Dec. 1 in Providence.