On Feb. 18, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, R.I., announced that Rosanne Somerson had been appointed its new president. After conducting a nine-month search involving more than 100 candidates, the school’s Board of Trustees named Somerson RISD's 17th president, a position she assumed immediately. Somerson has held the position of RISD’s interim president since Jan. 1, 2014, replacing John Maeda, who led the college for six years before leaving to become a design partner at the California venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Somerson graduated from RISD in 1976, with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in industrial design, focusing on furniture two decades before RISD had its own furniture design department.
In 1979, she established Somerson Studios, a practice designing and creating furniture that she still maintains in Fall River, Mass. Her work has been featured in numerous books and publications, and displayed in private, corporate, and museum collections, such as the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Fuller Craft Museum, the Huntsville Museum of Art, the RISD Museum, the Smith College Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Somerson returned to her alma mater in 1985 to run the graduate furniture concentration in the industrial design department for a decade before helping to found the school’s furniture design program and serving as its head from 1995–2011. Somerson’s additional roles at RISD have included interim associate provost from 2005–07 and provost from 2012–2014.
Somerson has received many awards and recognitions for her work in design and education, including two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1984, 1988), the James Renwick Alliance's Distinguished Crafts Educator Award (2002), and the Furniture Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2013). She has also co-edited The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice (Wiley: 2013), which explores RISD’s approach to critical making.