Rhode Island School of Design’s Board of Trustees announced the appointment of Crystal Williams as the institution’s 18th president effective April 1, 2022.
Currently Boston University’s vice president and associate provost for community & inclusion, Williams was selected after an international search for a leader with the capability and passion to educate artists, designers and scholars for a rapidly changing future, and one with the global vision to guide RISD’s role in helping to create a more just, fair and sustainable society, according to a press release.
“When we began the search for RISD’s 18th president, we sought candidates with not just the experience, education and wisdom that the job requires, but also receptivity, an aesthetic sensibility, the skill to communicate in a community that trades in images and materials, and something even more intangible: a deep, abiding empathy that can bind us all together,” notes RISD Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter.
“We found all of that and more in Crystal Williams. Crystal shares our strong conviction in the critical role art and design play in shaping our world, and she has the expertise and qualities of leadership needed to meet the urgency of this moment and take RISD into the future. We are thrilled that she has accepted our invitation to be our next president.”
After considering more than 100 candidates from around the globe, the search committee unanimously recommended Williams to become RISD’s next leader.
In their recommendation to the Board, search committee co-chairs Hillary Blumberg BFA 92 Film Animation Video, Ilene Chaiken BFA 79 Graphic Design / Parent 18, Karen Hammond and Tavares Strachan BFA 03 Glass wrote: “When you first meet Crystal, you are immediately struck by her warmth. She is present, receptive and kind. She has an aesthetic sensibility and a keen power of observation and she listens, deeply,” notes the committee.
“It is no great revelation to say issues of equity and inclusion are critical at this moment at RISD and throughout the world. But those terms can also be tossed about in ways that can shake the meaning out of them. Crystal has done the real work behind the words—the hard, relentless, unglamorous, often under-recognized work. She has a deep commitment to leading change. It is for all of these reasons and many more that we believe Crystal is the ideal next leader for RISD.”
Williams is regarded as an accomplished leader, collaborator and community builder.
“I entered this search because I believe in the value of art and design to elevate and amplify the human experience, and to narrate who we have been and who we can become,” notes RISD President-Elect Williams. “Art, education, and equity and justice are the three foundational focuses of my life and everything about me—who I am as a teacher, a writer, a leader, friend, daughter and human—are in accord with RISD’s mission, areas of focus and social equity and inclusion goals. Having the opportunity to serve as RISD’s president, to sustain and build on RISD’s core strengths and work on behalf of its extraordinary students, faculty, staff and alumni is a profound honor.”
An award-winning poet and essayist, Williams has published four collections of poems, and her work is part of MoMA’s Poetry Project, a tour of poems responding to pieces in the museum’s permanent collection. The daughter of an educator and a musician, Williams was raised in Detroit, MI and Madrid, Spain and holds degrees from New York University and Cornell University.
Williams succeeds Rosanne Somerson BFA 76 Industrial Design, who now serves as the institution’s first president emerita. RISD Senior Vice President of Finance & Administration Dave Proulx has been serving as interim president since Somerson’s retirement at the end of June 2021.