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Arts leader and Cultural Worker Returns Home to Speak at Convocation

Risë Wilson took one of her first art classes at Moore when she was in middle school. Decades later, the arts leader and cultural worker will return to her old stomping ground Thursday to address the new students at Fall Convocation.

Moore will welcome the Class of 2018 at 11 am in the Great Hall. An all-college picnic will follow.

“I’m thrilled and honored to be asked to speak,” Wilson said. “It’s great to come back to my hometown.”

Wilson is the Director of Philanthropy for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in New York City. The Foundation strives to fulfill Rauschenberg’s belief that art can change the world by sharing his work with new audiences, opening his home and studio spaces to artists who push boundaries and supporting artists and institutions nationwide that apply creativity to important issues, such as education and climate change.

“Joining the foundation's team has been a great experience,” she said. “It operates from core values that are exciting and seeks to support people with bold visions.”

Wilson was born and raised in Germantown, a neighborhood in the Northwest section of Philly, where she received a solid arts education at both Greene Street Friends School and Germantown Friends School. Just before starting GFS, she took a summer arts class through Moore’s Youth Programs.

“I remember what a big deal it was to get on the train and go downtown,” she said. “It was amazing to feel like your vision was being taken seriously at 11 or 12.”

When it was time to decide on a college, Wilson had her sights set on New York City, earning her BA in African-American Studies at Columbia University and later, her MA in Africana Studies at New York University.

“I took art classes throughout my education, including college, but I never considered pursuing art as a profession,” she said. “I was working for a Fortune 500 company when I finally realized I had a love and passion for the arts. My ‘aha’ moment came when I asked myself, 'what would I do for free?' The answer was art.”

In 1999 Wilson founded The Laundromat Project, which brings socially relevant and socially engaged arts programming to laundromats in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, Harlem and the South Bronx.

“When I considered the kinds of boundaries that can get in the way of having a relationship to art, let alone a career in the field, I wanted to remove those obstacles,"  she said. “The Laundromat Project became a vehicle to help make art more physically, financially, and culturally accessible in communities living on low incomes, as well as communities of color.”  

In addition to her many other roles, Wilson served as Program Director for Leveraging Investments in Creativity, where she helped shape a national conversation about what defines best practice in developing neighborhood-based cultural facilities. She also taught at the Parsons School of Design, helping product-design students apply their talents to the public sphere.

“I really enjoyed teaching and would love to get back to the classroom,” she said. “I enjoy helping people to have ‘aha’ moments. It’s not the content that drives me but helping to facilitate someone else’s growth.”

Wilson hopes to give incoming first-year Moore students a glimpse at a possible ‘aha’ moment of their own during her speech at Convocation. She plans to adapt a 2013 TEDx talk about “the fundamental value of learning to harness your own vision.”

“I want to express that getting a creative education is a unique opportunity that goes beyond a career in art, but also how to make a life, because at the end of the day, the reality is your undergraduate degree just gets you started,” she said. “It’s a time period for young people to explore, find their voice and begin to chart out their purpose.”

“If a creative education is your lens, you have limitless possibilities,” she said. “It lends itself to so many professions and someone who thinks about positive change. That’s not inherent in every academic program or profession.”

“I’m really excited to come back to Moore 20 years later and see how it has evolved,” she said. “But more importantly I am honored to be able to encourage this group of phenomenal young women to lay claim to their voices and their road ahead."

Published on August 26th, 2014