Message from Director John W. Smith


Dear Museum Friends,

As the world bears witness to the recent tragedies of George Floyd’s death, the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless numbers of Black people before them, it’s difficult to feel like I have anything new to say on a subject that I should meet with respectful listening, but as the director of this institution it is my job to lead both in words and in deeds.

The RISD Museum, like many museums, plays a role in the unjust and systemic racism and oppression we continue to see in our country in acts of violence and a disregard for human life and we have a moral and mission-driven obligation to help repair that system. 

Historically, museums originated as repositories for the spoils of colonization. It is time to deliberately, consistently, and compassionately work to rectify these wrongs. Our mission statement holds us accountable to the belief that art, artists and the institutions that support them play pivotal roles in promoting broad civic engagement and creating more open societies.

Despite significant strides over the past few years in the art we collect, the exhibitions and programs we produce, and the communities we serve, we can and must do better.

Going forward, we will bring anti-racist practice to our hiring, work processes, and collaborations with community partners to actively disrupt racism. And, as a leader, I join my colleagues across Providence and the museum field in doing the same—to acknowledge our flaws, our past complicity, and our biases—and to hold each other accountable.

We do not have all the answers, but the staff and I are committed to this necessary and vulnerable process. To not say or do anything is to be complicit in the unending cycles of violence, racism, and injustice.

With appreciation,
John W. Smith