A scholarship dedicated to helping young island artists

Thu, 02/06/2020 - 6:15pm

The Thomas McAleer Visual Arts Endowed Scholarship was launched when “painter Fred Poisson wanted to create a scholarship for Block Island teens and young adults to attend Rhode Island School of Design, where he is an alumnus. Mac was the perfect person to honor since he brought his love of art to so many people,” said Sue Black.

The scholarship was created in 2015. McAleer passed away suddenly while painting in a park in Bristol on Aug. 12, 2014 at the age of 56. About 1,500 people attended the popular painter’s funeral in Jamestown.

McAleer was a plein air painter who plied his craft on a daily basis. He was inspired by nature and the artists from his art program at Top Drawer Art at The Brass, a studio and art gallery for individuals with disabilities located in Warren, Rhode Island.

“Fred Poisson, Kaylan McAleer Transue and I headed up the scholarship fundraising committee and held a couple of art shows to sell donated paintings. Lots and lots of local artists donated pieces,” said Black. To date, the group has “raised $100,000 for the endowment. The endowment investment generates about $5,000 in interest every year, which can be used for the scholarship to help pay for RISD Continuing Education classes. Since all the interest hasn't been used every year it goes back into the endowment so our total has grown,” said Black, adding, “I helped with the fundraising because Tom McAleer was one of my best friends and I wanted to honor him.”

The scholarship can be used to pay for classes in the RISD Continuing Education program for anyone between the ages of 14 and 25 and who spent at least one year at the Block Island School. “We are working to change the scholarship allocation so that it can be used by people of any age who have attended the Block Island School or have a current commuter card,” said Black. “We hope to use some of the funds for transportation and accommodation costs. We would also like to  bring RISD professors to Block Island and certify islanders to teach classes for RISD on Block Island. The classes are not for credit so anyone who has something they love to do and wants to share it can apply to teach,” said Black.

A recipient of the scholarship, Reva van Lent, shared her thoughts on the scholarship’s opportunities for island students. A 2016 graduate of the Block Island School, van Lent said, “I found out about [the scholarship] through Sue B, she had brought it up with my dad at the bank... RISD had Continuing Education courses at the Westerly Education Center” which was more accessible for van Lent than Providence. She mentioned she “had been wanting to take courses” for some time.

She applied for the scholarship in 2018, and was accepted to attend a Fundamentals of Interior Design I course in February of that year. van Lent participated in winter classes, in part because it is  “easier travel than summer.”

The course was “one-on-one with basics, forms, shapes and color theory of interior design,” including a discussion on how to read a floor plan. van Lent said she had to present a final project of a floor plan complete with fabric choices, construction materials and colors.

van Lent went on to participate in Fundamentals of Design II, and later attended a Sketch Up design course in 2019.

van Lent was “glad [she] applied to the scholarship. I didn’t go to college, and felt the process of applying to the scholarship was simple to complete, and was really great,” adding “how wonderful it is to feel supported and to receive financial help” to pursue your passions, and to fulfill the “desire to explore your creativity. It would be great to bring more attention to the arts and have information available for students at the school” who may be interested in participating in the RISD courses, said Van Lent.

Given that only two students have applied for the scholarship, Black said, “That's why we need to change it and make it broader so more people will use it.”

Black said there is an online survey created for people to fill out so “we can give RISD the data and show the interest in expanding the program and changing the scholarship allocation.” The survey can be accessed here: surveymonkey.com/r/KPHZRLK.

To learn more about the Thomas McAleer Visual Arts Endowed Scholarship, and the courses provided through RISD’s Continuing Education program, please contact Sue Black at sueb3@verizon.net.

Ed. note: Rosemary Connelli was the other student who successfully applied for the scholarship.