Acclaimed art scholar, ex-RISD president Roger Mandle dies

FILE - In this May 31, 2008, file photo, Rhode Island School of Design outgoing president Roger Mandle, right, introduces his successor John Maeda, left, during RISD's commencement in Providence, R.I. The school said Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020, that Mandle, who served as president from 1993 to 2008, has died. He was 79. (AP Photo/Stew Milne, File) (Stew Milne, Copyright 2008, 2020, The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Roger Mandle, an internationally renowned art scholar and the former longtime president of the Rhode Island School of Design, has died, RISD said Tuesday. He was 79.

Mandle died Saturday in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, after a long battle with cancer, the school said in a statement.

A painter himself, Mandle served as president of RISD from 1993 to 2008. He was credited with helping modernize the school, one of America's most prestigious four-year art colleges, and quadrupling its endowment to over $400 million. He previously served as deputy director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

As a former member of the National Council on the Arts appointed by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, Mandle helped shape and guide U.S. art and design policy.

“My mission, my vision, is to contribute to our humanity and quality of life and to make Providence and the Rhode Island School of Design a globally recognized center of art, design and right-brained thinking,” he once said.

From 2008 to 2012, Mandle was executive director of the Qatar Museums Authority, overseeing more than a dozen museums, including the Museum of Islamic Art, the Qatar Natural History Museum and the National Museum of Qatar.

Later, he launched a consulting firm dedicated to assisting museums and universities in strategic planning, board and senior staff development and mentoring, and advice during important transitions.

He was a former director of the Toledo Museum of Art, a former associate director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and a member of the Ohio Arts Council.

“The American arts and higher education communities have lost a giant," Democratic U.S. Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island said in a statement, calling Mandle “an extraordinary man and a great civic leader.”

“His influence on generations of artists and others whose lives were made better through the arts will live on,” RISD President Rosanne Somerson said in a statement.

Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia, a RISD alumnus, tweeted that Mandle “was an early supporter of my entrepreneurial pursuits on campus.”

In 2016, Mandle and his wife, the abstract painter and acclaimed mixed media artist Gayle Wells Mandle, founded the Massachusetts Design Art & Technology Institute in New Bedford. DATMA, as the organization is known, presents international contemporary art through exhibitions, performances and educational programs.

“Roger Mandle was a gardener, a passion tethered to his core belief in optimism. He loved sowing seeds and nurturing them into their full glory,” his family said in a statement. “Gardening is a fine metaphor for his life’s philosophy of lovingly nurturing and mentoring all of those around him to reach for their highest potential.”

Mandle is survived by his wife; son Luke Mandle; daughter Julia Mandle; sister Julia Kiechel; and five grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were incomplete Tuesday.