2017 Honorary Doctorates and Commencement Speaker

Elissa Tenny | April 27, 2017

Dear SAIC Community,

It is my pleasure to announce that celebrated artist Kerry James Marshall will deliver the Commencement address to SAIC’s 2017 graduating class on Monday, May 15, at the Auditorium Theatre. Along with fashion designer and SAIC alum Maria Pinto and New York Times art critic Roberta Smith, Marshall will receive an honorary doctorate from SAIC to recognize his achievements and commitment to the arts.

As you can see from their bios below, this year’s honorees are leaders in their field who shape our understanding of African American history, empower women through fashion, and foster the public’s interest in art. These visionary leaders exemplify creative success and determination in the world of art, design, and art criticism. Their careers have defied the boundaries of convention that we at SAIC always seek to question, and I look forward to celebrating their achievements and those of the class of 2017.


Elissa Tenny
2017 Honorary Doctorates

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: Commencement Speaker

Kerry James Marshall is a world-renowned artist based in Chicago. With a career spanning almost three decades, Marshall is well known for his paintings depicting actual and imagined events from African American history. He uses painting, sculptural installations, collage, video, and photography to comment on the history of Black identity both in the United States and in Western art. Marshall also produces drawings in the style of comic books, sculptural installations, photography, and video. As with his paintings, these works accumulate various stylistic influences to address the historiography of Black art, while at the same time drawing attention to the fact that they are not inherently partisan because their subjects are Black.

Marshall studied at the Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, earning his BFA in 1978 and an honorary doctorate in 1999. He is the recipient of several awards, grants, and fellowships including the MacArthur “genius” grant in 1997. Marshall’s work is featured in numerous public collections including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A major survey of his work, Kerry James Marshall: MASTRY is currently on view at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles until July 2. The survey was previously on view at The Met Breuer and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.


Maria Pinto is a fashion designer and artist, renowned for her minimalist, sculptural designs that pull from the architectures found in both the human and natural worlds. Pinto (BFA 1990) is passionate about creating fashion that empowers women and enhances their lives. She is the creative voice behind M2057 by Maria Pinto, a ready-to-wear collection inspired by urban architecture and design. She has dressed style icons like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and Brooke Shields. Her designs have been featured on the hit show Empireand in publications such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

Pinto celebrated her 25th anniversary in fashion design in 2016 with a retrospective at Chicago’s City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower. In 2012 she co-curated an exhibition for the Field Museum, Fashion and the Field Museum Collection, and her designs are now part of the Field’s permanent collection. She is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and is the recipient of SAIC’s “Legend of Fashion” Award. She serves as a member of Chicago’s Advisory Council on Cultural Affairs and Special Events, and is on the board of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Architecture and Design Society.


Roberta Smith is a co-chief art critic of the New York Times. Smith regularly reviews museum exhibitions, art fairs, and gallery shows in North America and abroad. Since joining the New York Times in 1991, she has written on Western and non-Western art from the prehistoric to the contemporary eras. She sees her main responsibility as “getting people out of the house,” making them curious enough to go see the art she covers. Smith has written for the New York Times “Critic’s Notebook” about the need for museums to be free to the public, Brandeis University’s decision to close its museum and sell its art collection (later rescinded), and the unveiling of the Google Art Project, which allowed online HD views of paintings in the collections of scores of leading museums worldwide.

Born in New York City and raised in Kansas, Smith is a graduate of Grinnell College in Iowa. Before coming to the New York Times she wrote for the Village Voice. In 2003 she received the College Art Association’s Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism. Smith lives in New York with her husband Jerry Saltz (SAIC 1970–75, HON 2008), senior art critic for New York Magazine.