It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I first became a member of AIGA. It was 2001 and I had been working as a designer for six years in Baltimore. My boss received regular communications from AIGA and AIGA Baltimore — well-designed snail-mail goodness. I remember attending my first AIGA Baltimore event — Pulp, Ink, and Hops — an annually celebration of design, paper, printing, and beer. I also remember leaving the event wanting more — to be a part of this community that cared about our craft, supporting each other’s challenges and celebrating each other’s accomplishments. I knew then, as I do now, that AIGA nurtures designers.
Over the years, through good and bad economic times, AIGA was there, providing me with inspiration, guidance, and knowledge. AIGA conferences, competitions, publications, and seminars provided me with a source of inspiration and a sense of community. It became a place to meet people who shared my passion for design. Safe to say I was drinking the AIGA Kool-Aid.
Then things changed. AIGA became predictable: the same people, attending the same events, talking about the same issues, year after year. Even the well-designed snail-mail goodness was replaced by emails. I considered myself an active member in good standing, paid my dues on time, and attended half of the events throughout the year. Why was AIGA starting to feel stale? Why were they cutting services? What initiatives were they working on for us? Where was the design profession going? Why wasn’t I feeling nurtured? Was there still value in my membership?
Nearly a decade later, I began to think about the responsibilities and role of chapter president. Having served on the AIGA Upstate New York board for two years, these questions weren’t new to me. They did, however, take on new meaning and priority in light of the chapter’s geographical, social, economical, and technical challenges. During the past two years I’ve found that these challenges continually alter HOW we manage and execute WHAT we do. With that perspective, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about us, over the past two years.
How are we doing?
We’re doing well, thanks to active members and a collection of sturdy volunteers. In 2010, the board of directors embraced a pretty big idea — managing a chapter that nurtured events throughout the state. We regularly exceed our affiliation requirements, holding more than four events a year. We’ve introduced three new programs (Portfolio Workshop, Portfolio Review, SPARK mentor program) and a great design competition.
As a community, we are more diverse than ever in our backgrounds, training, practice, and ages. But our community is also fractured by geography, and despite our size and numbers, we have not been able to leverage this insight. What can we do to make sure we learn from each other and make the chapter better, for us?
Do the math
Say we have 240+ members scattered across New York. If a quarter of those members are active, that’s 60 members total. Then suppose we have six active cities where members have stepped up to nurture their local design community — that’s 10 active members per hub. Then let’s assume one active member in each hub is willing to volunteer. Is it fair to expect one person to nurture an entire local community? Simply put, your AIGA experience is directly related to your level of involvement — it is what you make it.
Due to the geographic challenges faced by our chapter, our board has been willing to support programming held throughout the state, a concept most members take for granted. Other chapters base their events in one city: AIGA Minnesota travels to Minneapolis; AIGA Wisconsin travel to Madison. To be a member is to be involved: Whose responsibility is it to bring AIGA to Ithaca — your president’s or yours?
The chapter has anticipated and shaped its own change. We have found ways to make sure we are ready to play when the next big idea comes. But the question is: will members play a new role in the chapter’s future?
My career to date was perhaps a dress rehearsal for my role as chapter president. But nothing prepared me to serve. There were decisions with which you agreed and disagreed. I trust that you will provide our next president with constructive suggestions on how to make the experience and the value of membership better.
I encourage you to give these statements some thought and send me suggestions. I will work with chapter leadership and the AIGA national staff to make sure our AIGA is an institution that helps us build on our past, make our present relevant, and make the future a place that we define, together.