I was elected to serve on the board of AIGA NY in 2012–13, and then served as its president from 2014–2016. AIGA, the professional association of design, is the oldest and largest organization that serves graphic and communication design. The New York chapter, started in 1982, has over 3500 members (out of a total of about 20,000 for AIGA), and the role of president has been held by some of the most respected designers, such as Michael Bierut, Carin Goldberg, Alex Isley, and Paula Scher. AIGA NY has been deftly managed by Stacey Panousopoulis for over a decade.
Board meeting, August 2015. Foreground, from left to right: Roanne Adams, Ksenya Samarskaya, Piera Gelardi, Joe Marianek, Emmett Shine, Renda Morton. Michael Bierut is just out of the frame to the right. Balckground: Ansley Whipple, David Frisco, Forest Young.
In my first year as a board member of AIGA NY, I focused on connecting the schools in the city. In my second year on the board, and my first as president, my focus was on engagement with the city, a priority that had been set by my predecessor, Willy Wong. We negotiated a contract with a developer in South Street Seaport to give the small organization an 1800-square-foot space and $100,000 to expand the reach and range of activities to come in 2015–16. In the space, working with board members Alicia Cheng, David Frisco, and Manuel Miranda, we mounted two exhibitions. The first, called Looking, Thinking, Making, was about design process and design practice, and the second, titled Making the City, was about design interventions in the city that had social impact and relevance. Both exhibitions and their public programming were under a larger umbrella, also called Making the City, which proposed that community co-creation as the best way for designers to have positive impact on the city, rather than more cosmetic approaches like making posters about social issues.
Opening, Looking, Thinking, Making
Opening party for Making the City
DESIGN/RELIEF, a large, multi-year project, was already underway when I joined the board. This was the first model for this kind of engagement, sending teams of designers into the Hurricane-Sandy-affecteRed Hook, Rockaway, and South Street Seaport to demonstrate the impact of design with organizations in each of the neighborhoods. After DESIGN/ RELIEF came to a close, I contributed to and oversaw the writing of five grants, one of which we secured from New York City’s Small Business Services) for the organization for a community-facing project, IdeA:ENY. This project bolstered local business in East New York, a historically underserved neighborhood in Brooklyn. Its impact report, prepared by strategy firm 3x3 and distributed to other AIGA chapters, best articulated AIGA NY’s stronger position regarding social impact work.
These projects, along with the programming made possible by having access to our own space, helped to change the perception of the organization from one that reacted to the design community—mostly through large auditorium talks—to one that had an active hand in building it. Not having to lease space and charge admission meant that we could be more experimental and wide-ranging in our programming, opening up possibilities like member-led events around more specific topics, performances related to the exhibitions in the space, and small-audience lectures. But beyond these specific projects and initiatives, leading the board was a gift in that the board members were designers from all corners of the field, some working in tech, media, and retail and others with their own practices, and our members were similarly wide-ranging. It helped me to see what the commonalities and differences were, something that influenced both my research and teaching, and it allowed me to serve as a kind of ambassador of the city’s design community to communities outside. It also gave me a chance to see a through-line where all of the tribes in the community could come together.
Making the City Digital Archive ︎︎︎
Making the City Book (design: Manuel Miranda, PDF)︎︎︎
Making the City Exhibition Catalogue (design: Manuel Miranda, PDF)︎︎︎