Event Recap: AIGA Leadership Retreat 2015


For the third year in a row, I had the privilege of representing AIGA Santa Barbara at the national Leadership Retreat, hosted this year by AIGA West Michigan in Grand Rapids. The Leadership Retreat is a chance for chapter leaders from around the country to gather and plan the future of AIGA.

This year’s retreat was the first opportunity for AIGA leaders to assess the wave of change our organization has experienced over the past few years: the new membership structure, new headquarters, new programs, and much more—all implemented as part of the AIGA Centennial mandate for 2014. In this year’s annual State of the Organization report, AIGA CEO Ric Grefé noted that the recent sale of AIGA’s HQ building in New York ensures AIGA’s financial security for the next 20 years. The proceeds, held in escrow as the “AIGA 2020 Fund,” will be parceled out to chapters and the national organization to support future local and national programs, staffing, and more.

The retreat’s general program also featured presentations on recent changes to the membership structure (revenue is down, but overall membership is up) the spring membership drive (all 70 chapters saw growth), a diversity and inclusion initiative (featuring Abe Carrillo of sponsor Herman Miller), and mini-presentations from several chapters on their local programs and initiatives (Austin, Charlotte, Honolulu, Minnesota, Portland, and Wisconsin).

Furthermore, the first wave of “AIGA Innovate” grants were awarded to chapters proposing new and exciting projects; the program will continue over the next four years. Finally, all attendees got the chance to thank outgoing CEO Ric Grefé for his two decades of leadership. The AIGA chapter presidents, chapter advisory counselors, and national staff celebrated with Ric (who will step down at the end of 2015) at the annual presidents’ lunch, sponsored this year by Newell Rubbermaid. The entire three-day conference is a lot to condense, but we will have more details over the next few weeks (so watch this space for links).

Personally, I had a great experience. I love spending time with fellow AIGA leaders from around the country and picking their brains for the best ideas to bring home to the 805. One of my retreat highlights was taking part in a “game show” panel for new presidents; instead of a same-old same-old projector-and-speaker breakout session, AIGA Philadelphia outgoing president Nick Prestileo drafted me and chapter presidents from Seattle, Dallas, Nebraska, and Boston to field questions about leadership from himself and the audience of new presidents. I was also seeking inspiration from the West Michigan chapter, who grew from relatively small beginnings to accomplish big things—and they did not disappoint, with everything from a Design Capsule opening and Herman Miller tour to bowling, karaoke, and retro dance parties.


While my previous trips to Philadelphia (2013) and Denver (2014) were fantastic in their own right, for me this year was far and away the best. If you’re an introvert, you won’t be by the third day; this group of people will make you feel welcome and included like no other professional conference I’ve ever attended. The first year is a massive info-dump where you meet hundreds of people and learn way more than you could ever remember. The second year is a lot like sophomore year of college or second summer at camp: you get to see your friends again, and you’re (almost) ready for the firehose of inspiration. By the third year, you know everyone—except the newbies, who want to know you.

I loved representing AIGA SB on the big stage and showing that we stack up well with any of the other chapters in creativity and enthusiasm. I very much appreciate my board and membership support, and look forward to showing off more of the best of AIGA SB when the retreat goes to Raleigh, North Carolina in 2016.


Photos by David Asari, Rachel Elnar, Sara Klele, Kevin Brindley, Carlos Estrada, Jenny Price, Stacy Fatica and Keir DuBois.

By Keir DuBois
Published June 8, 2015
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