Event Recap: AIGA Leadership Retreat 2016


For the fourth year in a row, I had the privilege of representing AIGA Santa Barbara at the national Leadership Retreat, hosted this year by AIGA Raleigh in North Carolina. AIGA’s Leadership Retreat is the time for chapter leaders from around the country to gather and collectively plan the future of AIGA.

Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and chapter president Laura Barnes Hamlyn welcomed 330 AIGA leaders to their city with a presentation exemplifying “Open,” the conference theme, touching on everything from Raleigh’s open data policy to its acceptance of all people and resolute opposition against North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 law. AIGA CEO Julie Anixter and National board president Su Matthews Hale followed that with the state of AIGA. The organization is building on the success of previous years with more collaboration than ever between chapters on many initiatives that advocate for the value of design and designers to business, government, and the general public.

The retreat’s general program reported on those initiatives: Diversity & Inclusion, Women Lead, Get Out the Vote, Design for Good, AIGA Innovate, the Ambassadors program, INitiative (for in-house designers) and the new Emerge program (for emerging designers). We also heard from several chapters who gave mini-presentations on their local programs reflecting those initiatives (Orlando, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Chicago, Minnesota, and Colorado). Furthermore, I attended breakout sessions specifically about Design for Good/Living Principles (hosted by AIGA Seattle and Blue Ridge) and ensuring AIGA chapters are creative community hubs (hosted by AIGA Arizona).

For the main events, AIGA welcomed senior designer Eric Snowden from Adobe on Day 1 for a discussion about what’s next for Creative Cloud. On Day 2, national board member Matt Muñoz and Jonathan Opp from AIGA Raleigh led an in-depth storytelling workshop to kick off the new AIGA Ambassadors program (current and previous AIGA leaders representing the organization after their board service). Day 3 was packed to the gills with a design thinking facilitation workshop, led by Seth Johnson of IBM and AIGA Austin, accompanied by his army of Austinite IBMers. We got a crash course in the mindset, tactical basics, and soft skills needed to coach, lead, and guide others through design thinking activities, decision-making, and learning.

And then we partied:

I’m not sure anything could equal my 2015 retreat experience in Michigan, but this one came close. After a punishing 3:30 a.m. wake-up call and all-day cross-country flight, there’s nothing quite like being mobbed by four different chapters before you even check into the hotel. The AIGA leadership really is a special group of people and this event is still the most welcoming professional conference I’ve ever attended. I loved exploring the city with old friends and new friends; we covered the Warehouse District, Fayetteville and Moore Square—scarfing late-night chicken & waffles at Beasley’s and ducking into Sorry State Records for some vinyl shopping.

AIGA Raleigh worked hard to make everyone feel welcome, not least because of concerns that the odious HB2 would make us stay away or actively boycott. AIGA chose to go through with the retreat because 1) the city of Raleigh and both retreat venues strongly opposed the bill (“equality” North Carolina map stickers were everywhere), and 2) AIGA felt we could make a huge impact by demonstrating the power of a truly collaborative, diverse, and accepting creative community.

I’m proud to represent AIGA Santa Barbara on the big stage with all 70 AIGA chapters. We may be a small chapter, but our programs and events make National take notice and make waves around the country. I’m grateful to my board and membership for their support and am anticipating a great time when the retreat goes to Dallas, Texas in 2017.

Rock Star Gig Rating: On a scale of “zero” to “insane,” the leadership retreat is always gonna be a Hall of Fame-caliber monster, but the AIGA National staff and AIGA Raleigh chapter created something special this time. My thanks to all of them!

Photos by Jon Brentzel, Keir DuBois, Fernando Martinez, and Angela Vitzthum. Video by Griffin Wing Productions.

By Keir DuBois
Published June 14, 2016
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