The AIGA Iowa Chapter Board of Directors recently met to discuss the future of our chapter given recent events as well events over the past several years. In a unanimous decision, the current Board of Directors voted to disband the Iowa Chapter of AIGA. This was not an easy decision to make. We feel this decision, in many ways, has been in the works for a while. Although difficult, we believe this is absolutely the right thing to do for the Iowa design community.
For those unfamiliar with recent events, the AIGA National Instagram account shared text that was demonstrably appropriated without credit from social-justice-oriented designer and community organizer Antionette Carroll, founder of Creative Reaction Lab. You may remember Antionette from her amazing talk as keynote speaker at AIGA Iowa’s 2018 Woman Up II conference. In this talk, Antoinette shared the very information that AIGA National took for their messaging. In response to this uncredited appropriation, National chose to stay publicly silent. President-elect Ashleigh Axios then sent a video message attempting to explain away the concerns of Antionette Carroll and claim that AIGA had the right to use the text. This video was leaked to the public and thus began the calls from the BIPOC community to #boycottAIGA. Our chapter and some of our members also re-shared this image on social media before we knew that it was created with plagiarized content. We issued our apology for the misstep and wanted to make it clear that we support Antionette Carroll and Creative Reaction Labs because we believe designers should be credited for their work and their ideas. We would have expected the national organization to do something similar once the issue was brought to their attention.
In fact, Chapter leadership from across the country sought action from AIGA National to publicly address the appropriation, issue an apology, and provide proper credit. AIGA National chose not to actively engage in a conversation to do so, indicating fear of a lawsuit during a National Town Hall. Antionette Carroll is a former board member of AIGA’s national board, as well as Founding Chair of AIGA’s Diversity & Inclusion Taskforce. She resigned in December 2019.
This is only the most recent event demonstrating AIGA’s tone-deafness on cultural issues as well as its inability to provide value for designers and the design community, especially in our region. By-in-large, AIGA as an organization has struggled to identify how it provides value to individuals and the different design communities it is supposed to represent.
AIGA has largely ignored important developments in design such as research, motion graphics, UI/UX, design for social good, and a general integration of technology into the discipline.
When the national AIGAEyeOnDesign account tweeted to design students that learning code during quarantine would be a waste of time and looked down upon by future employers, the ways in which AIGA is out of touch with the discipline become clear. You can see a screen grab of the tweet here because after a storm of backlash, they did delete the tweet. The fact that this was tweeted in the first place should be seen as a huge problem.
It goes beyond the high-level lack of engagement with contemporary design. AIGA National is run from a place that does not understand our area of the country and has proven unwilling to listen to smaller chapters not located in major U.S. (mostly coastal) cities.
In Iowa, we have made requests over the years to be allowed to form different chapters within the state due to the geographic size of Iowa. These requests were denied because of our state’s population density. The distance between Los Angeles and San Diego is almost exactly the same as the distance from Des Moines to Iowa City. Yet AIGA National would not allow Iowa to have separate chapters, citing our state’s population density as a reason. So while we were called AIGA Iowa, if we’re being honest, it’s largely been AIGA Des Moines. We made multiple attempts to engage people all over the state. There was a student group in the northwest part of the state for a while. We’ve had board members from the eastern side of the state to try and connect the central and eastern design communities. We’ve tried holding events in Ames. There have been a few small successes but we have believed for a long time that without the support from National to develop multiple chapters within the state based on Iowa’s city- centers, like many other states are allowed to do, we would never be able to serve our different design communities in the ways they need.
AIGA has struggled to provide value to our students as well. In the state we saw a complete decline to zero student clubs as of 2017 when the last official student was not renewed. In 2019, an existing student group, the Graphic Design Social Club at Iowa State University, became the state’s only official student group. There are many professional organizations that have fulfilled their promises and lived up to their potential for the professionals and the students they claim to support. They provide access to affordable healthcare for independent freelancers and small business owners, they provide valuable resources for students, they provide accreditation for university departments and programs, they provide protections for the work that the members do, they provide value in exchange for the annual dues. AIGA has demonstrated over the last many years they are incapable of doing this and in some cases, are actively engaged in doing the opposite.
As a state chapter, we could have done better. Before COVID-19, we were working diligently behind-the-scenes to plan a diverse speaker lineup for WomxnUp III, a conference to uplift creatives from marginalized communities while breaking down gender and societal hierarchies. However, we recognize that well-intended plans do not equal action. AIGA Iowa’s board of directors is not a diverse group, nor is our membership, and we needed to do better all along to amplify the voices of the BIPOC community. We needed to be more active in our efforts for inclusivity. We also understand that at a systemic level, the 100+ year old AIGA was not an organization where people of color were made to feel welcomed and supported. We as a Chapter Board can no longer support the systemic lack of inclusivity fostered by actions from the past several years and amplified by recent events at the National level. We do not believe that AIGA is a place where this work can be done well, especially not in Iowa. Ultimately, that is why we have made the unanimous decision to disband the Iowa chapter of AIGA. This decision does not change your status as a member of AIGA.
This decision is by no means a reflection on the positive work that’s been done up to this point. Furthermore, there are individual chapters across the nation that are very successfully engaging with their membership and larger design communities, and doing important work in the realm of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion. It is, however, an acknowledgment that AIGA as a national organization is no longer in touch with what’s truly important within design culture and in specific, our region of the country. It is time to make room for new voices and a new community. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of our current and past members for their involvement and participation over the years. We want to thank all the past student group leaders and faculty advisors. We especially want to thank past board members, presidents, and volunteer leaders for their amazing work in the local community which we know has and will continue in many different ways.
We wish you all the best,
Laura Formanek, President
Alex Braidwood, Education Director
Doug Choi, Operations Director
Talya Miller, Eastern Iowa Director
Heather Purdy, Communications Director
Doug Stevens, Program Director