I’m leaving AIGA behind. You should, too.
An exploration of AIGA’s lack of commitment to Black designers.
This past May, the AIGA New York board met via Zoom to discuss potential board members recommended through our Call for Nominations.
“How do you get through the rest of the nomination application if their portfolio is bad?” one board member quipped as we discussed the merits of candidates.
“Yeah and also, how do we know if someone is cool?” another added. I was speechless. In a previous meeting, we’d agreed that bringing on non-designers and non-visual creatives was of a high priority. Why would a person’s “coolness” and portfolio (or lack of one) be a factor for inviting them to a team of community volunteers?
“I didn’t join the board to be best friends with people or to discuss the finer points of their craft. I joined to serve the broader design community and I hope that’s why we’re all here,” I countered, finally finding my words.
As a Black designer, I’m no stranger to my work quality being questioned. But it’s especially jarring to exist as a Black person who can see what’s going on behind closed doors. Unfortunately, my experience is not unique and this is especially true when surveying the shared experience of Black designers who have left “America’s professional organization for design” known as AIGA. During my tenure within AIGA, I’ve come to realize that it’s impossible to create sufficient change inside an organization that actively perpetuates racism towards people who look like me. It’s time for me to walk away, but before I do, I want to share what I’ve learned about AIGA’s history and pattern of not supporting Black designers.
In 1914, forty members of the National Arts Club interested in graphic arts gathered in New York City to create the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). This new organization would be a “source of pleasure and intellectual profit,” with a goal of advancing the profession of graphic arts.
A “product of its time”, AIGA’s initial membership consisted entirely of white men, but in 1920 women were allowed as members. 38 years later, in 1958, the organization elected Edna Beilenson as one of its first woman presidents. As…