About four weeks ago, I traveled to Bettonville, Arkansas to take part in the AIGA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force meet-up. This was to facilitate the face-to-face meeting of task force committee members with D&I chapter leaders. I am on the national AIGA D&I Task Force, again, and a member of AIGA with NYC being my home chapter. We meet from Friday to Sunday near the end of April to discuss how to bring the understanding of what diversity and inclusion is from the national view to the chapter level. It was an incredibly emotional, thought-provoking and freaking fun time.
Now I’ve been an official member of AIGA since 2004 but unofficially I’ve been messing with them since 1991. Side note: why is it every time I write the 90’s down, logically I know its a long time ago but emotionally it feels like yesterday. Always throws me for a loop. Really stumbled into it when they held the now infamous Why is Design 93% White conference at the HS of Art & Design here in NYC. I was a young designer just a few years out of Pratt and I was intrigued about what was going to happen there as I held the same sentiment myself as a student flipping through pages after pages of design mags and annuals and rarely coming across anyone of color or women. Long story short from then to now, I have been involved in some form of D&I development without realizing it.
The Northwest Arkansas chapter hosted this weekend event and were such great hosts making our time in Arkansas really fun and enterprising. Big ups to AIGA NWA! Our first night, Friday, we took a tour of the Crystal Bridges Museum where we saw their exhibit Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power. This exhibition was a visual and historical treat seeing so many beautiful pieces that spoke about our community during a time of mass societal change. The tour guide encouraged us all to have conversations about the pieces but I don’t think he knew what he had encouraged. Our conversations were intense, probing but lengthy as several times the talks stalled the tour. What these talks did was to show how open this group was to having real conversations which came into full view the next day during our all day Saturday workshop.
The day’s track held your typical planning and strategy sessions but there was this one exercise we did called the Privilege Walk. Since it was a bright sunny day, we did the exercise outside. I’ve seen videos on Facebook and YouTube but to actually participate in one was entirely different. It works only if you are completely willing to be open in front of others. We all agreed to be and it was eye-opening to say the least. This walk was based on privilege, opportunity and experience and took many of us aback. The emotional toll of the walk came when we went back inside to discuss our feelings about the walk as an old segregation sign we passed around. It had a twist to it—it read Colored Only–No Whites Allowed. What transpired over the next hour was raw, cutting, insightful, self-realizing and cathartic. Truths were told that helped others see the world from that person’s eyes and vice versa. It made me realize my own truths that have existed only in my own head but now saying it out loud amongst folks I only met hours ago really had such an illuminating power.
After a much-needed break from the raw emotions expressed, we got back to business on sessions about engaging members, chapters and so on. We wrapped the day with dinner and drinks at one of the Mexican restaurants in the town having forged new friendships before we all headed back to our respective cities the next day.
There have been numerous occasions when I wondered about AIGA’s commitment to D&I (in all honesty, there are times I still do) but this weekend gave me strong optimism that this isn’t just good lip service but a real investment. The work many folks have put in over the decades and the stewardship of the current D&I chairperson, Jacinda Walker, have really blossomed into a good model for industries to follow. It lightens my heart to know that students of today and tomorrow will find/see design leaders like themselves easier and more frequently than I did as a young design student and professional. ♦