MAKING THE CITY:
DESIGN AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AT AIGA NY, 2012–2016
AIGA NY’s mission is to demonstrate design’s impact and cultivate the future of design in New York City.
We do this through:
–connecting professional designers and students with ideas, information and each other;
–advocating for design within the city’s civic and cultural life;
–leading collaborative projects with local communities; and
–championing excellent work and innovative practices.
In 2014, members of the board of AIGA NY came together to rewrite the mission of the organization to better reflect its recent work and propose its path for the immediate future. Thirty years into its tenure as the largest chapter of a hundred-year-old professional organization for designers, AIGA NY was still best known for its large lectures, even though most of the energy of the board was spent on civic initiatives. AIGA, its parent organization, was in a state of uncertainty, on the verge of new leadership and battling a reputation for being rear-guard, elitist, and uncool, none of which was helpful for the New York chapter. And because the national organization is headquartered in New York, the work of one would often be confused for the other.
For the previous two years, from 2012–14, AIGA NY had successfully initiated several grant-supported, large-scale projects that brought in both public and private funds. This push was timely, too, in that the context of what AIGA NY was doing had also changed. So many companies and other organizations were offering talks—and mostly for free. But no other organization had 3500 members seeking new ways to participate in the design life and the civic life of New York. Non-designers were also much more aware of design as a process and a need, and were more eager to work with designers than ever before on substantial projects that weren’t simply commerce-driven. As an organization, we were having serious conversations about our purpose in a world where so much of what AIGA NY had to offer before was freely available on the internet. It was the perfect time to shift energy towards design’s relationship to the city both in the present and in the future.
The projects presented here overlap. The largest, DESIGN/RELIEF, took place in three neighborhoods—Red Hook, Rockaway, and South Street Seaport—and spanned almost two years, working to demonstrate what design can do for areas of the city still deeply affected by Hurricane Sandy. As DESIGN/RELIEF was in full swing, AIGA NY was invited to lead a digital display project in Times Square and a fitness loop in DUMBO in Brooklyn. With lessons learned from all five projects, AIGA NY won a city grant to bolster small businesses in East New York, Brooklyn.
This period was one of unprecedented learning both for the organization and for individuals participating in each of the projects. While there were a few moments to stop and reflect, most of what was learned is still locked up in meetings, spreadsheets, and memos. The intent of this document is to share that learning in the most accessible way possible, so that future designers and design organizations—even successive generations of AIGA NY—can improve upon this moment in time.
Here you will find presented the stories of the individual projects, with links to process documents and post-project documentation. Since these projects were completed, civic engagement has only become more critical, not less, both for the profession and the country; please take what’s useful, make it better, and spread the word.