AIGA, The Professional Association for Design, is the oldest and largest professional membership organization for design. With 70 chapters and more than 2,5000 members, AIGA advances design as a professional craft, strategic advantage, and vital cultural force. But, when I started attending AIGA events, many years ago, I had no idea about any of that. I just knew that I wanted to be part of the broader creative community in my city.
I never really knew what it meant to be a part of a community until 2006, when I decided to follow my desire to create and go back to school to more seriously pursue a career in graphic design. At the time, I was a very solitary freelance illustrator, caricature artist, and fledgling designer. I enrolled in classes at Valencia College and immediately felt a sense of belonging that I’d not felt anywhere else before. The faculty repeatedly encouraged us to participate in our local design community, something I was previously unaware really existed, which led me not only to AIGA, but the Central Florida American Advertising Federation Club, Giant Illustrators, Dribble, and Thomas Thorspeken’s “Orlando Drink and Draw”.
The first few years I attended AIGA events I spent time making friends and having fun but I didn’t really invest much in the organization. I was there for the beer, to see my buddies, and to talk a little shop. After some time, I started volunteering to help out with events and planning. Little did I know it but this was when things would start to get really interesting. Because of my greater commitment I found I started creating a stronger connection to my peers. This resulted not only in making some great career contacts but also in making some really awesome friends.
Shortly after that I joined the AIGA board and was asked to go to the leadership retreat in Dallas, Texas. The AIGA Leadership retreat was monumental! I suddenly realized how big and interconnected this creative community really was, and I was a part of it. I rubbed elbows with Ashley Axios, the Creative Director and Digital Strategist for the Obama White House, I bellied up at the bar with Christine Taylor, creative account manager at Hallmark cards and had so many other great encounters with so many other passionate creatives! I was pumped. I came back to my local community with a greater understanding of our local AIGA chapter’s role on the larger national stage!
Now, more than ever, I want to be a part of a great, big, creative tribe. AIGA, and the other groups I mentioned, have given me a meaningful way of doing that. The exposure I have had to many talented people’s advice and awesome opportunities over the last decade or more has made me wish I had been involved in my local, and lately national, creative community much sooner. The biggest benefit, however, are not the two I just mentioned. The greatest boon for me was the chance to meet people who share a common need to create and become a part of their community. So, my advice to any designer, photographer, copywriter or otherwise creative person is get involved! Find your local chapter, meet likeminded people, you won’t regret it.
If you are a creative who wants to find your tribe, here are few links to the folks I connect with. And hey, if you don’t find the community you are looking for, start one yourself!