Recent Developments in AIGA Seattle’s History with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

AIGA Seattle, the organizers of the Changemaker Series, is part of AIGA, a national association for professional designers with over 70 volunteer-led chapters. Recently, the national AIGA office made some statements that we—AIGA Seattle and the Changemaker Series Committee—do not agree with. This document is meant to provide the full context of the conversation, including instances where we have been on the wrong side of the dialogue. 

Historical Context

In recent years, AIGA Seattle has made efforts to serve and represent a diverse and inclusive community, but has fallen short. Some individuals, such as former AIGA Seattle board member Timothy Bardlavens have been critical of the chapter and AIGA’s national office. After serving on the Seattle chapter’s board, Timothy decided to part ways with the AIGA organization and shared the rationale in a Medium article. However, Timothy was supportive of the Seattle Changemaker Series, facilitating portions of our Workshop Weekend in 2018 even after having left the board. 

In October 2019, we mismanaged the Fellow Award and Panel Discussion, an event intended to highlight prominent designers in the community. The executive committee within AIGA Seattle saw issues with how the event was being planned, but didn’t have a full picture of how the planning committee within our organization was executing the event and failed to adequately intervene or guide the process.

AIGA Seattle representatives reached out to multiple people, including Timothy, in search of panelists for the event. We connected with a speaker referred by Timothy and left the possibility of participating on the table. We ultimately chose a different panelist without notifying that speaker—they had to follow up with us only to be told they were not chosen.

Timothy posted about the situation on LinkedIn, at which point AIGA Seattle’s executive committee reached out to Timothy directly to apologize and seek more information. Timothy then published a second critique of AIGA on Medium. Before issuing any public response, AIGA’s national office asked us to wait until they consulted with their PR firm. AIGA’s national office decided to reach out to Timothy privately. 

While we took steps internally to understand what happened, including by interviewing the volunteers involved, ultimately AIGA Seattle’s board failed to take any kind of public action. We wholeheartedly agree with Timothy’s criticism of our handling of the event. We need to make sure our actions align with the intention of using our platform to elevate non-white, non-heteronormative voices, and avoid causing harm wherever possible.

Recent Dialogue

Since these events, AIGA Seattle has spent much time discussing how and why these events happened, and how we can learn from them. We invested in board training on Inclusive Leadership and have had many conversations about how we can better live up to our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Recently, we were challenged to live up to those standards in a very public way. 

On Monday, June 1, AIGA National issued a public statement about their stance on racism using an image with the phrase "All systems are designed. Harmful systems must be redesigned." Given that there was no citation or attribution to those words, one could easily assume that they were AIGA’s original statements. However, as design leader George Aye pointed out, for those familiar with Antionette Carroll or the work of Caroline Hill, Michelle Molitor and Christine Ortiz on equityXdesign, those words sounded very familiar. Antionette is a Black woman who served on the AIGA national board, was the Founding Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce, and spearheaded many of AIGA's diversity initiatives. She left the national board in December 2019, feeling that the organization wasn't fully invested in her diversity, equity, and inclusion work. She shared her rationale for leaving in a video statement, which referenced Timothy Bardlavens’ Medium article. 

Antionette saw the statement posted by AIGA National and asked that AIGA attribute the quote to her, as she developed it. AIGA National responded with a follow up statement, acknowledging her work on the board but not directly apologizing or citing her for this particular content.

Antionette felt that this was erasure and another example of AIGA’s white supremacist culture at play. She shared this through posts and responses on Twitter, this being one of them. 

AIGA Seattle opposes AIGA National’s exploitation of Antionette’s work. We believe that this—as well as our own default standards and practices—contribute to a culture of white supremacy. On Sunday, June 7, we shared an Instagram post citing Antionette and urging AIGA National to credit her and pay for the use of her words. Other AIGA chapters have released similar posts.

In response to these posts from the chapters, the incoming AIGA National president responded with a video to the leaders of AIGA chapters, expressing frustration that they did not stand in support with AIGA National. We found this video frustrating, inappropriate, and revealing of some of the flawed organizational traits articulated by Timothy and Antionette. 

On Monday, June 8, AIGA Seattle issued a statement in support of Black Lives, outlining the steps we will be taking to contribute to the solution, rather than the status quo. 

We share this information in an attempt to be open and transparent about our mistakes and our learning process. Hiding mistakes never helps us grow. Admitting them and owning up to them, however, can be an important step in understanding our own biases and identifying opportunities to learn and improve. We thank you for reading, leaning into hard conversations, keeping your standards high, and keeping us accountable. We're excited to continue this work with you.

By AIGA Seattle
Published June 16, 2020