AIGA Orlando Founders Stories – Part 1

Happy Birthday to us! Since we can’t safely celebrate in person as we’d hoped, we’re going to spend the next week telling our story and honoring those that made AIGA Orlando possible. It all began when Val Sloan and some other people in the Creative Club had an idea…

My favorite memory of AIGA Orlando is… all of the energy and buzz that developed as we found all of the people to sign our charter and the charter signing party. the board had temporary tattoos and we all wore jackets (some leather motorcycle jackets) and unveiled our chapter logo tattoos by disrobing. We had a dessert theme that night. It was at the hotel downtown by lake Eola. It really was an amazing night of celebration.

I joined AIGA Orlando because… I was an AIGA member prior to moving back to Orlando when there was the Creative Club of Orlando. Without the history of the Creative Club and the hard work from all of those folks who started that club as an alternative to AdFed we may not have AIGA Orlando at the time or in the same capacity. It was a head start to be able to have a chapter with a history, a bank account, and other aspects to kickstart unlike other chapters that start from scratch. I had to move away from Orlando because of taking a job out of state.

I’m proud to be an AIGA Orlando Member because…I’ll say I’m proud to be the charter president because it was an amazing opportunity that other people looked towards me with my experience and knowledge in AIGA to assist in the process of moving from Creative Club to AIGA. It is truly an honor to have had that privilege. I miss those days. I miss all the fun we had. I miss the collaborations and the excitement. I’m grateful that the chapter is still alive and about to celebrate 20 years – that’s just amazing and crazy how time has flown by.

Val Sloan, AIGA Orlando chapter petition signer and charter president

I started out with the Creative Club in 1999, because it was a great way to get to know people in lots of different creative fields. When I heard that we were going to be forming our own AIGA chapter, I was excited to get involved. I’m proud that I could be one of the signers of our chapter petition. I started out as the Social Chairperson, organizing monthly social gatherings.

I would like to have a lot of great stories to tell about the year AIGA Orlando started, but the truth is, that time is a bit of a blur for me because I was diagnosed with cancer part of the way through the first year. While I had to resign from my position to focus on my health, everyone was so warm and supportive.

I’m happy to be healthy now and to still be in touch with some of those lovely and talented people, all these years later. And I’m very happy that AIGA Orlando is still going strong. I hope it’s a foundation for the creative development as well as the friendships of lots of Orlando creatives!

Marci Brinker, AIGA Orlando chapter petition signer

Some of you may remember that AIGA Orlando’s predecessor was the Creative Club of Orlando — an ad club focused on promoting great creative advertising and design. By 1999, most of Orlando’s top creatives were active members; the club held its 9th annual awards show, and I was installed as the new president. The following year as president took me well out of my comfort zone. I had to learn superhuman networking skills to get a roomful of introverts to behave like extroverts. The Creative Club enjoyed high involvement and maintained a strong local presence. However, we didn’t want just to maintain, we wanted to grow.

As leaders, we’re tasked to look ahead — not just to the next year, but also to the next 10, 15 or 20 years. Many board members shared the vision that it was time for greater impact and a wider connection beyond the local community. We believed becoming an AIGA chapter would help us reach that next level.

 AIGA National had an established network, government advocacy, professional best practices guidelines, a biannual conference, and a prestigious awards program. The multiple local/regional chapters allowed for local programming like mentorships, community service, design history/education, jobs bank and more. Fortunately, other members had experience with other local chapters as students. So, it was an easy sell to establish the charter AIGA Orlando.

Thuan Nguyen, AIGA Orlando chapter petition signer

I don’t have any specific memory, but as I think about my time organizing initial web efforts for AIGA Orlando, I do remember some general things. The web was still pretty new and it was great to be able to bring my knowledge of the new medium to help promote the new AIGA chapter.

My background was mostly in tech and code, so I felt pretty honored to be included in a group of such creative and talented people. Over and over I was impressed by the number of creative people who were in the Orlando area and how versatile the creative work was. I often thought we were doing something really useful because there were so many creative people in the area but at the time there was a limited sense of a “design community” for Orlando, and starting the AIGA chapter was one way for us to bring all of these creative people together. It was a great experience and I still feel fortunate to have been a part of it.

Gary Ritzenthaler, AIGA Orlando chapter petition signer

Usually when someone asks me to reflect on a particular time in my life, they’re eager to know what I’m proud of. How has it shaped me? What have I learned?

So when I was invited to share something about AIGA Orlando’s origins, I had to pause. ‘Proud’ isn’t quite the word that comes to mind. ‘Curious’ is in there. ‘Naive’ rings a bell. ‘Hopeful’ is a worthy candidate.

Because the truth is that I really had no clue what I was after. The idea wasn’t mine, I know that for sure. But I was eager to go along with it. And it turned out to be pretty good.

But that’s the thing about looking back on our past. It’s tempting to be nostalgic, to romanticize, to carefully curate and tell a good story. The reality? We wanted to try something together. And we got creative. And a hard-working group of young professionals—as they often do—made something new.

I loved my time with AIGA. I met fascinating people and appreciated our differences. And I truly felt part of a democratic organization that put people before projects—that was striving to be inclusive decades before diversity entered every mission statement.

But like many endeavors, it could have just faded away. The fact that it hasn’t is a testament to something else—not looking backward, but not quite looking forward either. Perhaps like the best creative moments, it was just about being in the present, being connected and open to possibility. And maybe that’s what sustains AIGA today: imagining what can be, while not losing sight of what is right in front of us.

Ben Goodman, AIGA Orlando chapter petition signer
Principal, Ben Goodman Creative

I spent 10+ years helping build and grow the Creative Club of Orlando (formerly the One Club of Orlando). So, naturally, I was a little taken aback when I first heard there was a move to shutter CCO and start an AIGA chapter in Orlando. But, after hearing from Thomas Scott’s pitch, I was sold. I had been putting a lot of effort into this organization to help raise the standard of creative work being in Orlando and becoming part of AIGA offered more resources to do just that: programs, exhibitions, publications, access to creatives, networking, and more.

I stayed active on the board of AIGA Orlando for many of its 20 years including being the chapter president for a few of those years. I’ve travelled for AIGA meetings and conferences to Miami, Pittsburgh, New York (and probably some places I’ve forgotten). I’ve met some amazing people across the country. We brought design rockstars to Orlando come speak to our creative community. There were countless socials where we ate, drank, drew, commiserated, and networked. But the best part, for me, was getting to know so many amazing people that work in our local creative community. Professionals and students alike. I’ve made some life-long friends through AIGA. Maybe some enemies, too.

There are moments when being part of AIGA really made me feel like I was making a difference. Even if it was in very small ways. I remember one of mentorship proteges telling me how uninspired she had been. Even a little depressed and unsure about her career choice. But, we had chatted about design, studied some work together, talked about typography and where inspiration comes from, etc. I gave her a couple of books to read. She—almost embarrassed—said she spent most of her spring break reading and getting inspired again rather than partying like most college kids were doing. That was a really inspiring moment to know I made a difference for someone. 

We worked hard and I think we did a lot of great things during my tenure on the board, but one thing we were criticized for was being too ‘clique-y’ or exclusive. I never understood that. I always thought we strove to be open and welcoming. I was probably too close and couldn’t see it. Maybe the gestures for inclusivity weren’t overt enough. Maybe it’s just the nature of introverted creative minds. I don’t know for sure. But, the next generation of the board, led by Devon Hoernshemeyer and Victor Davila, started the ‘community meeting’ model after hearing a presentation from the AIGA Raleigh chapter. That model expanded membership and made our chapter more inclusive. Kudos for making that move.

AIGA Orlando also provided me with a true career highlight by making me an AIGA Fellow. And I’m beyond honored to be the second fellow named in our chapter after my good friend, Thomas Scott, had been named a few years back.

Good luck to the next generation of board members. Keep pushing to make this chapter and this organization better, more inclusive, more educational, and more inspiring.

Jeff Matz, AIGA Orlando chapter petition signer,
Past President, and AIGA Fellow

As a former social chair for AIGA Orlando, one of my fondest memories was the Halloween Social that both artist Kim Foxbury (also a social chair) and I created. With paint, glue and tons of talent, members turned plain paper lunch bags into pieces of art. Each bag was then filled with candy donated by everyone who attended. (I’ll never forget when large boxes of candy were delivered care of Disney and designer Thomas Scott!) We delivered the candy filled bags to Ronald McDonald House and New Hope for Kids. A great example of unity, community and creativity, all for a good cause.

Paul Mastriani, AIGA Orlando chapter petition signer
Principal | Designer,
Lure Design

My AIGA journey began with a lack of connection to my creative community. In school, we had regular assignments, critiques, and a few professors who were helpful, but there was no help with the process of finding an ideal internship, much less any assistance with job placement. There was no GDSA at my Alma mater, like there is now, and I felt I was on an island once I graduated from the University of Central Florida. The absence of support, mentorship, and creative community was with me until I found out about AIGA Jacksonville. I actually did the commute from Orlando up to Jax to attend an event or two, but that wasn’t sustainable.

One day, a woman contacted me about needing one more signature on a petition to form an Orlando chapter of AIGA. We met, I joined 19 other signers, et voila, a new chapter was born! Even so, it was years before I felt the true sense of community I do now. I attribute that to the adage, “You reap what you sow.”

Becoming involved in AIGA Orlando’s board changed everything for me in a very positive way. The role of Women Lead Initiative Director allowed me not simply to develop programming that engaged our members, but allowed me a platform to offer non-AIGA members to have the focus and present their points of expertise. Thoughtful collaboration among creative professionals and students with people outside of our various occupations is crucial to improving our understanding and approach to better serve the people, and to evolve together. I am grateful for this opportunity.

Anna McCambridge-Thomas, AIGA Orlando chapter petition signer,
current AIGA Orlando Women Lead Initiative Director

Published September 24, 2020