In November 1989, some twenty design professionals met at Crepe Faire in northwest Portland to discuss forming a local chapter of AIGA. A determined 35-year-old Ray Horton led the initiative, snail mailing dozens of letters to local professionals asking them to become members. Robert Selby was also instrumental in this effort. By the Spring of 1990 about 25 founding memberships were secured and a signed petition was accepted by AIGA National in New York.
As the newly appointed AIGA Portland Chapter Historian, I had the honor of meeting with Horton at a crêperie (by coincidence) on Belmont. My mission: to learn as much as I could about the history of the Portland chapter in honor of AIGA National’s centennial year.
I asked Horton what the motivation was for starting a new chapter of AIGA.
We were interested in excellence. We wanted the chapter to achieve what AIGA was and was not. That is, it was not a trade association to help designers make more money. It was an association to raise the standards of design above that of commercial artist. The initial philosophy was Excellence in graphic design and we tried to incorporate this into the formation of the chapter.
I think it raised (the practice of) design several degrees up to a professional level as people realized we were more than just local designers struggling in our offices. We all had common problems and common goals. Forming AIGA Portland raised awareness that graphic design is a profession, that we should be paid for it, and that our clients and potential clients should understand that.
Horton left Portland for Europe in 1992, but the chapter forged ahead by developing event programming, starting with an exhibit called Guardians of Design in the Governor Hotel. It was held in an effort to raise awareness of design to the local business community.
Former AIGA Portland founder and president Ray Horton with his Model A.
Early networking began very informally, spearheaded by The Julis (dubbed so after a socially ambitious volunteer by the name of Juli Heacox). A monthly gathering took place at Bridgeport Brewery on NW 14th and according to Horton, “We were all telling the same story, almost like we all had the same client. It was kind of funny. We’d share anecdotes about when the client says this or that, what should your response be?”
Since then, networking has continued to be an important part of chapter programing with The Pint and later dMob starting in 2003.
AIGA Portland has hosted several speaking events since, featuring the likes of Clement Mok, DJ Stout, Ralph Appelbaum, Chip Kidd, James White, and most recently Stefan Sagmeister during Design Week Portland.
In the words of former president Johnny Levenson, “AIGA is an important organization for educating, enlightening, and connecting the creative class.”
Every chapter of AIGA relies on volunteers (members or not) to make events possible. “This is a volunteer organization and everyone has to pitch in if we are going to do more,” according to former president Kim Malek. Like many things in life, you get out what you put in.
Our thanks goes to the following leaders who fortitude has kept the Portland Chapter of AIGA going strong:
- Ray Horton (1990-1992)
- Jeff Smith (1992-1993)
- Hugh Givens (1993-1994)
- Lydia Hess (1994-1996)
- Alicia Johnson (1996-1998)
- Susan Agre-Kippenhan (1998-2000)
- Catherine Healy & Ron Dumas (2000-2004)
- Kim Malek (2004-2006)
- Shelly Mix (2006-2008)
- Johnny Levenson (2008-2010)
- Joaquin Lippincott (2010-2011)
- Lisa Holmes (2011-2013)
- Angela Reat (2013-2014)
A retired Horton offers this advice to working designers:
Deadlines are important, but recognize that you have a life to live as well. Don’t get too wrapped up in your work.
So step outside your office! Take a walk! Have fun! And come celebrate AIGA Portland’s 25th birthday as we celebrate the new year at Migration Brewing on January 14, 2015 at our special January dMob: Historical dLux event.