The Association of Independent Colleges of Art & Design
by Deborah Obalil, President & Executive Director
The Association for Independent Colleges of Art & Design (AICAD) is comprised of 40 leading, specialized art and design colleges and universities in the US and Canada, as well as a small but growing number of international affiliates. The organization has existed since 1991, originating as a platform for the presidents of “the similarly structured art schools” to find peer support and a means for collective action. Over its nearly thirty-year history, AICAD has grown to reach nearly every administrative role within its member institutions, as well as some faculty and students through its regular programming and services including an annual Academic Symposium, biennial Student Success Conference, the AICAD Post Graduate Teaching Fellowship, AICAD Exchange for student mobility, a collaborative portfolio development program for students in grades 9-12, and numerous other means of connecting peers and sharing information across institutions.
With “connect and strengthen our member institutions” at the forefront of our mission, AICAD always has the needs of our member institutions as our primary guiding force. This has provided us with the organizational culture and capacity to quickly assess the needs of our members during this unprecedented time and adjust our programs and services to address both ongoing and newly developed needs. Key elements of this response include communication, adaptability and foresight – not surprisingly all aspects of what our institutions deliver through art and design education.
Communication is a central aspect of what AICAD provides at all times, so we’ve simply ramped that up during the last month as COVID-19 has begun to impact all our members. Our existing listservs saw increased traffic almost immediately, with members knowing they could quickly access their peers in this way. For topics that emerged on the listservs where more conversation would clearly be valued, we quickly set up online web meetings for those groups and topics. In the first three weeks of the crisis we’ve hosted six of these “virtual roundtables” for groups ranging in size from a dozen participants to over 80. We do not record these roundtables but do distribute summary notes following, many of which have evolved into living Google docs that can be updated as situations change. We already have multiple virtual roundtables scheduled for the next few months as the rapidly changing environment is driving a desire to stay connected across our membership.
Our presidents especially have appreciated the connectivity to their peers during this time. We’ve held three conversations to date, and have settled on a bi-weekly schedule of virtual roundtables for presidents for the foreseeable future. As they work to address both the immediate needs of their campuses as well as plan for a drastically changed and uncertain future, having connectivity to each other for both moral and intellectual support is proving invaluable.
AICAD also serves in a limited way as an advocacy organization for its members, so our activities in this area have also increased during this crisis. We’re in constant contact with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) as the lead lobbying organization for private higher education, signing on to advocacy letters and encouraging our members to actively communicate with their elected representatives on various legislative matters. We’ve quickly and consistently shared news of relief efforts that will impact our members and directed them to analysis of any of the relief legislation to help them make the best decisions possible for their own institutions.
Second only to the need for communication in a crisis is adaptability. At AICAD we have quickly assessed the landscape and adapted both current and future programming to address the new needs of our members. We made the decision in early March to hold our April 1 Board meeting virtually instead of in person. We also drastically changed the agenda to address only the urgent business needs of the association and the concerns of our members in the moment. All other business suddenly seemed inappropriate and unnecessary, tabling many items for the future. The Board also decided to table the passage of our FY21 Budget. Despite being finalized only six weeks ago, enough has changed that we all concluded that new financial planning is called for.
We’ve canceled all in-person programming through the end of 2020. While this might seem extreme, we determined that, given the uncertainty of what our members face this fall, the only equitable means to deliver programming was to do so online. As a national and even international association, travel costs are always an aspect of our in-person programming. We expect that both personal and professional constraints may make travel not possible for many in our membership through the remainder of the calendar year.
Thinking more expansively, we’ve organized virtual roundtables and communications platforms for constituents within our member institutions we’ve never served before. The need to transfer studio-based, hands on art and design education to emergency remote teaching methods was a new challenge for faculty and curriculum leaders across our membership. Instead of saying, “we don’t serve them,” AICAD immediately rose to the challenge and convened more than 80 department and division leaders in a virtual roundtable and ongoing online conversation. Many of the ideas and resources shared in that forum became the basis for a compiled Tips for Teaching Art & Design Online that we’ve widely shared beyond our membership, recognizing that faculty in these fields could benefit regardless of where they teach.
Lastly, we’ve adapted a core capacity of the organization – research and data collection – to serve our members’ most immediate needs. We’ve pressed pause on all regular, in-process internal data collection efforts to relieve our members from completing any data reporting not tied to urgent needs. We’ve coordinated with any 3rd party research efforts in which our members participate as a cohort (e.g NSSE) to address implementation disruptions and ensure cohort reporting can be fulfilled in a flexible fashion. We’ve refocused our research staff on collecting information that matters now and providing regular updates to those compilations.
Lastly, to provide leadership for our members and ensure effective future operations of AICAD, I’ve turned much of my energy now as a leader on envisioning various future scenarios for our membership and the association. There is no returning back to what was considered normal prior to this crisis, even after the immediate health and economic threats have dissipated. On the positive side, we will all be more comfortable and adept at using online tools for learning and communication. While I don’t believe it will completely replace the need for in-person opportunities to connect, I do think we’ll be better positioned to offer a mix of online and in-person programs and services that is more expansive than what we previously offered as an association. I’m sure many other new realities will emerge in the coming months, and while none of us can truly see the future, I aim to be as prepared as possible in leading my organization and our members to meet those new challenges.