Deborah Obalil, former executive director of the Alliance of Artist Communities in Providence, was recently named executive director of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design.
The association announced the same day that it has relocated to Providence from San Francisco. More than 25 percent of the association’s membership, including the Rhode Island School of Design, is located in the Northeast.
While Obilal led the Alliance, membership increased by more than 20 percent and the operating budget tripled. She talks to PBN about her plans for AICAD.
PBN: In what ways will the move to Providence make the association stronger? How will Providence be strengthened by its presence?
OBALIL: With a lower cost of living than our previous home, I will immediately be able to hire more staff for AICAD than existed previously. Additionally, my presence is often required at meetings in Washington, D.C., and Providence’s proximity to the nation’s capitol makes it much less time consuming and less expensive to travel there. Providence benefits from yet another national organization in both higher education and art and design location here. It further bolsters the city’s’ reputation as a center for both these industries. AICAD looks forward to being an active contributor to discussions and solutions around Providence’s future. Greater than 90 percent of our revenue comes from out of state, yet a good deal of spending will remain local.
PBN: AICAD has been pushing to concentrate on member sustainability. What will be your first order of business?
OBALIL: The core of our mission is to strengthen and connect our member institutions. Part of that is enhanced communications that better articulate the value of an art and design education. Another part is more active participation in the advocacy surrounding K-12 arts education. I find it especially troubling that as we increase our reliance on the arts and design industries as economic drivers, we also continue down the path of eliminating art and design from the curriculum of public schools. Many AICAD are looking at what they can do to support their alumni. My hope is to further explore how these efforts can be networked and combined for even greater national impact.
PBN: In your last role leading a nonprofit, you grew membership by 20 percent, not an easy thing to do in these challenging economic times. Will be conducting a membership campaign for AICAD?
OBALIL: The criteria for membership in AICAD are very specific and I’m proud to say that as of July 2012 we have every institution as a member that could qualify. AICAD’s future growth is less about growing membership ranks than it is growing the ways our existing membership collaborates to address the critical challenges facing higher education and art and design.
PBN: Debates on Rhode Island’s education systems have been focused lately on closing the so-called skills gap – training would-be workers for available jobs. What art and design jobs are available?
OBALIL: An art and design education is not only about finding opportunities in specific sectors, though there are many jobs available especially in the wide range of design fields. It is about providing students with the critical thinking, problem-solving, creative and visual literacy skills that are [vital] to success in a variety of career fields. Many art and design graduates create their own jobs, becoming entrepreneurs whether as a fine artist, commercial artist/designer, or, increasingly, a blending of the two.
PBN: Why a career in the arts? What has it given you?
OBALIL: My career in the arts – blending my passion for all things art and culture – has been exceedingly fulfilling. I found a personal path that kept me close to the arts without needing to remain a performer – my initial training was as a dancer – that has afforded me the opportunity to travel the world, support organizations and artists I believe make the world a better place, and contribute to the success of communities in which I’ve lived.