“I’m not afraid of the new ideas.  I’m afraid of the old ones.” ~ John Cage

As I began considering the potential focus for this June edition of my bi-monthly newsletter article, I thought I would perhaps simply write about something of general importance to the profession or the organization, and steer clear of a ‘farewell address.’  But, this is my only such opportunity.  So I hope my colleagues and friends will bear with me as I share a few thoughts prior to my departure.

Many individuals have recently asked me about my “proudest achievements” in my positions as EVP of AIA Virginia and Executive Director of The Branch Museum of Architecture and Design.  My response to them has been one that jumped to mind and it applies to both organizations, but in different ways: CULTURE.  This might be familiar to some of you, who knew that I focused on a “cultural transformation for the profession” when I ran and served as President of the AIA in 2014.  My message then: we need to act, think, and behave differently as architects if we are to be perceived in an enriched way by the public we serve.  That is the same point of view I brought to both of these posts.

For AIA Virginia, that “cultural transformation” has been realized through focusing on the single member.  As I’ve said to you before, every action we take or decision we make is with our dues-paying members in mind.  This, you can believe.  Often in the past, the AIA was criticized for keeping the organization going (as an entity) and not caring about the folks who comprise our membership (as individuals).  We favor the opposite approach, where the member comes first.  Members have noticed!  Colleagues all over the state have stated that the organization ‘feels’ different.  People are talking about AIA Virginia in many positive ways.  Firms that had not been members in a long time are coming back into the fold.  I’d like to think that the culture of the organization is, in fact, transformed.

Much of this has been possible because of a highly engaged and deeply committed Board of Directors, as well as ‘my’ three presidents who’ve been a joy to work with: Valerie Hassett, Nick Vlattas, and Bill Brown, to use their informal names.  These people did – and are still doing – awesome work on your behalf.  When I accepted this position, I insisted that our efforts be “about aspiration rather than appeasement.”  (In other words, after being AIA president, I wanted to move our state-level AIA well forward as we launch into our next century.)  Each of these leaders and their executive committees and boards have been all about the new AIA Virginia.  I have been extremely impressed with – and inspired by – their courage to explore new worlds and their dedication to finding fresh ways of providing service and support to our members.

Speaking of dedication … and its very close cousin, devotion … there is not a stronger group than your staff team at AIA Virginia.  They are simply incredible, and it has been my honor to serve with such a professional, hard-working, and loyal group: Judy Cheadle, Marshall Dreiling, Keesha Ezell, Rhea George, Cathy Guske, Rebecca Lonadier, and Edward Nace.  All are willing to jump in to help in whatever capacity is needed, and all have been brave in stomaching the many changes I requested.  They have worked like crazy, sometimes to the breaking point, and I cannot speak highly enough about them either individually or collectively.

And how about that Corey Clayborne?  I am SO excited about his tenure!  He’ll be a stellar representative of the profession to related organizations and a charismatic face and voice on behalf of our members.  Not to mention an exceptional staff team leader.  In other words, Corey is the perfect fit for the organization at this moment in time.  I have every confidence that he, along with that brilliant staff team and outstanding board group, will elevate AIA Virginia to even greater heights.

Today, I extend my sincere appreciation to each of you for affording me this opportunity to serve the profession in our state and to support my fellow members.  I’m a lifer, really … a true “AIA Junkie” … and I eagerly anticipate being a fervent member of our beloved AIA Virginia, forever …

Helene Combs Dreiling, FAIA | EVP, AIA Virginia

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