"Oh, you're with the University?"
"So sorry, we thought AIA was a student organization."
"Grand Valley? Where's that?"
"....Oh, you mean Grand Rapids?"
The picture above is from a trip to Steelcase earlier this year with our new Michigan AIA director, Barb Sido. The name tags read "AIA GVSU" since they naturally assumed AIAGV was associated with GVSU. It's just one of a number of times this has come up. Frequently when attending a state or national AIA event, others have no clue where "Grand Valley" is located. It might as well be next to the Grand Canyon.
Quick quiz, where is AIA SE Wisconsin located? Answer, Milwaukee; at least it used to be. AIA SE Wisconsin changed its name to AIA Milwaukee. Why? Because they felt it was a weak brand name that didn't communicate the vibrant chapter and economic activity the region around Milwaukee had grown to become.
Should AIAGV trade in the Valley for Rapids? Years ago when Grand Valley State University was little known, AIA Grand Valley and GVSU could co-habitate without much conflict of the branding, but GVSU has grown by leaps and bounds, and anything dubbed "Grand Valley" will always be instantly associated with the University.
90% of the AIAGV membership live in Grand Rapids, and although reaching out to the lakeshore is a constant discussion at the AIAGV board meetings, the realities of time and geography mean that most every event happens in Grand Rapids.
What about AIA West Michigan? We've tossed around that name and a few others; however, AIA West Michigan would infringe on the AIA SouthWest Michigan name and tend to cause confusion. Also, as a regional name, it has less immediate impact.
I say it's time to rebrand our chapter of the AIA. With the launch of a new website this fall, the renewed spirit and promotion of the AIA awards pop-up gallery during ArtPrize, collaborations with other Grand Rapids organizations like UICA and Great Lectures GR, it's time we update the image of AIAGV and make sure we're perceived as a vital part of the Grand Rapids region and the national AIA as a whole. Grand Rapids is gaining in national recognition, and our chapter would be well served to be closer identified with the heart of our chapter, rather than the rather anonymous or confusing Grand Valley designation.
While attending state or national AIA events and conferences, replying to "where are you from?" with "AIA Grand Valley" always evokes a blank stare. It could be anywhere, whereas AIA Grand Rapids is a much more recognizable name.
I'm hoping that the chapter will embrace a discussion of this issue in the next month and see wisdom in the possibility of swapping the Valley for Rapids. We'll bring the issue up for vote at an upcoming membership meeting in the fall, and I'm hoping we can make a change for the better and future good of our local AIA and launch the new branding along with our new website soon!
I welcome your feedback and look forward to future discussion of this issue. firstname.lastname@example.org