2019 Design Matters Conference

Wrap-Up Letter from AAO Executive Director Michael Wood

Dear Friends,

Thank you very much to all who joined us in Chicago for the 2019 DESIGN MATTERS CONFERENCE—our 10th annual conference since establishing the AAO Network. More than 140 delegates, hailing from 34 U.S. cities and 8 countries, attended this year’s meeting. The diversity of the AAO Network was on full display, with more than 90 different organizations represented from storefront centers to professional design firms, government officials to independent artists.

This was not a conference of keynotes and provocations, but instead a look at the inner life and aspirations driving our organizations and the people who choose to work in this field. While there were certainly a few forays into discrete, timely topics, it was pleasing to see the conference shift toward more elastic group-led conversation and exploration. Complementing this shift was a wonderful assortment of organization types and attitudes. The diversity of attendees was not just a boon to our meeting, but to the larger work and concerns we all share.

The importance of our widening circle of stakeholders cannot be understated. In putting together those early AAO conferences, at a time when so many new storefronts were emerging, I recall lots of conversation on which topics and methodologies were appropriate to the needs and interests of our member organizations. This conversation based on differences is fading and it’s being replaced with a recognition that all our organizations—nonprofit or for profit; action-oriented or research-oriented; old or new; large or small—are in fact largely taking up the same persistent design and community engagement problems, and that we can genuinely learn from one another. This bodes well for our collective future.

Finally, I would like to thank our speakers as well as the leaders of the local host organizations who all did a wonderful job engaging our conference attendees. So many of our presenters were quite open in sharing the vulnerabilities and challenges faced in their work, which is another positive sign in the maturation of our field.

As we look ahead to next year’s Design Matters convening in New York City (November 18-21, 2020), we can’t wait to keep pushing us further into a place of productive sharing and learning. But, of course, we needn’t wait till next fall to do this, so please be on the alert for more upcoming virtual convenings in the weeks and months ahead.

- Michael Wood, AAO Executive Director


For those wishing to take a closer look at the 2019 Conference materials, please take note of the following resources:


View Conference presentation slides here

For 2019 Design Matters Conference details, including speakers and schedule, please visit designmattersconference.org*Please note that this site is best viewed using the current browser version of Firefox, Chrome or Safari. If you are using Internet Explorer, you may experience some functionality issues.