Design Summit takes a break
ASPEN The streak is over.For the first time since 1951, the world’s leaders in design, architecture and engineering won’t be in Aspen for the annual gathering once known as the International Design Conference, which typically had been held in June. Organizers say it will be back this time next year, in the form of the Aspen Design Summit. (It was renamed in 2006.) Part of the reason for the lapse is because of the closure of Aspen’s airport, according to the conference’s website. Also, the once financially-saddled organization needs to recharge, so to speak, said Ric Grefe.Grefe is the executive director of the New York-based American Institute of Graphic Arts, or AIGA, which took the struggling organization under its wings in 2004 and gave it a a $50,000 cash injection. Since then AIGA, which reported $6.7 million in revenue to the IRS for the 2005 tax year, has been running the Aspen conference for one buck a year. The Aspen event no longer has its own paid staff, since it now is run by AIGA.
“It’s important to redefine what we are doing,” Grefe said Friday. “Right now we believe we can be really exciting for Aspen. It’s less likely to have the draw it once had, but it’s entirely different now.”The Design Conference once was a one-of-a-kind event. But things have changed since the attraction, which drew its energy off of Chicago industrialist Walter Paepcke’s “Aspen Idea,” debuted more than 50 years ago. There are more design conferences throughout the world, and it’s not the only intellectually-driven Aspen gathering like it once was. Before AIGA stepped in, the Design Conference was floundering. It lost $13,000 in 2002, and in 2004 it reported having net assets of negative $307,812. Its reputation was sullied as well, chiefly because of unpaid bills, mounting debts and tax liens. But in for the tax year beginning in September 2004 and ending in August 2005, the most recent IRS records available, its net assets status improved, to negative $77,293, a turnaround of nearly $230,000.The organization also received $303,232 in government grants for the most tax year available, up from $217,725 the previous year, and $79,440 the year before, IRS data shows.Grefe said he is hopeful the Aspen Design Summit can reposition itself, albeit it on a smaller scale of attendees. He said it won’t aim for the hundreds of attendees it used to attract, but instead reinvent itself philosophically. Part of that reinvention includes its teaming with the U.K.-based Royal Society of Art and Index in Denmark, and return to Aspen in 2008 as well as expand to Europe. “This pause [not returning to Aspen this year] has given us the chance to get it right next year,” Grefe said. “The advantage of this is we’re all excited about making this a global event.”Rick Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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