"Detail from a map of Ortelius - Magellan's ship Victoria" by Ortelius - www.helmink.com. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
AIA-SWO chapter president Scott Clarke, AIA, recently emailed a momentous letter to chapter members. He reported the chapter will not renew its contract with Don Kahle, who has served as AIA-SWO’s executive director since 2007. Don will leave his position at the end of this year.
I was at once both surprised and not surprised by the news.
I found it surprising because the board’s decision to not renew Don’s contract is huge; by choosing this course, the board is navigating our chapter toward the unchartered waters of a post-Kahle world.
The board’s decision wasn’t surprising because our chapter’s aspirations and the corresponding cost of Don’s service have become unsustainable. This is a bottom line verdict.
There’s no doubt that with Don beside the helm, AIA-SWO broadened its horizons and became a stronger voice in the community. What I most appreciate about Don is his out-of-the-box thinking and his willingness to be, in his own words, a “troublemaker, iconoclast, and provocateur.” Before Don’s arrival in our world (Otto Poticha notwithstanding) our members maintained a safe and straight course. Our natural tendency was to not rock the boat. With Don’s encouragement and guidance, our chapter actively sought a higher public profile, undertaking a series of impressive initiatives (some of which Scott cites in his letter). We owe him a debt of gratitude for all he has done for AIA-SWO.
Don mentioned to me on more than one occasion how much he admires architects, the way we go about our work, and the vast potential of our profession. He wants us to succeed and effect the positive change he knows we’re capable of. He understands the importance of presenting a clear vision about the value of architecture and architects to society. I’ve no doubt Don will continue to be our biggest fan.
On a personal note, I’ve regarded Don as a valued mentor; this was especially true during my term as chapter president (2009). I’m grateful for his counsel. He helped draw me out of my shell. He was always quick to offer me advice when I asked him. I don’t expect this to change after he relinquishes his position as AIA-SWO executive director.
I’m interested to see who Don’s successor will be and how much responsibility the board will invest with him or her. I’ll also look forward to Don’s continued contributions toward the betterment of our community. I think we rubbed off a bit on him as much as he did on us. I fully expect Don will occasionally write or comment about Eugene’s architectural scene, exercising his characteristic intellect and wit while doing so.
Here’s the entire letter Scott sent to the AIA-SWO membership announcing the board’s decision:
August 20, 2014
Don Kahle first worked with our chapter at the time of the AIA's 150th anniversary. He was an important part of our AIA 150 celebration, which our chapter manifested as an exploration of the potential of the Glenwood area between Eugene and Springfield. We identified this important link between the two cities as a place of great potential. Don was instrumental in the success of the event. Now, realization of the vision established 8 years ago is imminent and in some ways accomplished. Our chapter has undergone its own transformation. As Don's role with AIA-SWO grew, so too did our chapter's aspirations and expectations. We decided that we should do more, have a more active voice, and better serve our members and communities. Our present efforts are an extension of the vision formed in the years between the AIA 150 and now. Don has been the catalyst for efforts like our Center for Architecture, Architects Building Community (ABC), Register Guard newspaper insert, the 2010 AIA Pacific and Northwest Region Conference, and many other initiatives.
As our chapter's aspirations grew, we made a conscious decision to retain Don at a high level of service. As this occurred, we found ourselves engaged with larger initiatives and commensurate increased significance to our communities. At times, these initiatives brought with them income that buoyed our financial health. These kinds of lucrative situations have proven to be difficult to sustain. Recently (no doubt abetted by the poor economy of the last six years), an increasing amount of effort has been required to simply raise enough income to balance our budget. Some effort of this kind is to be expected, but when fundraising displaces work that defines our core mission we are left with an untenable condition. The high level of service Don has provided has enabled us to reimagine ourselves, and has established new standards for diversity and quality of chapter initiatives. He has taught us to think broadly and to seek symbiosis with other community institutions. He has successfully established new standards of performance and service. Our chapter will continue to strive to realize these new standards. We must do so in a fiscally responsible way. As a result, the board has decided not to renew Don's contract for 2015. This has been a difficult decision, and not one taken lightly, but the board sees that our current position is unsustainable.
We will seek means of changing the nature of our administrative services. We understand that this will result in a different kind of support from chapter staff. We will generate a revised description of the responsibilities for future executive directors. These responsibilities will focus on the administrative necessities of our organization, and will include fundraising responsibilities. We will maintain the vision of a stronger, more proactive organization that Don was instrumental in forming. We will assume the responsibility of remaining a visionary chapter that understands the value of our accomplishments while always remaining open to change. Maintenance of this vision will be the responsibility of the board. The cultural changes that Don has instigated have made this possible.
Don is continuing to serve our chapter well, and will do so for the remainder of 2014. He remains dedicated to acting in the best interest of our organization. We owe him thanks for all he has done for us, and wish him the very best. He will remain a vital, valued voice in our community. The vision he has brought to our organization will benefit us for years to come.
Scott Clarke, AIA2014 President, AIA Southwest Oregon