Architects strive for bigger reach


One of the foundation’s goals is to introduce architecture to youngsters. Making a book delivery to Ronald McDonald House of West Michigan are, from left, Patty McCormick, development director of RMH; Rai Dumke, MAF; Marcie Lewis, RMH executive director; and Tom Mathison, MAF. Courtesy MAF

With a Grand Rapids architect as its current vice president, the Michigan Architectural Foundation is making a push to be a more widely recognized organization in West Michigan.

Garnering recognition in West Michigan for the foundation meant to raise awareness is a tough task, as more than half of the state’s architects call the metro Detroit area home. Still, Mathison Mathison Architects’ Tom Mathison and the rest of the board of trustees are attempting to push into the market.

In September, the group held its board meeting in downtown Grand Rapids so the rest of the board — all but two members — could see the city during ArtPrize.

“We intentionally scheduled this during ArtPrize because many people still haven’t experienced it, and it’s an opportunity to raise awareness of the great work in our city,” Mathison said. “It’s all forms of art and architecture is a part of ArtPrize, and I think that’s pretty cool.”

To have the meeting in Grand Rapids was an effort to help raise awareness among the members of the West Michigan chapters of the American Institute of Architects about the foundation as a tool capable of helping educate the rest of the population on the industry, said Robert Washer, MAF president, retired construction firm president and Farmington Hills-based consultant.

“Instead of thinking different chapters have to come to us, we need to come to them,” Washer said. “We’re more than ready to do more as a statewide organization. We want our members to know the west side exists and let the west side know we exist.”

MAF started mostly as a strategic nonprofit, so the AIA Michigan chapter could accept grants from the Michigan Council for the Arts. The AIA board would spend about 20 minutes at the end of a board meeting on the foundation. Eventually, it was decided such a small amount of time and attention would never allow the foundation to reach its potential.

So approximately 20 years ago, the MAF was more formally separated from the AIA Michigan, so it could fulfill the mission of educating the public about the aesthetics of architecture.

“The AIA, it’s about the professional side of the industry, the continuing education, that sort of thing,” Washer said. “This is about how do we get out and get people to recognize what we do and how it enhances their public life.”

Since the separation, MAF has grown from 12 trustees to 24, of which at least 51 percent have to be professional architects. Currently, 60 percent are architects, with the president, Washer, being a retired contractor.

“We have big architect firms, small, I’m a retired contract, a developer, an attorney, CPA … we want diversified board members, so if we need expertise, they can give us guidance,” Washer said.

The foundation currently has a $1.2 million fund to help provide scholarships to aspiring architects. Chief among its missions right now is to promote architectural education among kindergarten through fifth grade students.

The foundation also is helping to provide books, a set of 100 called the Build Imagination collection, to help spur awareness about architecture. Recently, with the help of Birmingham’s Baldwin Public Library, the MAF provided five children’s hospitals and cancer centers across the state with the collection.

“We’re just trying to get kids involved at a lower level,” Washer said of the importance of architecture in day-to-day life. “When you think of memories, you think of places we’ve been, you think about the building. Memories revolve around buildings and places and experiences we’ve had. The foundation is all about those places and celebrating them.

“AIA is about architects; we’re about architecture.”

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