I was a 20 year old studying advertising in college, ready to get my career started. I had done well for myself, winning a couple awards and I actually enjoyed learning about the history and writing the ads and art directing and all that nonsense. However, there was a giant elephant-sized amount of BS that kept hovering around. In order to make a name for myself – and in order for any of the students to do the same – we had to move to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver. This sentiment was shared by many of the profs throughout the school. So I bought into it.
I split. I lived and worked in Toronto and then headed West with the intentions of making it big. I kept working hard, trying to establish my name and just do good work (that’s always been, and always will be, my goal). But I missed home. Not in that “I miss my Mommy” kind of way either. I missed Ottawa. I missed the culture. And I was through with believing that you to live in one of the three major cities in order to be seen and heard.
For years I’ve admired the work of the AIGA. The professional organization for designers in America has an incredible amount of local chapters and was constantly trying to up the ante for designers and showcase their amazing work. I have my own views on the RGD but I’ll keep my trap shut. Just let me say that I don’t feel the need to fork out an exorbitant annual fee just so I can call myself a graphic designer.
Once I made it back home and settled into an agency, the wheels slowly creaked into motion. Brett Tackaberry and I had a sit down, discussing the beginnings of a local meet-up for designers – inviting talented people in our city to gather and talk about making the city better through design. We wanted to showcase the best work this city had to offer and start waving our flag a bit more. That hadn’t happened since the ADA’s existed. And we had bigger ideas.
So we got down to work. Our first meet-up in March of 2011 brought out seven, and we sat and talked about what this could be, where it could go, what could happen. The Blackhole Sessions became monthly meetings for designers, developers, and other creatives just looking for a drink and discussion. Our group slowly grew on Facebook from month to month, and every session brought out new faces.
All the while, though, we – being Brett and I – knew that we had to do more. I pitched the idea of the OCC – essentially taking hints and cues from the AIGA and bringing it into Ottawa. Organizing speakers and other events, taking part in community activities, and giving us a platform to showcase the great work that designers in our city are churning out. Encouraging everyone to do better.
We’ve enlisted the help of others, with Amie Beausoleil stepping up and helping with some much needed admin help. And now we’re here. Over a year later. Our group is a couple members away from hitting 300 on Facebook. We have a great speaker session coming up with Aaron Draplin (which sold out in a week and a half), and we’re slowly collecting the best work that exists in the area.
But why? I can only speak personally here, so I will. I just want to do good work. My initial goal in starting this community was completely selfish. I wanted to talk about fonts and vectors and other cool shit that exists out there and bring it home. I wanted to find people who were as passionate about this business as I was – and it hasn’t been easy, but there are some that exist. The big cities exist and that’s fine – go work there if you want. This is my fucking hometown, though. I know that talent exists here and I want the kids who’re studying in school to understand that having a different postal code won’t make you a better designer. Putting in the time and effort does.
Just because your business card says you’re a designer doesn’t mean shit. It really doesn’t. There is a passion that has to exist, and those are the people we want involved here. Sure, you need the work/life balance. But you shouldn’t be calling this work. We’re fucking lucky to be doing what we do. THAT’S why we started the OCC. Not to put our noses up at clients because we know the difference between Arial and Helvetica. But to educate clients. To educate ourselves. To educate our city.
That’s why I fight, at least. And I’m not letting up anytime soon.