Caroline Warner Hightower, executive director of AIGA from 1977 until 1995, transformed AIGA from a New York club to a vibrant nationally networked design force. Under her vigorous leadership, an organization in danger of financial collapse was resuscitated and many new initiatives and structures—many of which continue to give shape to AIGA today—were put in place. The AIGA journal, the annual and conferences were among the forums introduced by Hightower, who valued the importance of content and meaning. In leading the effort to acquire the 11,500 square-foot national headquarters building at 164 Fifth Avenue, she provided the organization with a permanent home.
Hightower was raised in the community of the University of Chicago, where her father, Lloyd Warner, was a prominent anthropologist. She began her career as the advertising manager and graphic designer for the University of California Press. In 1968, after a further two jobs in editing, she became Grant Officer at the Carnegie Corporation accruing valuable experience in fundraising that she then applied as a consultant to a large number of cultural and philanthropic initiatives. She was the content consultant for Art Is, a documentary produced by Sears Roebuck Foundation that was nominated for an Academy Award in l972. In 1975 she authored Private Philanthropy and Public Need: The Arts for The Filer Commission, which was presented to U.S. Congress.
Hightower was hired as the executive director of AIGA in 1977. For the better part of two decades she worked tirelessly to create a vital and dynamic organization that could effectively represent the needs of the design community. During her tenure the membership increased from 1,200 to 11,300 and chapters were established in 38 cities. Programming, that was virtually non-existent upon her arrival, flourished. In addition to initiating the annual, the quarterly journal, the national biennial design conference and the national business conference, the AIGA library, the AIGA Education Committee, Hightower was also the architect of some significant stand-alone programs and publications. These include a national symposium titled “Why is Graphic Design 93% White?” and the publications United States Department of Transportation Symbol Signs, Graphic Design for Nonprofit Organizations, and AIGA Standard Contracts for Graphic Designers.
Since leaving AIGA, Hightower has continued to work in New York as a program development and fundraising consultant. Among the institutions she has worked with are the American Numismatic Society; American Society of Media Photographers; New York University Arts Administration Program; United Way; and The Clio Awards.
“In her seventeen years, Caroline did a lot of very good work for the AIGA, as an organization of sometimes all-too-real people and as the ongoing embodiment of a set of closely held but ultimately abstract professional ideals. Both for the organization and its people, she had to play several roles. Many of them fit her well; others were more difficult but were performed equally well nonetheless. Yes, she was an advocate of graphic design and, yes, she had a great deal of affection and respect for graphic designers. But there was another piece of it, and that was simply that there was work to be done and Caroline did it extremely well because, for her, there was no other way. I count myself lucky to have been given, on behalf of the AIGA, this very public, very permanent forum in which to say to Caroline, thank you.”
—David Brown, former AIGA president