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Community by design

Art Directors Club of Tulsa celebrates a half-century of creative collaboration



Past posters of ADCT speakers (Mary Kate McDewitt, Aaron Draplin, Robynne Raye, Kim Knoll)

A foreboding thunderstorm was brewing last week on the way to interview two key players in the Art Directors Club of Tulsa (ADCT), which turns 50 years old this year.

Crystal Walters and Hershel Self—the chair of the Board and treasurer, respectively—arrived at Elgin Park right as the outrageous afternoon storm began to let loose.

Then, for a moment, it was calm. The break in the storm juxtaposed the chaos—a contrast that aligns with Walters, Self, and the Club as a whole: They’re in between seasons right now. Walters and Self run seasons of the Tulsa Art Directors Club from September to May. Every month they bring in a noted speaker from the design field or a design-adjacent field for a lecture event.

“We try to bring in speakers of all backgrounds. Maybe it’s a book illustrator, or a set designer, or a toy designer,” Walters said.

“We’ve had sculptors, photographers, animators, videographers, so it’s not just design specific or art-direction specific,” Self added. “We’re trying to encompass anyone in the creative community that’s doing something, doing it well, and enjoying it.”    

“After our big event, Graphex, we kind of just disappear for a week,” Self said. “Then it’s back to planning for the next year.”

ADCT is just what it professes to be: a club of art directors consisting of corporate and freelance designers that work in advertising and design firms. But Self wants to make sure everyone understands that the club is open to anyone, including—and especially—students.

“Our theme last year was ‘All Types,’” Self said. “We realized last year that with the name of the group, and these speaking events, you can get the idea that this is just for art directors. But we’re trying to invite everyone involved in the creative world here in Tulsa. Come out, meet other creatives, hear speakers, and learn more about the industry.”

It all focuses on inspiration, according to Walters. “[The presenters] speak to us about their creative journey—where they went to school, what they hated or liked about it, where they are today, and how they got to where they are today.”

Walters thinks ADCT is the longest-running independent art directors club in America. (It’s a hard fact to verify, though.) “A lot of [art directors clubs] are part of a bigger network; they get funding through that. We fund ourselves. We’re a non-profit, so we pay for everything through membership,” she said. “We have sponsors who pay for printing and paper—basically, they allow us to advertise and market the Club.” (The Tulsa Voice is one of ADCT’s sponsors.) They also hold fundraising events each year to sustain the Club.

“This year, our fundraising theme is ‘Kern to Burn,’” Walters said. “It’s gonna be a timed design competition where people sign up as teams, and that’ll be in November.” That’s a design pun. “Kern” refers to kerning, the spacing between letters in a font.

They’re also nailing down the upcoming season’s speakers. Their October speaker will be Tate Steinsiek, a make-up effects artist known for his work on film and television projects such as “Law & Order,” “Clash of the Gods,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Along with Steinsiek’s keynote event, the club will host a Halloween party and a costume contest.

The event will be a collaboration with the Tulsa Film Collective. Collaboration is something Walters is trying to get the ADCT to do more of. She said in the past they’ve done a social hour, during which people come and network. She wants the Club’s events to involve more interactive components, with the costume contest being one example. They also plan to partner with Shuffles Board Game Cafe and bring in a board game designer as one of their keynote speakers.

To celebrate the 50th birthday of the organization, ADCT is creating an exhibition of 50 years of posters from the events they’ve held in the past. “We’ve got 50 years’ worth of posters,” Walters said. “We also want to do a history book: 50 years of the Club’s history. It’ll have poster examples, bios of all the past presidents, major milestones.”

That book will be released at their end-of-the-season event, Graphex, a yearly design competition in May that includes students and professionals. “That’ll be our big celebration.”

For more information, visit adctulsa.com.

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