AIA MS Welcomes New Executive Director
F O R I M M E D I A T E R E L E A S E
A Decade of Progress Builds Toward an Elevated Future
for the American Institute of Architects, Mississippi Chapter
AIA MS celebrates a decade with Joe Blake and Kristen Anderson;
passes the Executive Director position to Amber Lombardo
Jackson, Mississippi (April 19, 2017) – – For ten years Joe Blake orchestrated the plans for building the highly-regarded and successful Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He began with five sheets of grid paper, sparse notes handwritten in lovely penmanship characteristic of the architecture profession. It was a crude map of the organization’s programs, peppered with a password or two. His assistant, Kristen Anderson, is quick witted, organized and can rattle off AIA policy as if it’s simply conversational. The two, together for the past nine years, have worked with numerous AIA Mississippi leaders, members and volunteers to nurture the organization into a nationwide role model, gaining accolades for the annual AIA MS Convention, Mississippi Celebrates Architecture (an annual awards gala and lecture series) and the organization’s Year-in Review (a printed annual report and membership directory). They developed a unique partnering model, MAPP (Mississippi Allied Partners Program), to build collaborative relationships between architects and vendors anxious to serve them. Each year, the exposition hall is filled to capacity during convention, paving the way for dynamic new business relationships that, ultimately, solve many of the puzzles of the built environment. Their service will be celebrated at the coming convention, “Civics: The Duty of Design,” on June 23-25 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. (Registration information is available at aiamississippi.org.)
Blake is pensive as he passes the reins, looking to enjoy retirement. Anderson would like to have more time with family . Both have worked hard to build the organization and are determined it will continue to thrive. To assure that, shelves of binders are filled, overflowing with history to guide a new executive director through her first days of familiarity. A shared coffee at Cups in Fondren launches the transfer of institutional knowledge to its new leadership.
“Joe and Kristen have been instrumental in leading our organization to financial stability and cultural relevance, and have been a joy to work with during my five years on the Board,” commented John Anderson, AIA MS Chair, and principal at unabridged Architecture in Bay St Louis. “Relative to AIA Chapters in neighboring states we are a small group, but we have demonstrated a major commitment to the advancement of our profession, a commitment to good design, and a passion for collaboration that is a part of everything we do. In recent years we have had three of our members elevated to the level of Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. This alone speaks highly of our service to the community and the profession. This would not have happened without the leadership shown by Joe Blake and Kristen Anderson. Amber has big shoes to fill. She has great energy, excellent ideas and wonderful people skills, and we look forward to great things for AIA MS under her direction.”
The newly named Executive Director, Amber Lombardo, comes from a background rich in design. As the former Director of Programs for the Mississippi Heritage Trust (MHT), she was hired to develop the Mississippi Historic Preservation Toolkit, a collection of financial incentives and best practices for people wishing to restore historic buildings. Funded by the Mississippi Legislature in 2015, the Toolkit encountered its first roadblock when the Mississippi State Historic Tax Credit was tabled for a year with no notice for developers who were depending on it for their preservation financing. Lombardo penned a column in the organization’s quarterly journal, Elevation, outlining the importance of the program and encouraging grassroots advocacy efforts on its behalf. The program was renewed the following session following an array of additional effort by MHT and its supporters. Shortly following, the Federal Historic Tax Credit was deemed endangered by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Lombardo then refocused on U.S. Senators and Congressmen, visiting the nation’s Capitol with Executive Director, Lolly Barnes. In February, at MHT’s 25th Anniversary press conference, the announcement was made: all six of Mississippi’s U.S. Legislators had co-sponsored the Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act. Mississippi remains the only state with unanimous support of the bill. For Spring Break, Lombardo coordinated visits for scouting youth with 9 Mississippi and Tennessee U.S. legislators to thank them for their support and invite them to in-district meetings. The program, From District to DC, was very well received and acknowledged at the “Preservation’s Best” legislative reception hosted by Preservation Action, a national lobbying organization in Washington, D.C. Lombardo plans to continue the program in her new post.
In October 2016, Lombardo sold her 17-year-old, Memphis-area advertising agency, art gallery, digital print shop and magazine in order to devote her time to more fully engage in building programs in Mississippi, her home state. She graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Architecture, Engineering and Marketing.
“Architecture is so much more than enhancing the built environment,” said Lombardo. “The professionals I’ve had the pleasure to meet are in the business of solving problems. Sure, they craft stunning structures and help property owners with the quirks of construction but the bigger, more societal problems are what I’m referring to. Affordable housing, community planning, composing plans for schools that a district can actually afford. Architects are a smart, seasoned group of people with specialized training to engineer creative solutions. They are thought leaders in Mississippi. More people should know that. I’m making awareness my mission.”
Her first major project as the new director is to partner with the Mississippi Heritage Trust on the upcoming issue of Elevation. Blending a love for the historic with a fascination for the new, the Spring issue will serve as a resource to promote the work of architects all across the state, starting with a story about Warrior Bonfire. The “Build the Lodge” campaign in Clinton, Mississippi, is an effort to construct a space for veterans to share in brotherhood activities, including a program to mentor young boys. “AIA’s involvement in a program with that level of impact should be shouted from the rooftops,” said Lombardo. “Elevation will spread the word all across the state and, hopefully, help generate the funds needed to complete the project. Architects care about Mississippi, its people and its natural resources. We celebrate that.” The issue will also feature MS MOD Fondren, a program of the Mississippi Heritage Trust and sponsored by AIA MS, that will tour modernist architecture in the Fondren community on May 4 starting at 5:30pm as a part of the Fondren Renaissance Arts, Eats and Beats event.
Based in Jackson, AIA MS strives to advance communities and make the world a better place for all of us to live, work and play. They view thoughtful planning, ongoing discussion and sharing of ideas among members and key constituents as critical to their success. AIA MS was established in 1929 and is located at 509 East Capitol Street in the Mississippi State University School of Architecture, Fifth Year building. For more information, visit www.aiamississippi.org or call 601-360-0082.