Shannon Brenek: Taking on the CADC

After working as an art director at Sonalysts for close to 8 years, Shannon Brenek decided to stay at home and spend more time with her new son, freelancing under the moniker Grey Dog Design. Soon she was offered an adjunct teaching job at Mitchell College and started to get more involved in the CADC, leaving less time to freelance.

“So right now, I’m a mom, a teacher, and will be the Executive Director for the CADC officially starting next season,” says Brenek. “It’s hard to promote yourself and be creative in between diaper changes. So this is a great opportunity for me not to have to rely on freelancing, yet I can still take jobs if it fits with my schedule.”

Brenek joined the Board of the CADC two years ago, after a 6-month stint living in Ireland for her husband’s work. “It was a great opportunity for me to get back involved and have my foot in the door as a freelance designer. Working solo, I missed having people to collaborate with. And I’m just inspired by how other people look at things. So it was nice to have the ability to be part of a working ‘group’ again.”

Then the current Executive Director, Margaret Tobelman, mentioned in passing she was thinking of stepping down, and soon others on the Board were telling Brenek it would be a good fit for her. “It appealed to me because I enjoy the project management aspects of being an art director, the checks and balances of it. This position would allow me to use that part of my brain. And in the end, I really like the idea of working for a non-profit that benefits the creative community. That idea really resonated with me.”

The vote went to the Board and was finalized by President Deb Kline. “I had been on the Board for two years, so I think they already knew what I had to offer.” took this occasion to ask her about her new role, where she felt the CADC was at and where it wants to be in the future.

Describe your responsibilities as Executive Director.

The Executive Director oversees the office and management operations, facilitates all communication with the Club, represents the Club to the outside business community, coordinates and oversees events, programs and publications, and just generally supports the Board of Directors.

In other words, I’m the liaison between the Board and the community. And since I am the only paid employee, I handle the business affairs, and help make sure the Board runs efficiently.

What would be your elevator pitch for the CADC to someone who has never heard of the organization?

I just rave about things that I believe in.

My favorite event this year was “Born Digital”. It was just a spot-on cool event. I felt old and out of touch with the digital goings-on of our youngsters! But that’s what these events are all about — bringing us up to speed with what’s going on and inspiring us to learn more, and then using that in our working and personal life.

Learning from your peers at an event that we hold could help you walk away with an idea for a design that you are really proud of. Maybe you walk away with the name of a fresh new contact whom you might enjoy sharing ideas with and or be inspired by. Someone outside your bubble.

Or maybe you went to “Born Digital” and learned about — and you just go get silly for a while.

What are the greatest strengths of the CADC, and what areas need improvement?

Our strength depends on the community’s involvement. Not just in attending events, but becoming a member and being involved. It’s a snowball effect. The more people who believe in our mission, the more we can pass back to the community.

I think our biggest strength and our biggest hurdle is that we are a volunteer organization. That means that those involved are passionate, but also means that certain years have a drought because people may not be able to afford to offer their time that year.

How does the CADC hear concerns from its members? What are some that you feel the Board has addressed this year, and what do you hope to tackle next year?

Our community is pretty good about voicing their comments and concerns to the Executive Director. And that’s shared with the Board and addressed.

This year we tackled having more events in more places, next year we’ll try to continue with that momentum. I think the Awards Show is a good example of responding to the need for a shorter, more networking friendly show. Something a little more fun.

I personally really enjoyed having the opportunity to congratulate award winners, throughout the show, because I could walk around and mingle and not wait four hours to find out who the winners were.

We also started our “Out Of The Box” events, free events aimed at giving people a venue to unwind, network, and be social with colleagues. They’ve taken off in some areas of the state and totally bombed in others. So we’ll take that information and build upon it for next season.

One concern has been that Fairfield County has been somewhat under-represented in events and Awards entries in the past.

In no way have we tried to alienate Fairfield County. We actually just held the Webtastic event there, a very well-received event, in which we partnered with Noble Desktop. We also had “But… Will it print?”

It’s all about who volunteers to help get things done in that part of the state — and we have representation this year that has made a real difference.

So I think you’ll continue to see a more widespread presence of CADC next season. And if you want a better CADC, who holds more events in your area, events that you want to see — get involved, sponsor an event, become a member. Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. You get out of it what you put into it. It doesn’t just take money to run events, it takes passionate people who love what they do and want to share that.

How are membership levels, and how do you plan to grow membership?

Membership is down. Period. But I think we can have a better presence by promoting our events earlier to give more people time to plan. And to make sure we have the pulse of what the membership really wants out of CADC. Having free events like the Out of the Box events will help us learn that information.

I think one untapped group is freelancers. People who design at home, or freelance in an office, but are not really part of a community. Our Out Of The Box events have brought that to light. We can offer them a creative family of peers that are in their same situation.

We also think it’s also about having more events and advertising them earlier. Life is busy. One opportunity a month is not enough of a chance to connect with other creatives when you have meetings, a family, just generally other things going on.

How would you answer the question of what you actually get for your membership dues, with the members-only section of the website still “under construction” and with non-members already being able to attend events and enter the Awards?

Well, CADC is not about being exclusive, it’s about offering a value to the community. So that’s why we offer things to non-members.

Members-only perks include discounted fees to events and Awards Show entries, discounts for companies such as Pantone, and access to our mailing list. And our newsletter is evolving into a more streamlined, useful form of information. But I think our biggest offering is what I was talking about earlier — a chance to get out of your bubble and learn something new, meet interesting people, and to get inspired.

As a member, you’re helping that entity function in its daily business costs. You’re helping it exist so that you can have that outlet.

It is a goal for next year to have more attention given to the information that is posted on the web. It is admittedly not used as the tool that it can be. I’ve already wrastled someone into helping us with that in the future.

And it looks like this year we’ll be publishing a Querencia. Getting those volunteers to help with big projects like the Querencia is a challenge — to spend time writing it, and to find someone to donate the printing. We’ve had a lot of years when it was a shoe-string budget.

Can you give us any sneak peaks at the type of events planned for next season?

We have a few great events already planned.

One is “Fun with Fred.” Fred and Friends is a company specializing in funky products and accessories. Their Design Director will be talking about inspiration and approach.

The other is a European Poster show offered to us by a collector.A really beautiful collection.

And we’ll be continuing with our Out Of The Box events — they have been an after-work event, but I think we’re adding a “morning coffee” version in the Hartford area.

Are there any new partnerships in the works, with vendors and/or other organizations?

Well, we’re already investigating a venue for next year’s Awards Show, with a possibility of being able to offer some of the proceeds from the show to their fundraising efforts. It’s a bit premature to release that information, but we definitely are looking into all sorts of options.

And, as I quickly mentioned, we just partnered with Noble Desktop for an event. I think we’re looking for more opportunities to hold those types of events.

And finally, can you tell us who is on the Board next season?

You’ll just have to wait and see. We have a nice mix of “regulars” and a bunch of fresh new faces.


Dave 6.11.08

I thought this year’s Awards Show was a great improvement — it was almost TOO short.

And a big thank you and good luck to Margaret!

Margaret 6.11.08

Nice job, Shannon: you do the CADC and me proud!

and thanks, Dave!

Stephen 6.12.08

Nice Job Shannon!

You will do a great job leading the CADC.
Margaret, thank you for all your time over
the years, best of luck, Steve.

Sam Chinigo
Sam Chinigo 6.12.08

Great interview! I am SO excited for YOU….and the organization. I am sure that your enthusiasm will be infectious. Dare to be different….and stay on the edge. “Build it and they will come.” And remember that I am always here for your support. later drater

Pearl 6.13.08

You are a credit to this organization. They’re lucky to have you, and we are too!

Marie Dylan
Marie Dylan 7.16.09

Being a parent is the most noble career and I salute Shannon for prioritizing her new son.

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