What is AICAD?

AICAD is a Membership Organization of the Leading Art & Design Schools in the USA and Canada.

AICAD Schools Offer The Highest Quality Art & Design Education.


AICAD – the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design – is a non-profit consortium of the leading specialized arts and design schools in the US and Canada. Founded in 1991, the mission is to help strengthen the member colleges individually and collectively, and to inform the public about these colleges and universities and the value of studying the arts and design.

AICAD institutions educate more than 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year, plus many thousands more in summer and continuing education programs. Our students are drawn from all 50 US states and more than 60 countries. Over 70% of these students receive financial aid to support their education.


AICAD achieves its mission of strengthening and connecting its member schools through a variety of programs and activities, including:

  • distributing information about AICAD and its members, and about art and design education and careers, to students, parents, teachers, and others;
  • conducting regular conferences and symposia on contemporary academic and administrative subjects;
  • leading efforts to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at the member institutions through collaborative programs such as the AICAD Post Graduate Teaching Fellowship and the AICAD BIPOC Academic Leadership Institute
  • overseeing student exchanges among the member schools and international affiliates;
  • gathering and analyzing substantial institutional data annually, accompanied by analysis and forecasts to assist in future planning efforts
  • providing members with information about current art and design education issues, and about relevant legislation and government policies;
  • working with other educational and cultural groups on various policy issues and mutually beneficial programs; and,
  • maintaining a communication and information exchange system for senior staff and faculty of the member schools, including frequent meetings to discuss timely issues.


Art and design colleges are educating an increasingly diverse and global student population. Calls to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion on AICAD campuses come from many internal and external constituencies. As such, AICAD and its member institutions have developed and adopted the following principles: AICAD Statement of Principles on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


Membership in AICAD is open to institutions in the US and Canada that have a mission and values consistent with the aims of the Association; are private, non-profit, independent colleges of visual art, design, architecture, and/or performing arts, or are colleges or schools of creative practice within a private, non-profit university if there is a demonstrable and significant level of autonomy and authority; are fully accredited by one of the six major (formerly regional) US accrediting agencies or are approved by Universities Canada; and grant 2-year undergraduate, 4-year undergraduate, or graduate professional degrees in visual art, design, architecture, and/or performing arts fields.

We also have International Affiliates which must meet the equivalent criteria in their home countries.


Responsibility for the general direction of AICAD is vested in its Board of Directors, which consists of the President/CEO of each of the member institutions. Financial and administrative oversight is presided over by an Executive Committee. Daily operations and strategic management are presided over by the President & Executive Director.

Elissa Tenny Chair
Elissa Tenny
President, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Sanjit Sethi Vice Chair
Sanjit Sethi
President, Minneapolis College of Art and Design
Melanie Corn
President, Columbus College of Art and Design
Jeff Morin Treasurer
Jeff Morin
President, Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design
Frances Bronet Strategic Planning Task Force Chair
Frances Bronet
President, Pratt Institute
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Task Force Co-Chair
Ana Serrano
President, OCAD University
Research Task Force Chair
Raymond Tymas-Jones
President, Cornish College of the Arts


Deborah Obalil President & Executive Director

Deborah Obalil has over twenty years experience as a leader in the national arts and culture industry, having led multiple highly acclaimed organizations and served as a well regarded management consultant to the field. She was appointed the Executive Director of AICAD in June 2012 and as President of AICAD in fall 2015. As President & Executive Director she leads the organization in achieving its mission of strengthening and connecting its members schools, thus advancing art and design education.

Prior to her appointment with AICAD, Deborah operated a successful boutique arts management consulting firm, Obalil & Associates, for four years. The firm provided consultation and facilitation in strategic planning, marketing research and planning, and board development for non-profit arts organizations, independent artists of all disciplines, and creative for-profit ventures.

Deborah’s career within arts organizations placed her most recently as the Executive Director of the Alliance of Artists Communities, an organization dedicated to the advancement of America’s creative vitality through supporting the field of artists’ communities, based in Providence, RI. The Alliance acts as the collective voice of the field while providing a variety of advocacy services and educational programs. During her six-year tenure as Executive Director, the Alliance’s membership grew by more than 20%, the annual budget tripled, and new relationships developed with the Ford Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation and the Joyce Foundation directed more than $2 million of re-granting funds through the Alliance. She also served on the board of directors of Res Artis, the international association for artist residency programs.

Deborah received a Bachelor of Arts from Illinois Wesleyan University in History and Dance, and a certificate from the Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders – Arts at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

Joanne Kersh Director of Research

Joanne Kersh has two decades of experience conducting research, managing data, and working in higher education settings. Joanne joined AICAD in June 2013 as Assistant Director of Research Services, and became Director of Research in July 2019. As Director of Research, Joanne oversees all data and research related activities for AICAD. These activities include the collection and dissemination of institutional benchmarking data, the coordination of consortial participation in large national surveys, and the development of strategic research initiatives that support the interests of AICAD’s member schools and its overarching mission.

Prior to joining AICAD, Joanne was a senior research associate at the University of Massachusetts Boston, where she worked closely with public schools and educational non-profit agencies to develop and evaluate programs that promoted equitable educational opportunities. She has a PhD in developmental psychology from Boston College, a Master’s degree in educational research from Northeastern University, and a Bachelor’s degree from New York University.

Ryan O'Keefe Assistant Director of Programs & Operations

Ryan O’Keefe joined AICAD in February 2019 as Assistant Director of Programs & Operations. Born and raised in Rhode Island, Ryan graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a B.S. in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing, then completed an MBA from Assumption College. Ryan started his career at the Harpoon Brewery, where he cut his teeth in marketing and events before moving into the higher education field. He’s spent the past 5 years working in the admission departments for Assumption College and Bryant University, traveling and recruiting students from over 30 states, while working with marketing on design, branding, and developing new initiatives to drive enrollment. Outside of work, Ryan continues to use his creative skills as a leather worker, hand sewing bags, wallets, belts, and other accessories under the name Mack + Hound, as well as being an accomplished trombone player and vocalist.

Partnerships & Advocacy

AICAD Member Schools



236 Hope Street
Providence, RI 02906
P: 401-270-5991
F: 401-270-5993

President & Executive Director:
Deborah Obalil

Director of Research:
Joanne Kersh

Assistant Director of Programs & Operations:
Ryan O'Keefe