Work trips are often so tightly scheduled that little time is left to explore anything past the confines of hotel walls. But immersing yourself in local community is a valuable part of any conference experience, and that’s why ACUI is infusing cultural and historical elements of Denver into all aspects of ACUI ’24 — right down to the visual concepts.
“Being intentional about the locale of the conferences is important because, yes, we’re networking and we’re learning things, but to be ingrained in the culture of the city you’re in is super important,” said ACUI conference program team member Clayton J. Kolb, Ed.D., director of the Sykes Student Union and Student Activities at West Chester University, and the marketing chair for the program team. “I know it’s super important to me.”
Kolb said the Denver flag — visible on street signs throughout the city — served as inspiration for the graphics that will surround the event. The flag’s simple yet distinctive design features red mountain formations topped by a snowy peak, set against the backdrop of a blue sky and radiant yellow sun.
The high school student who designed the Denver flag in 1926 used red to represent the soil and rocks from which Colorado gained its Spanish-origin name, meaning “colored red.” The yellow circle symbolizes the sun and the Gold Rush; the blue represents the Mile-High City’s breathtaking skies; and the zigzag represents snow caps and the state’s indigenous history. (The territory currently known as Denver originally belonged to the Arapaho tribe; other indigenous tribes native to Colorado include the Apache, Comanche, Shoshone, and Ute.)
“We were originally contemplating a look that was more ‘green,’ both color- and sustainability-wise; however, having a color palette tied to the flag and the meanings behind it spoke to us,” said conference program team chair Eve Esch, executive director, student centers, at the University of Houston. “We also are hoping to weave some of the narratives of indigenous populations of the area into the educational content of our conference.”
The Conference Planning Team, with the help of Andrea Langeveld at ACUI’s Central Office, took to the books to incorporate meaningful indigenous imagery into the conference visuals, including the zigzag pattern, which is used frequently in Native American culture.
Their research revealed the pattern takes on many meanings, including navigating sharp turns while moving forward along the path of our lives, facing forces from above and within, with many separate journeys along the way. Indigenous cultures have also used the zigzag to symbolize connections between Mother Earth and Father Sky and between the spiritual and mortal worlds. In another interpretation, the symbol may signify an unpredictable and abrupt transformation similar to lightning during a rainstorm.
Through these meanings and more, the visuals for the 2024 Annual Conference mirror the opportunity ahead — one to unite with a compassionate community of peers intertwined with the work you do to refresh, uplift, and connect with one another. The imagery you will see repeated throughout the event serves as a reminder of this overarching mission.
“From my lens as a marketing communications person for this team, I know that creating consistency enhances the experience for the end user coming to the conference,” Kolb said. “But our hope is that we continue to educate people on these concepts [such as the large population of indigenous folks in Colorado] and bring those voices forward throughout the conference experience — not just in the design — even if we may not know exactly what that looks like yet.”
For now, ACUI 2024 attendees can plan on ample opportunity to explore the natural and historical elements of the Centennial State with several scheduled excursions. For example, on Sunday, March 24, 2024, attendees may visit the History Colorado Center from 10 a.m. until noon to explore more than 15 exhibits telling the story of Colorado, including its indigenous homelands. For more information about conference events and the inspiration for the conference graphics, visit acui.org/2024.