Unemployed Designers in New York Band Together to Form LMNOP

After getting laid off from Mancini Duffy in December 2008, Jennifer Graham felt disappointed and a bit panicky. But those emotions swiftly gave way to optimism. “I was so excited for new opportunities,” she says. Given her thick rolodex and tenacious spirit, she was confident she’d find a new job. “I have a business approach to everything I do,” she says.

Charlton Hutton, Jennifer Graham, Kristen Mucci, and other designers teamed up to form LMNOP.
Photo © Danielle Austen
Charlton Hutton, Jennifer Graham, Kristen Mucci, and other designers teamed up to form LMNOP.

The following month, Graham attended a “Not Business As Usual” event at New York’s Center for Architecture, where she volunteered to mentor out-of-work designers. She thought she could offer some sage advice: She has 25 years of experience in the design industry and an M.B.A. from New York University. Plus, she’s a single mother of twin girls.

Her mentoring idea quickly morphed into a larger initiative. With the support of fellow designers, including Charlton Hutton and Kristen Mucci, who also had been laid off from Mancini Duffy, Graham founded LMNOP, which stands for Leadership, Mentoring, Networking, Opportunity for A+D Professionals. Stephanie Chiuminatto, an interior designer, also helped found the organization and continues to play a key role.

The group hosted its first workshop, “The Job Search Checklist,” at the Urban Office, a product showroom, on February 17, 2009. It drew more than a dozen attendees. Other events followed, including four meet-and-greets, three fund-raisers, and 12 workshops on topics such as Revit and digital networking. Then, last summer, the group launched a Web site (www.lmnopnyc.org). “It’s been insane,” says Graham. “The first six months, we didn’t know how to keep up with ourselves.”

Early on, the organization received a lot of encouragement from the AIA and International Interior Design Association, adds Mucci, who now serves as LMNOP’s director of administration. “It was an overwhelming amount of support,” she says, “and it was all by word of mouth.” LMNOP also has gotten a vital boost from manufacturers, who loan out their offices and showrooms for events. Moreover, LMNOP members can use copy and fax machines for free in selected showrooms around the city. “We encourage people to look for jobs outside of their home,” Graham says. “Get out.”

Today, LMNOP has 24 people on the leadership team and approximately 200 members, ranging from recent graduates to architects with more than two decades of experience. Currently, there is no membership fee.

In 2010, the group intends to offer six training sessions geared toward “people in transition,” along with six workshops for established professionals. It also hopes to bring its professional-development workshops to small and midsize firms on limited budgets. Mucci says she has been impressed with how eager people are to help one another. “That’s what I enjoy most about architecture and design,” she explains. “It’s a community, it’s a family.”

Indeed, it is. Last March, Graham started a new job at M Moser, a global interiors firm with a New York City office. Months later, she helped Hutton get a full-time position there. “Jennifer opened the door for me,” he says. “I’m definitely fortunate to be where I am now.” Moreover, Mucci is doing consulting work for M Moser while she continues to look for a permanent job.

When asked what sort of advice she would offer job hunters, Graham’s answer isn’t surprising. “Your relationships are going to get you the position. If you really love the industry and can’t find a job, keep volunteering, keep connected,” she says. “If you don’t have a network, build one.”

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