Executive director of Van Alen Institute, Deborah Marton, to step down

The Van Alen Institute—an urban design nonprofit based in Brooklyn—has announced Deborah Marton will step down as executive director. Her five-year tenure focused on prioritizing community involvement and compelling architects to serve a supporting role, helping residents to most effectively shape their built environment. 

“It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime to steer Van Alen Institute toward self-initiated projects that advance design justice,” Marton said in a statement. “Now, with a suite of community-led design programs, welcoming new headquarters in Brooklyn, and a unified board and staff, Van Alen is in a brilliant place to continue growing under new leadership.”

Among Van Alen’s recent projects, helmed by Marton, are Albany Hive. The project focuses on the transformation of “blighted public alley into a space designed with and for Albany’s West Hill neighborhood.” Albany Hive involves collaboration with local community groups such as anti-violence program, Albany 618 Snug as well as several iterative meetings with local residents.

Under Marton’s leadership, Van Alen has bred a series of community-led design programs. These include Neighborhoods Now, a collaboration with the Urban Design Forum. Launched during the pandemic in May 2020, the initiative connects community-based organizations with designers from firms including SO — IL and COOKFOX, who then offer pro bono design services. 

“Deborah joined Van Alen Institute with a laser-focused vision to put community expertise at the center of our work,” Brown said in a statement. 

Under Marton, Van Alen also moved to a new location in Gowanus, Brooklyn from Chelsea where it leased out the office space that was not used internally. “The board decided that we should really focus on the mission, as opposed to focusing on being a landlord,” Marton said in an interview with AN

The organization’s board of trustees has begun to look for a new executive director. In the meantime, director of programs Andrew Brown and director of strategic partnerships Kate Overbeck will serve as interim co-executive directors.

In a statement, Overbeck emphasized Marton’s enduring impact on Van Alen: “Under Deborah’s leadership, Van Alen’s staff, board, and partners are wholly united in our mission to create more equitable cities. I’m excited to continue advancing the remarkable power of Van Alen’s inclusive design network.”

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