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Dec 14, 2021 By IIDA HQ
Leading With Empathy | Creating a Legacy in Your Community
Mari Ansera, IIDA was named the 2021 Member of the Year for her dedication to and passion for interior design—an exceptional advocate for the industry, and asset to IIDA through her commitment to contributing to the profession.
By IIDA HQ Dec 14, 2021
Published in

The IIDA Member of the Year Award is an annual honor that recognizes an IIDA Member who has demonstrated outstanding volunteer service through commitment, passion, professionalism, and dedication. These members have contributed to IIDA’s efforts to advocate for interior design excellence, ensuring that future designers are able to practice the profession in full.

The 2021 awardee is Marivel Ansera, IIDA, of the IIDA Northland Chapter, Senior Interior Designer at HGA. Marivel has served in a variety of leadership positions including past president and VP of government and regulatory affairs for the IIDA Northland Chapter Board. She has demonstrated a dedication to advocating for the profession and volunteering her time to foster a dynamic community at her chapter.

Marivel has worked on a wide range of design projects at HGA spanning workplace, higher education, cultural and performing arts, and healthcare. Her empathetic approach to the design process involves listening first then diving deeper to understand each client’s strengths. She provides space for the most marginalized to voice their perspectives and believes interior design is more than designing beautiful and functional spaces—it’s about bringing human dignity and equity to our built environments.

“She is a fierce advocate for the interior design practice at multiple levels,” says Paula Storsteen, IIDA, and vice president of interior design at HGA, of Marivel. “In her roles as president-elect/president/past-president, she has brought a passion for advocacy and equity to our local design community, and to our firm. In our COVID-era award program, she expressed such strength, vulnerability, and bravery as she challenged us all do our part to address the racial inequities that have become so painfully visible with the murder of George Floyd in our city.” Paula goes on to describe the integral ways that she has given her time to the firm and designers through two initiatives, FRAME, and B.O.L.D.

Marivel created FRAME in 2019 as a way to coach interior designers—both within her firm and the broader industry—on how to communicate and talk about their value and expertise. Her colleague, Megan Duffy Sananikone, IIDA, and President of the IIDA Northland Chapter describes how this program came to be from work they did together within IIDA’s Advocacy program, and a need to provide all designers with elevated ways to talk about interior design.B.O.L.D. (Building Outstanding Leaders in Design), is an initiative that Marivel created to connect designers of color in the Twin Cities region to other designers of color for mentee/mentor relationship, and pairing mentorship and leadership learning to foster collaborative and intentional conversations.

Rebecca Frenning, IIDA
, Northland Chapter President-Elect says of the program “the mission of the program is to advance changes in architecture and design that will change the trajectory of the A&D (community in the Twin Cities) and create local changes that will lead to global impacts.” She continues, “the B.O.L.D. program is one of Mari’s greatest legacies for IIDA Northland.”

Megan nominated Marivel for this award, describing her dedication towards advocacy work, and continued volunteering in her chapter to bring the interior design community together. “Most recently, Mari launched another concept that was of utmost importance to her, and frankly to our community (B.O.L.D.)”

“Our city, and our nation, was traumatized by the brutal killing of George Floyd. She recognized his life and all the other black and brown people who have been killed at the hands of police. She issued a call to action, for designers to really listen to all people that are impacted by our design work and allow a safe place to bring forth the conversation around race that is so needed.”

“As a woman of color, I know the lack of representation, I have felt both microaggressions and blatant racism. The events that followed George Floyd’s death have given life to BOLD and brought support to all my initiatives in a way that I had not anticipated,” says Marivel of her time being a leader in her chapter during such a tumultuous time in her city,

“As I continue my path of leadership, I will continue to make changes for design that will enable designers of color to find their voice and shift not only the way things are designed, but the design industry. My work will continue to offer greater voice to the many who seek to move into our profession and live out their ultimate purpose.”

What motivates you as a volunteer?

Looking back over my life, I would not have succeeded without the help and support from others. I give back so that I might inspire someone else not to give up—to continue, persevere, and find help along their path.

As a volunteer, I encourage others to find strength in their own story and to live out their authentic life. This brings a rich and diverse perspective to the design industry. By living out my story in complete transparency, I allow others to find their own kind of freedom. Watching people around me step into better versions of themselves, continues to inspire me to take bolder steps. It is this synergy that keeps me moving and continually working to bring people alongside my journey, that we might make room for the other to step into our own kind of greatness.

Do you have a particular philosophy that you follow?

I know what it looks like and feels like to live on the outside, so I have always led with empathy. It is one thing to learn to be compassionate. It is, however, far different to be born an empath. It is feeling past the words to what is not said, to understanding fears, to finding and celebrating strength, to making room for the most marginalized.

I believe as interior designers, we are charged with not only designing beautiful and functional spaces but also bringing human dignity and equity to the built environments. This, like sustainability, is a minimum standard, a basic starting point. I strive to be the voice for the most marginalized, advocating for gender-neutral toilets, designing equitable entrances that minimize the difference in our mobility, or challenging clients to consider how a material choice can communicate how the owner sees a person’s value.

Now, it would be naïve of me to think that simply designing great spaces will change the world. I aspire not only to change the built environment but to change design. I hope that by ensuring there is room for new perspectives, we will create a more just world. That we will move past the basic starting point to a place of greatness, where the spaces we create manifest the human spirit and inspire us all to live, work, and learn at our best regardless of race, economic status, physical ability, or identity.

Learn more about nominating an exceptional volunteer in your IIDA Chapter—nominations and applications are now open to be named the 2022 IIDA Member of the Year.

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