melinda anderson: Living boldly through design
Melinda Anderson is no stranger to hard work. Although she holds a degree in architecture, Anderson found her true passion to be event design. In 2009, she founded Studio M Detroit, a marketing and event design company, and has since partnered with organizations such as Pure Michigan, the DIA, and Culture Lab Detroit to create powerful experiences that inspire others to live more boldly.
destined to design
Melinda Anderson’s love for design did not happen by accident. At an early age her mother noticed her creative ability and suggested a career path for her. “As a kid I was really fascinated with Legos and making paper doll houses, so I was always into art and working with my hands,” said Anderson. “My mother saw my aptitude for putting things together and suggested that I become an architect. ” Anderson began her study of architecture as a student at Cass Technical High School and received her degree in the field from the University of Michigan.
Drafting supplies. (Photo: Dawid Malecki/Unsplash)
on pursuing her passion
After graduating college Anderson recalls the catalyst that sparked her love for event design. “After college I worked for a firm that did aviation architecture. In my personal time I would volunteer to plan events for them. That’s when I really started to learn about event production and design,” she said.
“One of the first volunteer roles that really helped me was with Bravo Bravo through the Michigan Opera Theater. That’s where I learned lighting design, how to cool the room, and so much more. I felt that event design and production was such a good combination of my artistic talent.” Anderson explained that she was able to expand her knowledge in the field after being given a chance to study abroad.
Hot in Havana event at the DIA. (Photographer: Erada Sventlana)
“While working at the architecture firm, I was awarded an apprenticeship to study set design in Palermo, Italy. The firm’s cultural affairs department had an exchange program where they would send six opera singers from Palermo to Detroit, and in turn send six people to Palermo,” she said. “After being laid off from the firm some time later, I switched careers and became a designer at an event rental company. Architecture for me wasn’t as fulfilling and I was always searching for what could be next. Once I started doing events that’s when it really hit me.”
Being the sole female designer
While evolving into a professional event designer, Anderson recalled what it was like being the only female in her industry at times. “The event design and production field is very male dominated and that can be intimidating for some. Even in college I had to get comfortable with being one of the only faces of color because there weren’t that many in the architecture field,” she explained.
“If there were times I felt intimidated by being the only female, I would turn it around and use that fear to my advantage. Instead of pulling back, I would treat the males as mentors and ask them questions that would teach me more about the craft. They didn’t take me seriously until they saw that I lived and breathed design and would outwork everybody. Once they saw that, I earned their respect.”
VIP Lounge for the the Movement Electronic Music Festival 2017 (Photographer: Keenan Hastings)
VIP Lounge for the the Movement Electronic Music Festival 2018 (Photographer: Desmond Love)
on living boldly
Anderson is a firm believer in pursuing her dreams and wants other female entrepreneurs to feel confident in doing the same. “One of the people I admire is Melissa Butler from The Lip Bar. She is courageous and a great example of a trail blazer,” said Anderson. “Sometimes you really just have to take that shot and go for it because life is short. Be bold in your actions and how you present yourself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a strong and courageous woman. That’s what living boldly is.”
Le’ Boombox installation for the Movement Electronic Music Festival 2019. (Photographer: Desmond Love)
creative block and inspiration
When dealing with creative block, Anderson noted several simple activities that help her reset. “I like taking walks because I find a lot of inspiration in nature. I also enjoy viewing window displays and have traveled all around the world to Paris, Berlin, and Bergdorf’s in New York to see how they were decorating their windows.”
Colorful window display at Bergdorf Goodman New York. (Photographer: Victoria Lipov/Shutterstock)
“I do gather inspiration from platforms like Pinterest and Instagram , but I prefer to attend real life events at museums and art shows instead. This way, I don’t feel like I’m reproducing something from the internet because I’ve seen it so much.”
Advice for Female Entrepreneurs
If Anderson could empower female entrepreneurs with one piece of advice, she would tell them to “Be the one that works the hardest and try to be the best at your craft. My work ethic has translated into me doing well professionally because my clients know I’m going to put a lot of care into their event. There is a saying to ‘dance like no one is watching’, and I would say ‘work like no one is watching’. When you least expect it someone is going to notice you and you’ll be rewarded for working hard.”
Hot in Havana event at the DIA (Photographer: Erada Sventlana)
Future Plans for Studio M Detroit
Anderson is currently working on 3 festivals through Studio M and wants to inspire communities to learn more about design. “What sets Studio M apart is that I’ve developed an expertise producing festivals. Over the last nine years I have worked to inspire various communities through design and would like to expand and do more brand activations,” she said.
In October of 2019, Anderson was awarded the Knight Arts Challenge match grant for $25,000. She is currently raising the other half of funds to support her upcoming project “Electric Fruit “. Anderson explained that the project will be a platform for black artists and designers to get more recognition for their work. “I’ve always worked at a macro level, so for this project I’ll work at micro level to help these designers get the recognition they deserve while bringing art and design to neighborhoods,” she said.
Electric Fruit Rendering. (Courtesy of: Melinda Anderson)
“Not everyone has the means to go to galleries and museums, but they still should be exposed to great design. Electric Fruit is a pop-up installation that will go to into neighborhoods and engage with them. It’s all about design being presented in unexpected places. It’s really a bold and courageous structure.”