Earlier this year, IIDA recognized Melissa Destree, IIDA, AIA, principal architect, interior designer, Destree Architecture and Design, as the 2017 Advocate of the Year for her dedication and commitment to interior design advocacy. Melissa serves as vice president of advocacy of the IIDA Wisconsin Chapter. After filling a multiyear-long vacancy, Melissa began the process of restructuring and reforming the chapter’s advocacy committee. Here she talks about how the perception of interior design has changed, why advocacy continues to evolve, and the importance of working with lobbyists.
IIDA: Why is advocacy important to you personally?
Melissa: During the 2008 recession, I was dismayed that so many interior designers were let go and architects were going to just ‘do their job.’ As an architect and interior designer, I had a unique perspective and appreciation for both specialties. A few years later, I heard confessions from architects that interior design is complex, fast paced, and demands organizational skills. They had no idea. Having gone through that experience, many architects now appreciate what the commercial interior designer brings to the team. This is what inspired me to get more involved. We all have the power to make change and advocacy is the tool to make our profession stronger.
Why should chapters invest time and money into advocacy?
Advocacy is the conduit to affect change and reinforce legislation to support our profession. We need the enthusiasm of our fellow interior designers to push us forward. Unfortunately, we cannot expect to do this effectively on our own. We need funds to engage lobbyists to assist with advocacy. This past year, our Wisconsin lobbyists have opened so many doors and provided so many opportunities for interior designers in Wisconsin to tell our stories. They helped us quench a threat from the anti-licensure policy wonks and are helping us build momentum to pursue opportunities for the practice of interior design.
Why do you think it’s important to build relationships with your local and state government officials?
This year, at our Capitol Day event, when we met with legislators at the State Capitol, they were overwhelmingly pleased. We introduced ourselves, discussed recent projects, and reinforced that we have a voluntary registration in Wisconsin. We shared how our profession impacts the state economy. We were not there demanding something from our legislators. We were there to build relationships and educate. From that relationship building, we have democrat and republican supporters of the interior design profession. This momentum has encouraged us to propose revised legislation with a seal provision for commercial interior designers.
How do you think being an advocate has changed over the last five or ten years?
Ten years ago, our chapter did not have a VP of Advocacy. I was recruited after my chapter presidency to fill this position, develop an advocacy strategy, and work with our interior design collation in Wisconsin. But even five years ago, it was not on our chapter’s radar to hire a lobbyist. In 2015, IIDA and ASID members determined that the best advocacy approach for our state was to dissolve our coalition and partner together with the support of IIDA HQ and National ASID advocacy experts. Then in 2016, conservative and libertarian policy groups, with their anti-licensure stance, were spreading false information about the Interior Design profession throughout Wisconsin. We needed to get on the field and defend our profession. We hired a lobbyist in January 2017. We were prepared!
What have you learned as an advocate and VP of Advocacy that other advocates should know?
The toughest part of advocacy is to take the first step to get involved. Once you meet your first legislator or do your first volunteer activity, you you see the benefit to both yourself and the profession.
Get involved with interior design advocacy at advocacy.iida.org.