“Decide why before what. If you know why something drives you and is important to you, you will find your way to do it.” – Woman of the Week Mariah Roberts
One look at designer Mariah’s body of work makes it clear that her “why” is deeply rooted in making the world a better place, and in bringing others into that effort. Her desire to contribute and create, to involve her community and evolve as an artist, and to turn a neglected space into a thing of beauty has motivated her to tackle increasingly complex community projects, but she considers her smaller, more personal projects some of her most satisfying.
Born in Seattle, Washington, she left to attend Pomona College in Southern California, then moved to San Francisco for graduate school and finally settled in Santa Cruz. Both she and her husband were drawn to the ocean, the human-scale pace and the open hearted community, and they’ve loved raising children in such a place.
In her years as an artist and designer, Mariah has created an enormous body of work, but her approach to each project remains consistent: Consider the participant and how the piece will be used, and design toward a shared visual learning. It’s hard enough to create with a (easy situation) in mind, but Mariah gravitates to the harder projects, to the ones with an underloved space or a complex concept. This is what has likely drawn her to her current roles as Director of Chanticleer Park Neighbors and as Parks Commissioner for District 1. Because apparently Mariah has found those extra 35 hours in a day to do more amazing work, she is working to open LEO’s Haven, Santa Cruz County’s first inclusive playground for children of all abilities, at Chanticleer Park in Live Oak. This much-needed playground will be an incredible addition to our community, and is only the latest of Mariah’s projects to shape our world.
She has built furniture, done extensive metalworking, earned a Master’s in Education from SFSU, worked with pediatric therapy teams to design spaces for children with complex medical needs, and worked with children and adults in a wide range of projects in our community. She’s done some large, eye-catching projects, but here’s what’s telling about Mariah’s approach to the role of design in helping humanity: She considers her most successful project to be a very special kind of book. In her own words:
“I am most proud of a book I designed and produced for children with a specific low vision issue called Cortical Visual Impairment. “Then I Met You” was inspired by a boy named Angel and his family, who were living in one room of a larger home in San Jose. I worked with his mom, his therapeutic team and a Pediatric Ophthalmologist to identify visual images that would be both meaningful and accessible. While it was not one of my larger projects, it holds a special place in my heart as a perfect combination of my intellectual design-brain and my artistic design-heart. It was successful artistically, therapeutically and personally.”
There, in a nutshell, you have the intellectual, driven, creative force that is Mariah Roberts. LEO’s Haven will be a true gift to our community, brought about by another treasure, our Woman of the Week, Mariah Roberts. Congratulations, Mariah, and thank you for all your contributions to Santa Cruz. Our county would not be the same without you, and we are so grateful for your immense talent, unending effort, and indomitable spirit.
For information about LEO’s Haven, please visit www.santacruzplaygroundproject.org