Behind the Scenes at MMPI and the Merchandise Mart

I spent my first week of the New Year as an intern under MMPI’s Holiday Internship program. Not a bad way to bring in 2011! Over the course of the five days, the other interns (many of which were returning from the previous year) and I learned the behind-the-scenes operations of a large property management corporation at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, which also happens to be the world’s largest LEED-EB building.


In addition to hearing presentations from all the MMPI divisions—including construction, tradeshow development and acquisition, tradeshow services, client relations, labor relations, strategy and communications, research, and sustainability—we took building tours, one of which was of the Mart’s multiple high-end showrooms. (I’d seen many of these during NeoCon®, but this time it was without the crowds of passionate designers, students, and other design enthusiasts occupying the building.) I saw them in a whole new light—everything was gorgeous!

Martshowroom We also toured the ground floor of the Mart to learn about all the changes that MMPI has made over the years to make its mark in sustainability. Everything from electricity, water consumption, and material/product life cycle assessments to the extremely smelly recycling center increased my appreciation for what it means to go green.

Within the Holiday Internship Program, we were all divided into departments and I worked with the “oh so lovely” ladies at Art Chicago, one of three, MMPI-produced events held during Artropolis. What an awesome gig! I learned the operations of show production, including event planning, negotiating space agreements with prospective exhibitors, and research. Thanks to hours of looking up prospects for next year’s show and transferring gallery information into databases, I am proud to say that I am trilingual because I learned the days of the week in Dutch! I also utilized my department for their individual specialties: I was able to get some tips from the resident sponsorship writer on how to better format letters and proposals for one of my organizations at Columbia, for which I handle public relations and documents drafts.

I took the this opportunity for what it was; a week to cram as much information about whatever it was that I wanted to know and would be useful for many years to come, to meet as many people as I could, and leave an impression. The people at MMPI are so high energy and express a genuine sense of caring, in regards to wanting all of us interns and their employees to continue to grow and be the best in whatever fields we go into.

Thanks to MMPI for the great experience! I’ll see you in April for Artropolis!

–La Keisha Leek

Contract magazine is proud to announce a blog installation from one of three guest design student bloggers. Lisa Backus, Brittany Hahn, and La Keisha Leek regularly will be writing and sharing their design experiences at TalkContract for the next year. Check back often to see what's the buzz among the next generation of designers, and be sure to share with them your feedback and design advice by commenting below.


  1. What an incredible experience! Happy 2011! Do you have more pic's to show from your experience?

    Be sure to stop by the Retail Design Diva and say hi!

    -Heather 🙂