She is an artist, a carpenter, an administrator, a writer, and a teacher. Michele L’Heureux does all of these things as the Gallery Director of the Wheaton Beard and Weil Galleries.
Her skill set is perfect for a job that she describes as having no typical days. On any given day L’Heureux could be installing an exhibit, presenting a workshop, visiting an artist, or writing a press release. This is ideal for L’Heureux, who loves being able to utilize her vast skill set.
“I’ve done something different every 2 years for the past twenty-five,” she says.
L’Heureux has truly had “a very circuitous path.” She is a graduate of Wheaton’s class of 1988, the last all female class, and has since returned to campus as an administrator in Alumni Relations, before settling into the role she’s held as Gallery Director for the past two years.
She jokes that her friends are surprised she’s stayed in one place this long, yet its hard to imagine L’Heureux finding a more fitting job. She embodies her role as gallery coordinator so seamlessly that one might imagine that she envisioned herself in the role while still a student at Wheaton.
She describes the process as much more organic. L’Heureux has always been interested in writing and design. “There were always pieces in the mix, but it never quite came together,” she says of her career evolution. Around her 40th birthday, L’Heureux had a revelation.
“I knew that I wanted art to be the central piece of my life,” she said. L’Heureux had previously worked in a gallery while attending graduate school, and has been an artist her entire life. Her challenge was to find a career that spanned her interests, enabling her to remain invested in her work.
She was able to actualize her revelation quite well; her role as Gallery Director allows her to focus on art constantly, as well as engage some of her more unique skills, such as carpentry.
At a larger school, L’Heureux’s role would be carved into about five separate jobs. While this may seem overwhelming, L’Heureux takes it in stride. She works on piece selection, assembling gallery exhibits, planning residencies for new artists, and advertising exhibits to the campus. “For me its all a really great mix,” she says.
A long time member of the Wheaton community, L’Heureux was thrilled to return. “I love this place, so it was a good fit,” she says. Her special connection to Wheaton has made her committed to making the Beard and Weil Galleries centers of campus life.
“At a small school this is a fabulous space,” she says. L’Heureux hopes that the galleries will enhance students’ experiences, despite their majors or interests. “There isn’t one way I want students to interact with the gallery. I want them to know what an incredible resource it is,” she said.
With this goal in mind, L’Heureux has consciously planned exhibits with diverse subject matters. Though she tends to think thematically, she prefers cross-disciplinary themes.
L’Heureux is the dream of Wheaton’s signature connections curriculum. She has planned many exhibits that seamlessly blend art and science, and hold the interest of a neuroscience major while simultaneously captivating those majoring in humanities.
She considers the various identities Wheaton students hold and attempts to appeal to these in exhibits that will consistently reach new pockets of campus. “I want to expose students and faculty to New England and New York based artists whose work raises lots of questions,” she says.
Her role as Gallery Director blends many others in her life. “It really appealed to me as an artist, figuring out what to do with a blank space,” she says.
Being both an artist and an exhibitor of art helps L’Heureux forge special relationships with the artists she hopes to exhibit at Wheaton. “I understand what its like to exhibit my own work. It makes me sympathetic to people. They open up to me as a peer, they are more sympathetic to me,” she says.
Like most aspects of her life, there is no clear divide between the work L’Heureux does in the Beard and Weil Galleries and in her own studio. “It’s similar to work on my own piece of art as a gallery space.”
Until recently, L’Heureux worked in the galleries at Brandeis University as well, but she left that position to focus on her own art. Her artwork explores concepts of gender, with a focus on gender ambiguity. She uses her artwork to address questions about gender, specifically why our society feels a strong need to categorize gender. She works mostly in mixed media, including collage and printmaking.
Her interest in vegan cooking seems to be the only hobby she has that doesn’t also fall within her job description. When she isn’t at work she loves to see live music, especially bluegrass, jazz and Cajun music. “I see a lot of music and do a lot of dancing whenever I can,” she says.
Despite her love for her role at Wheaton, she fantasizes about the opportunity to devote herself to her two greatest loves, art and nature. “I sometimes think I should take a year off and draw birds all year,” she says laughing.
In the true spirit of a Wheaton student, L’Heureux never passes on the chance to learn more. Although she has overseen the smallest details of countless exhibits, she never scoffs at the possibility that there may be something she has not yet realized. She visits many other exhibits at different galleries with an eye to pick up a new skill.
“I learn more things than I criticize. I take a lot of notes. I’ve only been doing this 5-6 years, there’s so much to learn.” This willingness to learn and grow is what keeps the gallery, as well as her job, new and exciting. L’Heureux’s description of her job encapsulates her spirit: “I’m always doing things I’ve never done before.”
Categories: Arts and Culture