Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Coloring outside the lines

Michele L’Heureux ’88, Gallery Director, Art and Art HistoryA studio art major at Wheaton, Michele L’Heureux ’88 has taken a very creative route to a full-time career in art.

She has worked as a carpenter, environmental educator, grant writer, recruiter, marketing manager, copywriter, alumnae/i relations associate and graphic designer. Coming full circle back to Wheaton, she now is the new director of the Beard and Weil Galleries.

She is responsible for planning and executing four to eight exhibitions each academic year. This includes generating ideas and themes for exhibitions, researching artists, conducting studio visits, selecting artists and works for exhibition, collaborating with faculty and students, and handling all the logistics related to installing an exhibition.

“I love working on a liberal arts college campus, where art takes on new meanings through the eyes and minds of students, who have fresh perspectives and diverse life experiences that they bring to bear,” she says. “In taking this job, I was attracted to the challenge of curating in a new space with new colleagues at a place that I adore.”

For the past two years, L’Heureux has worked as the curator and director of the arts at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center, where she still oversees a small gallery dedicated to feminist art exhibitions and programming. In addition, she has guest curated a number of exhibitions at regional venues.

“These experiences have really solidified my interest in curating and have sparked for me a passion for making connections between art and things going on in the community or in the world at large,” she says.

Art was always her first love, but after graduating from Wheaton she went to graduate school to study philosophy—her Wheaton minor.

Before completing her master’s, she went on a journey, driving her pickup truck from Boston to Alaska and back. The two-month odyssey gave her time to reflect on how best to use her creative talents. It also stimulated her interest in the natural environment. She took a job at a Connecticut park and nature center, where she taught environmental education classes, designed exhibits and curriculum, and cared for the park’s farm animals, reptiles and amphibians.

Meanwhile, she continued to work at her art, creating small paintings and drawings that were often inspired by her work at the nature center. Many years later she also earned a diploma in carpentry, and she ran her own remodeling business for a bit.

Her Wheaton education stayed with her.

“What Wheaton cultivated in me was the confidence and creativity to parlay my various skills into something that I wouldn’t necessarily have set out to do but that piqued my interest during a unique life experience,” she says. “That has been the theme for me ever since: Rather than pursue one linear career path, I have pursued various jobs that tap into different parts of me at different times.”

Through all of the “careers,” she made art sporadically, mostly to give away to family and friends. But when she turned 40, she decided it was time “to stop complaining about not having the time or energy to be an artist and do something about it.”

She earned an M.F.A. in painting from the University of Massachusetts–Dartmouth in 2009, and has since exhibited her work in several venues.

Now, she has big plans for the Wheaton galleries, including an exhibition that explores the intersections of science and art, in honor of the new science center. “I’m interested in finding ways to incorporate exhibitions into the curriculum more, to generate exhibitions that showcase both exceptional artistic talent and innovative ideas, and to use the space in more dynamic ways to engage viewers.”