Emily Lanctot wakes up bright and early every day to devote an hour or more to doing what she loves: working in her home art studio. Some days, she spends this time conducting research for her artwork. Other days, she is hands-on in her creative mode, working on one of her many ongoing projects. These include a series for an upcoming show at the Copper Country Community Arts Center that revolves around domestic landscapes and architectural facades that become so familiar they go unnoticed.
You may spot her “shifting gears” by biking afterwards to her office on Northern Michigan University's campus, where she works at the Devos Art Museum. Having aspired throughout her life to either teach or work at a museum, one could say her position at Northern provides her with the best of both worlds. She instructs at least one class each semester in addition to serving as the museum's director and curator.
Lanctot's relationship with NMU spans many years. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in painting and drawing from the university in 2008. While a student, she worked at the DeVos Art Museum. That experience sparked ideas that she is implementing to amplify the museum's programming and outreach.
“I enjoyed the way learning seems effortless in the museum,” commented Lanctot. “It's the type of learning that empowers kids and adults.The museum serves as an educational instrument. Art provides access to myriad subjects. Art isn't only paint. It is about science, engaged looking, understanding diversity, communication—all sorts of things. There is a world that expands when you ask questions of an object.”
Lanctot serves many roles in her position. She conducts curatorial and other types of research, works with contemporary artists to secure traveling exhibitions, engages in K-12 tours, mentors students on their senior thesis exhibitions, works on promotion and logistics, interacts with donors, engages in fundraising and grant writing and more. She also oversees and trains volunteers, staff and interns.
Supporting, building and nurturing opportunities for local artists is a primary component of Lanctot's work.
“There is a large number of creative people in this area,” she said. “An important long-term initiative of mine is to find ways to collect art from these artists so that they can continue to make work and so that 20 years from now we can understand the landscape of our region's creativity.”
Lanctot said that her passion for education arose during her upbringing, when she studied at a one-room schoolhouse in Copper Harbor, Mich., in fifth grade.
“This type of learning environment provided me with an understanding that education does not have to be prescriptive,” said Lanctot. “Everyone does not need to learn at the same pace. I would finish my lessons quickly and would sit in class feeling bored while the teacher was working with other students. My kindergartener brother was learning how to read, so I worked with him and another student most afternoons on reading. We worked on different ways to look at letters and language.”
Lanctot said that her fifth-grade experience shed light on how learning can be facilitated through various formats and strategies based on what resonates most with individual students. This informed her approach to education and leadership today.
“A really rewarding aspect of my work is providing opportunities for artists of all ages. Seeing elementary school students' pride in their work when they come into the museum is incredible. Their voice is important. Seeing NMU students grow throughout my time here has been really incredible, too. It feels really rewarding to be told by former students that they see the world differently because of something I said to them eight years ago. It's great to know that I enriched someone else's life. The things we say ripple like a wave.”
After her own student experience at NMU, Lanctot earned her master's degree from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2010. She then returned to the U.P. to begin working as an adjunct assistant professor at NMU and serving in marketing and coordinator roles for Donckers and the Marquette Downtown Development Authority. In 2015, she assumed her current full-time position at NMU.
Outside of working, Lanctot has a passion for traveling. In fact, international travel and completing an artist residency are both bucket list items of hers. She also enjoys spending time at her partner's family cottage in Red Ridge, Mich. A lifelong learner, she most recently completed CopyrightX, an online Harvard University course that explores the current law of copyright.
A driven leader with a strong work ethic, Lanctot holds zealous goals for the art museum, such as developing more interdisciplinary programs, including one that merges health care with art to enhance patient care.
Campus Closeups are individual profiles of NMU faculty and staff members.