Melissa Unger: A Career in the Visual Arts

 

Melissa Unger (promotion 1985) a eu une carrière palpitante dans le domaine de l’audiovisuel, travaillant aux côtés des pontes du cinéma et mettant ses connaissances au service de causes sociales. Jusqu’à ce qu’elle quitte les Etats-Unis pour la France et se découvre une passion pour l’écriture, une expérience transformative.

Can you share with us some of the highlights of what you have been doing since you graduated in 1985, and what you are doing now as a career?

Ah! Well, it’s been a wild and wonderful ride, but certainly not an easy feat to synopsize 30 years in a few sentences, but I’ll try! After Lycée, where I had studied Philosophy, I went to Tufts University to study English Literature and Photography. I think that I have always been a humanist. I have always been fascinated by people, their minds and how they engage with the world and make sense of their experience.

LFNY alumna Melissa Unger (’85).

As an only child, imagination and its extension-creativity, have always been very present in my own life; so, I guess I instinctually entered into that field as an adult. I started out production managing music videos in the late 80’s and then moved onto working on feature films as a production assistant. I then spent a few years as Robert De Niro’s personal assistant, and also assisted Daniel Day Lewis on a film. After which, I moved on to the ‘idea’ side of things and spent a few years working on Live Action Development at Disney’s Jumbo Pictures.

At Jumbo, I had the opportunity to interact with the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, an experience that showed me that it was possible to explore creativity from a variety of perspectives and study it through different disciplinary lenses.

In 1999, I went to work at the Ad Council and was VP of Media Outreach there for 5 years. It was a terrific and very rewarding job where I was able to learn, among many other things, how to innovatively leverage creative ideas and concepts to positively effect social change.

Self-portrait, by Melissa Unger.

In 2004, in need of new horizons I moved to Paris and became the Manager of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, one of the city’s leading Contemporary art galleries. After a few years there, I embarked on a freelance career as a consultant for artists and arts-related organizations. This was a captivating and pivotal period that brought me into even deeper direct contact with artists and their creative inner worlds…and perhaps most importantly, I too had my own incredible experience with inspiration, my own encounter with the elusive ‘flow’…

My experience writing what was to become my novel Gag was the missing piece that helped all the threads in my personal and professional life come together…philosophy, psychology, imagination, inspiration, creativity, public service; and I knew it was time to build my own project based on the confluence of all of the subjects that had always fascinated me; and so, Seymour Projects was born. Since 2011, I have been developing this challenging, exciting and ever-evolving initiative: www.seymourprojects.com

Furthermore, while we have not announced it publicly yet, Seymour Projects will be opening a space in Paris in late November, and our website will reflect this development in September.

What inspired you to reconnect with the Lycée?

I have always felt very close to the Lycée. I have very positive memories of my time there. So, it is always a joy to keep up with and reconnect with the people I grew up with at school. 30 years later some of my closest friends are friends that I originally met at Lycée in 3ème!

So when Gag, my first novel was published this Summer it seemed natural to reach out to the Alumni Program. Plus, I am Franco-American; the book features an American in Paris; I wrote the book in English, while in France. I just felt that the content and circumstances around the book where such a strong example of effective French/American synergy that it would be of interest to the Lycée community.

I am passionate about showing people that it is possible to achieve the ‘impossible’. I think it is both interesting and important for the current students to see the wide variety of different paths that alumni have taken since graduation. I feel it is our duty as alumni to stand as testaments to the concrete realization of our aspirations, so that students may have the courage to push past their fears and preconceived notions of what they can and can’t ‘do’ and achieve their own dreams however diverse and seemingly obstacle-filled they may be.

1985 yearbook photo.

In closing, can you provide a few inspiring words to encourage more alumni to reconnect with the Lycée?

I’ll borrow a few words from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead:

It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.”

Allez les amis! Je vous invite à retomber en enfance!

Class of 1985 alumna Melissa Unger has quite a story to tell. After an exciting career in the film industry, she eventually went back to France where she settled down in Paris and started writing a novel. Her transformative experience she said.

Can you share with us some of the highlights of what you have been doing since you graduated in 1985, and what you are doing now as a career?

Ah! Well, it’s been a wild and wonderful ride, but certainly not an easy feat to synopsize 30 years in a few sentences, but I’ll try! After Lycée, where I had studied Philosophy, I went to Tufts University to study English Literature and Photography. I think that I have always been a humanist. I have always been fascinated by people, their minds and how they engage with the world and make sense of their experience.

LFNY alumna Melissa Unger (’85).

As an only child, imagination and its extension-creativity, have always been very present in my own life; so, I guess I instinctually entered into that field as an adult. I started out production managing music videos in the late 80’s and then moved onto working on feature films as a production assistant. I then spent a few years as Robert De Niro’s personal assistant, and also assisted Daniel Day Lewis on a film. After which, I moved on to the ‘idea’ side of things and spent a few years working on Live Action Development at Disney’s Jumbo Pictures.

At Jumbo, I had the opportunity to interact with the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero, an experience that showed me that it was possible to explore creativity from a variety of perspectives and study it through different disciplinary lenses.

In 1999, I went to work at the Ad Council and was VP of Media Outreach there for 5 years. It was a terrific and very rewarding job where I was able to learn, among many other things, how to innovatively leverage creative ideas and concepts to positively effect social change.

Self-portrait, by Melissa Unger.

In 2004, in need of new horizons I moved to Paris and became the Manager of Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, one of the city’s leading Contemporary art galleries. After a few years there, I embarked on a freelance career as a consultant for artists and arts-related organizations. This was a captivating and pivotal period that brought me into even deeper direct contact with artists and their creative inner worlds…and perhaps most importantly, I too had my own incredible experience with inspiration, my own encounter with the elusive ‘flow’…

My experience writing what was to become my novel Gag was the missing piece that helped all the threads in my personal and professional life come together…philosophy, psychology, imagination, inspiration, creativity, public service; and I knew it was time to build my own project based on the confluence of all of the subjects that had always fascinated me; and so, Seymour Projects was born. Since 2011, I have been developing this challenging, exciting and ever-evolving initiative: www.seymourprojects.com

Furthermore, while we have not announced it publicly yet, Seymour Projects will be opening a space in Paris in late November, and our website will reflect this development in September.

What inspired you to reconnect with the Lycée?

I have always felt very close to the Lycée. I have very positive memories of my time there. So, it is always a joy to keep up with and reconnect with the people I grew up with at school. 30 years later some of my closest friends are friends that I originally met at Lycée in 3ème!

So when Gag, my first novel was published this Summer it seemed natural to reach out to the Alumni Program. Plus, I am Franco-American; the book features an American in Paris; I wrote the book in English, while in France. I just felt that the content and circumstances around the book where such a strong example of effective French/American synergy that it would be of interest to the Lycée community.

I am passionate about showing people that it is possible to achieve the ‘impossible’. I think it is both interesting and important for the current students to see the wide variety of different paths that alumni have taken since graduation. I feel it is our duty as alumni to stand as testaments to the concrete realization of our aspirations, so that students may have the courage to push past their fears and preconceived notions of what they can and can’t ‘do’ and achieve their own dreams however diverse and seemingly obstacle-filled they may be.

1985 yearbook photo.

In closing, can you provide a few inspiring words to encourage more alumni to reconnect with the Lycée?

I’ll borrow a few words from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead:

It is utterly false and cruelly arbitrary to put all the play and learning into childhood, all the work into middle age, and all the regrets into old age.”

Allez les amis! Je vous invite à retomber en enfance!

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Claude Aska

Director of Alumni Relations

caska
Claude's goal is to develop a thriving program that alumni of multiple promotions will find engaging and compelling. Prior to coming to the Lycée, Claude co-directed the start-up and development of two Gates Foundation High schools, Food and Finance High School and the High School for Hospitality Management (HSHM). At these schools, he designed and implemented a work-based mentoring program for students. Claude is an avid Olympique de Marseille fan.

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