My mission has always been to make arts accessible to everybody, and for everybody to realize that arts are in their everyday life.
From a young age, Michele Valencourt changed cities like she changed clothes. Her father was an Air Force man. “Although I was born in New York, I almost immediately moved to Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Long Island, Morocco, California, England and back to New York,” she said. “I always say it in order. That is the itinerary of my life.”
After earning art and English degrees, Washington D.C. beckoned. She had friends and a cousin there. Valencourt gravitated to trade show and convention work. She designed logos and ads and wrote copy for programs, landing gigs all over the United States.
Her willingness to change scenery eventually came to a halt. “I was around 40, and I said, ‘I’m tired of flying all over the country.’” Valencourt moved back to Upstate New York and went to culinary school. She earned a two-year degree in food service and followed that with a bakery apprenticeship in Rome. She married another chef and the couple moved to Orlando, where Valencourt worked on sandwiches and salads at the Sheraton. Then her husband was transferred to Port Charlotte and she yearned for another change of pace.
That’s when an opening with the Arts & Humanities Council of Charlotte County popped up. There, she most enjoyed the opportunities to recognize others. Valencourt loves writing and securing grants and particularly awarding them. She’s proud to have started an awards program – the “Charlies” – to recognize individuals and businesses for their contributions to the arts in Charlotte County.
When the arts center opened, she became its executive director and only recently retired. Through her nurturing, the center grew to mount as many as two dozen shows a year in its three major galleries. She shaped the popular pottery program and began the Peace River National Art Festival, a juried event that drew more than 10,000 people last year for its seventh annual event.