Madeleine LeMieux prefers a practical approach to art.

That is, when she talks about it, it’s as if she’s describing a wheel, a vehicle, or an instruction manual—something with a direct path from “a” to “b.”

She is the mastermind behind the MKT murals, which have been painted on underpasses along the trail’s downtown extension since 2016. She also enlisted the help of young artists to create the murals. Every day, people pass murals inspiring empathy for the environment and Columbia’s diversity. If they pause to think twice, the artwork has done its job.

“I think a lot of people think art is a thing in and of itself,” Madeleine says. “I would say it’s more a tool that can augment anything else. It can make anything else more interesting, more meaningful, more compelling.”

Person featured in Missouri Magazine geared toward educating about Missouri Travel Destinations
Madeleine LeMieux.

Madeleine has dedicated much of her life to making things more meaningful. When she was about seven, Madeleine told her mom she wanted to follow in her aunt’s footsteps and attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in her hometown. She did that and more, earning a bachelor of fine arts in Chicago and then a master’s in art administration from New York University with a focus in nonprofit. While in New York, Madeleine based her thesis research on mid-Missouri, a region she and her husband were certain they wanted to raise their future family in.

Madeleine’s research revealed a few gaps in Columbia’s art resources—the main one being a lack of opportunity for young artists. Art school was teaching kids how to make art, she says, but not how to make a living off of it.

“You are essentially an entrepreneur,” she says. “You manage all your own sales, commissions, and gallery relationships. All of that stuff is minimally discussed in undergraduate programs.”

Madeleine has worked to fill that gap in various ways. She still creates murals using a community process and founded Resident Arts, a nonprofit that helped young artists get their careers off the ground, in 2014. When it dissolved in January, she began meeting with organizations in town that have expressed interest in taking over programs from the nonprofit. Madeleine is now working toward her Master of Fine Arts degree at MU and is a graduate teaching assistant for painting and drawing.

Although she is a classically trained painter and creates artwork in many forms, some of her most profound work is digital art that challenges a social norm. Take her project Algorithm Bias, for instance; for these portraits, she blended random faces found from a Google Images search for words such as such as “woman,” “terrorist,” “immigrant,” and “citizen.” What the search engine thought she wanted to see was what Madeleine took as a commentary on the “reinforcement of existing biases” in our digital age.

Ghostly faces used in Missouri Magazine
For each piece in the project Algorithm Bias, Madeleine took 25 to 100 Google Images that the website suggested matched different search terms, and she compiled and layered them. Photo courtesy Madeleine LeMieux.

Not being able to predict the consequences of your art or even knowing whether or not an audience will see your work can be a destabilizing feeling, Madeleine says, especially in the age of climate change and general political malaise, where many artists are hyper-aware of their material impact on the world.

“As an artist, what you’re essentially doing is producing more product.” Madeleine says. “How do you justify making objects, making paintings, making sculptures, in a world that’s kind of struggling with too much stuff?”

The answer, Madeleine says, is not by refusing to make art. Instead, Madeleine uses environmental-friendly material and keeps art as a tool for change. She points out Amplifier as an example, a foundation that created a movement by circulating street art for political change, including a series of specially made postcards sent to the White House. Madeleine has some of those prints hanging in her home. They serve as inspiration for an artist who will continue to inspire change through her art.

Cant you do better imprint on skin
Madeleine used interviews with women about their experiences being undermined by another individual, usually in a position of power, to create pieces for this project. Madeleine and the woman being interviewed would go through the text and select a takeaway phrase, then use little letters to press that phrase onto the woman’s body, creating a photograph with the impression of a phrase that woman had internalized. Photo courtesy Madeleine LeMieux.

“As an artist, my job is to develop sensitivity and create meaning,” Madeleine says. “If I’m doing that correctly, if I’m doing that seriously, then I have to play a role in what I’m doing and what I’m thinking about.”

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