Dan Gillotte '93
I took a chance and my art school training helped me to be ready for all the challenges I face.
Dan Gillotte ’93 is “chief executive grocer,” as he likes to call himself, of the Wheatsville Food Co-op, a grocery business with sales of $35 million in 2016. He also continues to paint and plays the sousaphone in a New Orleans-style marching zombie band. He was recently profiled in the Austin Business Journal and we were so intrigued we reached out to him to ask him about his career trajectory, how his MECA education has influenced him, and what advice he might have for today’s art school students.
Can you say a little bit about your background and current career and how you got to where you are today?
I earned my BFA in Painting from MECA, graduating in 1993. I had never planned for an art career per se, preferring to make art for myself, so I got a job working at a natural foods co-op [the former Good Day Market] in Portland, Maine, upon graduation. I became a produce manager at that co-op and helped the store relocate but ultimately we couldn’t keep it alive and had to close. This experience was pivotal for me and made me realize how important food co-ops are and how much I enjoyed working as a grocer. I left Portland in 1998 to try warmer climes in Austin, Texas. I was hired by the Wheatsville Food Co-op and shortly after that was offered the role of General Manager. Since then, under my leadership, we’ve grown the co-op from sales of $3.8 million in 1998 to two stores and sales of $35 million this year. All along I have made art in various media and for mostly my own amusement, but I did have an official job ‘in the arts’ working as an animator on Richard Linklater’s ground-breaking animated film Waking Life in 2001. I even got to go to the premiere at Sundance!
In what ways has your education at MECA equipped you for your future beyond MECA?
I always tell people that my art school experience is one of the things that makes me successful in my role running our co-op grocery business. Art school taught me to have thick skin (during the no-holds-barred painting critiques for instance). Critiques also helped me learn how to communicate my thoughts in an understandable way which come in handy when in board meetings, other business meetings, or even with an upset customer.
It taught me how to problem-solve. There have been several times in my career when others find themselves ‘stuck’ because their way of doing things has hit an apparent brick wall, but I am able to look at it in multiple ways and brainstorm a solution that often works. This is true even for construction projects and areas where I am far from an expert. But I learned how to think and problem-solve creatively and that serves me well.
You graduated from MECA in 1993 but visited us recently. What were the biggest changes you noticed? What things are still the same?
I was so delighted to finally get to spend some time in the amazing Porteous building. I was part of the all-school meeting that helped drive us toward ‘all being under one roof’ and which got us into Porteous and I am so proud and moved to see just how great it is! The views! The work spaces! The equipment! All so very top-notch and impressive! But the creativity of the students and the fun and humor that I experienced at MECA is still most definitely alive and well. And, as a proud library work-study alum, I will say the library knocked my socks off! The beautiful Jamie Johnston carrels are incredible and the great collection of books made me verklempt!
Any advice for aspiring art students who are at MECA or would like to come to MECA?
Being able to spend four years making art is a huge privilege that you may not get again, so take full advantage of it! Make a lot of art! Try new stuff! Use the amazing facilities that MECA has now. Appreciate the views! Read some books!
And, after you graduate, you can do anything you want, if you put effort in and put yourself out there! I have a great job that is incredibly fulfilling and has positive impacts but I couldn’t have imagined this is what I would be doing when I was in art school. But I took a chance and my art school training helped me to be ready for all the challenges I face.
MECA just launched a new Art & Music Program. You currently play in a band — any thoughts about that intersection between art and music and why that is important?
Yes!! It’s all art, man. . . I love that this is a new program at MECA! How cool?!? I believe that all of us are creative if we let ourselves try, and this is musically as well as visually. I never imagined in high school that I would be a multi-instrumentalist, playing regular gigs in an undead marching band and even writing my own songs, but I am because my creativity needed other outlets and I was able to explore those outlets. Now at MECA the possibilities are even more awesome!
Any other thoughts / comments about MECA, art, or life?
Art doesn’t have to be your ‘job,’ but whatever job you have, make time for art. Oh, and learn some math if you can. It’s your friend.