Melissa Unger (LA ’89) is one Tufts alumna who has been there and done that. From music video production manager to personal assistant of Robert De Niro to vice president of Media Outreach for The Advertising Council (Ad Council), Unger has covered a lot of ground in the entertainment industry and the arts. Now, the former Jumbo has taken up a new calling: helping others to find their own creative calling.
“For me, it’s always been about change and newness — I need a constant learning curve,” Unger said. “There’s a joy in the discovery and the learning.”
In order to project this message on a large scale, Unger in January founded Seymour, Inc., an online-based company designed to spark interest in more creative careers.
One way in which her fledgling company showcases potential career paths into the arts is through its subdivision, the blog Morning Glory, which features “successful creators,” asking them four short questions about how they start their day.
These questions, which range from “What time do you wake up?” to “What gets your juices flowing?” might seem brief and impersonal, but they offer a surprisingly deep look into what fuels some of today’s top creative minds.
“People ask me ‘Why are the questions so basic?'” Unger said. “Because I do them by sending an email so that they can send them quickly. They’re intimate without being invasive.”
A look into artists’ lives, even a small part of them, will motivate users to follow in their footsteps, she hopes.
“It’s about inspiring people to be more creative in their lives, period. I want more creativity in peoples’ lives, and I also want young people to believe that any passion, no matter how weird it may be, can be translated into a job,” she said.
The website features people as well-known as Stacy London from TLC’s show “What Not To Wear” and Tufts alumna Nina Gordon (LA ’89) of the band Veruca Salt. But Unger also made an effort to feature people who are hardly known at all.
“I was so drawn to the concept of seeing all of these people with the lives that I wanted, really laid-back and doing all sorts of really ‘weird’ things, like this woman who makes little pins and buttons out of bark — and she makes a living out of that,” Unger said.
Coincidentally, Morning Glory also stemmed from Unger’s own morning routine. Before going to work, she would sort through her emails and look at the 20 or so messages she received each day from college-aged students looking for a way to start out in the arts. Unger looked at her piles of emails and realized she wanted to provide guidance.
“My ex-intern called me last week and asked for help. In four hours, she had three interviews set up for her,” Unger said. “I enjoy making a difference in peoples’ lives. I want young people to see all the different paths in the arts. I’ve been working on it for so long that it’s my making cufflinks out of twigs.”
Originally from New York, Unger’s creative streak has taken some unconventional turns of its own, starting as early as her days on the Hill. At Tufts, she started in the five-year combined degree program at Tufts and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She later left the program and opted to pursue an English major and focus on photography.
“I ended up just graduating with English and taking extra photo classes — I was really just interested in photo and nothing else,” she said.
Post-graduation, she returned to England, where she had studied her junior year, a move that introduced her to the music-video scene, after which she spent a decade in the movie business.
In 1999, she began working at the U.S.-based Ad Council, a nonprofit that helps to promote public service campaigns through icons and slogans, including “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk” and Smokey Bear’s forest fire campaign. The job, Unger said, was interesting, but left something to be desired for her.
“It was a very rewarding job, but at some point you want more than just the work and high heels,” she said.
To explore her creativity further, Unger returned to her European roots, a decision which launched her on an unexpected journey.
“My mom is French, so I quit my job, sold my furniture and left for France for three months. It was August of 2004, and I said I’d be home for Christmas. I’m still here,” she said. “I was just moving around, searching — but it wasn’t restless moving. It was like being on an unreligious pilgrimage, looking for something but not exactly knowing what it was.”
Unger found a job in France at a contemporary art gallery, a job which introduced her to art a step further from film, she said. This was a turning point for Unger, as she began to gain exposure to new creative masters.
And her new home base, she said, offered another perk — a shift in thinking from the American concept of work to France’s more laid-back attitude.
“In France, it’s more about work to live than live to work,” Unger said. “That whole paradigm shift let me step away more and more from high-paying, high-profile jobs.”
Correction: This article has been amended from its original version, which may have erroneously implied that Melissa Unger left her position at the Ad Council due to her displeasure with the organization, rather than her desire to explore other opportunities. The statement, “The job, Unger said, was interesting, but left something to be desired,” should have read, “The job, Unger said, was interesting, but left something to be desired for her.”