Fuses, switches, doorbells and various knobs make the walls of the Rory Deutsche Reading Room at Highland Park’s Indian Trail School look like a spaceship. Faux windows give kids a view of galaxies and planets.
Little did interior designer Gabrielle Rousso know when she planned the room as a pro bono project almost 10 years ago that it would turn out to be a perfect metaphor for her community-focused work, both paid and volunteer, which is truly out-of-this-world. Having run her own successful interior design firm for 18 years, Rousso is now making Highland Park a destination for fine art as executive director of The Art Center.
“With life being as challenging as it is, the beauty, calmness, passion, serenity and joy that art brings really help people get through the every-day challenges,” says Rousso, 51.
So she’s on a mission to make sure lots of people get to reap art’s rewards. Since becoming director 2 years ago (she served on the board for 10 years before that, including a presidential stint), she’s worked to increase the number of exhibitions and events at the The Art Center.
Before taking her current job, she planned ambitious art festivals as president of the Sisterhood of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El. She’s also led the PTO at Elm Place Middle School School and Indian Trail.
Phew. You’d think she’d be exhausted by now … but you’d be wrong.
With donations and grants to nonprofits suffering with the rest of the economy, Rousso is tasked with doing more with less. She’s most proud of how she’s maintained and grown The Art Center’s school, which offers more than 100 classes per quarter to students ranging from age 3 to 83. She’s doubled the size of the school’s board in the past year.
“I like to make things happen,” she says. “I’m not a small doer.”
And she never has been. With her interior design business, Designs Within, Rousso had commercial and residential clients in both Chicago and the suburbs, including corporations such as Kraft. She still does occasional design work for clients who swear they just can’t live without her.
“I’ve met so many wonderful, interesting people living [on the North Shore],” Rousso says. “I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to make TAC an even better, more successful creative arts location. I’d like us to be the place that people think of to go to in the suburbs.”