Lora Wiley

Alumni Spotlight: Lora Wiley

B.A. 1995
Managing Owner
Au Marché, Lawrence, KS

Tell us about your job, and what you love most about it.

I am the managing owner of Au Marché, which is a European market located in Downtown Lawrence. I opened the store twenty-one years ago and the things I love most about my job are: 1. Being my own boss. 2. Developing meaningful and long-lasting relationships with my customers, staff, and vendors. 3. Surrounding myself on a daily basis with delicious and beautiful inventory!

Describe your path from KU to your current position.

I graduated from KU in December of 1995 with a Bachelor’s degree in art history and French. I did not have a well-laid plan upon graduation. I took a job at a travel company in Lawrence that December and when I learned of the internship program at Sotheby’s in New York City, I applied, and was accepted. I left the travel agency for the East coast and an exciting summer working in the art auction business. I was happy to be moving to a city I had always thought I would love to live in, and thrilled that I’d be using my art history degree.

Being at Sotheby’s every day was an honor, but it was surprisingly disheartening for me to see art as a business and one geared toward luring the highest bidder. My unhappiness in NYC and at Sotheby’s did prompt me to ask myself what I really wanted to do with my life. As I reflected, I remembered coming across a little shop in Aix-en-Provence, France during my year studying abroad that had really pulled at my heart-strings. It was a tiny market with items from the United States. It had things like Oreos and Skittles and Snapple and… it made me feel good! I decided I wanted to open a store like that in the United States, but the opposite, one that sold everyday European items. And, as they say, the rest is history. I came back from New York, I worked jobs that I hated while researching my dream job at night, and two years later was able to open Au Marché in August of 1998.

How did your KU education in art history prepare you for what you are doing now professionally?

Perhaps my KU education in art history didn’t prepare me directly to open a retail store, but it gave me a lot of inspiration and confidence in knowing that it is possible to realize any personal goal. I did not come to KU intending to study art history but I took the intro class my first semester and with every class period I felt more and more wonder and excitement growing inside of me. I was learning about different cultures and time periods and seeing works of art and amazing buildings I had never known existed. My art history degree opened my eyes to so many incredible things that people centuries before had figured out how to make and do, and to the art of the everyday and how it speaks of what is happening right then.

If I hadn’t studied art history, I may have never found true inspiration and a feeling of “I can create this, because it is important to me.” Over my four and a half years studying art history, I saw thousands and thousands of examples, from architecture to paintings to sculptures to furniture, that if you feel it, you can create it and make it be true for you. Au Marché is what I wanted to create and make true for myself.

Why should a KU undergraduate consider majoring in art history?

Studying art history is enriching, mind-expanding, eye-opening… it helps you to see the world through the eyes of the people living at that time. By majoring in art history, one gains the luxury and privilege of dedicating four or more years to the study of what is or was important to different people and different cultures, which in turn allows you the opportunity to learn more about what is important to you and your life.

Lora Wiley and family with President Obama
Lora Wiley and her family with President Obama during his visit to KU in January 2015

Interview conducted by David Cateforis via email September 2019.