When curators look to add depth to an upcoming art exhibit, Lauren Cross’ name is usually high on the list. The artist, professor and entrepreneur wants to bring more diversity to the art world and lift up artists in her community.
Cross, 39, is a board member of Arts Fort Worth, formerly known as the Arts Council of Fort Worth. As the official contractor for the city’s public art program, the organization operates the Fort Worth Community Art Center and helps support local artists.
As an assistant professor of interdisciplinary art and design at the University of North Texas, Cross co-wrote a course to help students think about how they can fit into the creative economy, whether working solo or as an entrepreneur partnering with other businesses and organizations.
“To be an entrepreneur, to me, is a mindset,” Cross said. “It’s a way of life. It’s how you think, how you contribute. So you can be working for an organization or business and be an entrepreneur because you have a certain mindset about how to operate and how to innovate.”
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Cross runs a nonprofit called WoCA Projects, which aims to diversify the contemporary art landscape. To her, the key is to curate exhibitions that can touch the lives of people from different backgrounds.
She also freelances as a curatorial consultant. Cross believes it’s important to have someone to think about diversity, equity and inclusion in art. She makes sure, for example, that writing about a particular exhibition acknowledges different experiences happening in the work, or the experience of the artist that is contributing to the work. Without those elements, viewers can miss the interpretation of the art entirely, Cross said.
“No one wants to be like, well, I’m going to write this person out,” Cross said. “No one says that, but they might unintendedly or not say willfully but sometimes they may not even recognize that they’re doing it. For me, as a person who has a specialty in multicultural studies, it’s easy for me to look at something and say, ‘Oh, we missed something that should be there.’”
Kristen Gaylord, assistant director of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, co-curated the exhibit “Black Everyday” with Cross. When Gaylord started asking around for who to co-curate with, Cross’ name kept coming up. Gaylord said the diversity of Cross’ experience as an artist, entrepreneur, curator and professor is an asset to Fort Worth’s art scene.
“When we’re thinking about putting works in a show by an artist, she knows what it’s like to be an artist,” Gaylord said. “When we’re talking about classes coming to see the exhibition, she knows what it’s like to be a professor. So I think that’s one of the things that makes her so special locally, as well as the fact that she’s been here a long time and is invested.”
Cross considers herself a strong connector. She enjoys helping people network and giving artists who deserve a strong exhibition a platform.
“I’m already in the field looking at diverse artists,” Cross said. “And so then I can offer that to the table to say, ‘Well, have you considered this person? Have you considered that person?’”
Vicki Meek, an independent artist and retired arts administrator, is one of Cross’ mentors.
They met at a conference, where Meek became impressed with the arts space Cross was running at the time. Cross has worked with Meek on exhibitions and at the Dallas Cultural Center. Meek calls Cross a “Superwoman.”
“She’s all over many things, and doing them all exceptionally well,” Meek said. “That’s the thing that’s so amazing about her, is that she doesn’t have to step on any of the things that she takes on. And that includes her being a professor, being a scholar, being an artist and being a mom.”
Meek said there’s very little scholarship around African American art anywhere, much less in Texas. Cross is diligent about making sure when she does a show, there’s a piece of writing to accompany it.
There’s a dearth of facilities that actually cater to specific ethnic-specific groups, Meek said. Cross makes sure people understand the need for more inclusion in existing institutions. She’s a visionary, Meek said – someone who has ideas that can really elevate the cultural conversation in Fort Worth
“Many people … they get into academia, and they disappear,” Meek said. “She got into academia and saw it as an opportunity to expand her reach into the community. So I feel like she’s one of those people who is an asset on a lot of different levels.”
Growing up in Houston, family was everything, Cross said. When she was 10 years old, a relative told Cross that she was going to tell their family’s story. That’s because she was asking lots of questions about her family, Cross recalled.
One family story that shaped her, she said, is that of the origin of her maiden last name, Ausbie. Upon emancipation, Cross’ ancestors who were once enslaved chose to create their own last name so their ancestors could find each other.
“Growing up, I was proud, you know, to be Lauren Ausbie, because I understood that there was a whole, like, family decision, togetherness, trying to hold on to our legacy that was a part of that,” she said.
Recently, Cross’ work has focused on narratives in history within the African American community, culture, language and material. She recently closed a show in Galveston connected to Juneteenth, looking at stories from family members to explore what Juneteenth means.
When people think of art, they often associate the term with cities such as L.A. and New York City, Cross said. There’s still work to be done within Fort Worth to support its own artists, but she hopes visitors will start to link Fort Worth with art in the future, she said.
“I feel blessed that I’ve been able to be a part of projects that really honored our own artists,” Cross said. “But I think it needs to happen more. An arts community thrives based on that, by supporting its own and recognizing that you have good people locally that you don’t always have to go outside of the area to find good people.”
Lauren Cross bio:
Moved to Fort Worth: 2010
Family: Husband, Solomon Cross; two children, Peter and Izzy; Parents, Kenneth and Loretta Ausbie.
Education: Texas Woman’s University, Ph.D. in multicultural women’s and gender studies, 2017, Dissertation Title: WoCA Projects, Building Communities Through Exhibitioning: Curating and Creating Spaces for Women Artists of Color; Lesley University, MFA in visual arts, January 2010; University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington Texas, bachelor’s in photography and media arts, 2001-2004
Work experience: Assistant professor of interdisciplinary art and design studies at University of North Texas (present); founder/curator WoCA Projects (present); Founder/editor, CVAAD Projects (present); program director, IADS open track and arts administration (2018- present); senior lecturer, UNT, interdisciplinary art and design studies (2018-2020); lecturer, UNT, interdisciplinary art and design studies (2016-2018); adjunct professor, UNT, arts education and art history (2015-2016); principal designer and photographer, Shalom Images Enterprises (2006-present); fine artist, Lauren Cross Studio (2003-present); film director and producer, Maes House Productions (2009-present); adjunct professor, Tarrant County College (2015-2016); graduate teaching assistant, Texas Woman’s University (2010-2016); director, Skin Quilt Project (2009-2013); adjunct professor of graphic design, Mount Ada College (2010); editorial research and marketing associate, GLIMPSE Journal (2009); director of gallery advertising, Art New England (2009); Mac specialist, Apple (2007 to 2008); Field representative, Salvation Army (2006-2008)
Volunteer experience: Board member, Arts Fort Worth; volunteering with various organizations on curating
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: “I believe that everything happens for a reason. In my life, I may have been disappointed or sad that something didn’t work out, or I felt like I was like, “Hey, I could have done this. But I wasn’t given that opportunity.” Just hold on a little bit. Just hold on a little bit. Don’t give up. Just keep doing what you’re doing. And I feel like there’s been far greater things that have happened than what I would have imagined. And it’s because I’ve just said, “OK, I’m disappointed about that, but I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing.” And eventually the right opportunities came that were better and a better fit for me.”
Best advice ever received: “Family is important. They’re the ones that are dealing with you when you’re not at work or when you’re not working on this big project. And so, finding ways to honor them is important in what you do, to love them in what you do, I think is important. That’s some of the best advice I’ve received. Because who would want to be doing all this and lose your loved ones or you know, not have them to really have that connection?”
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.