Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Some of the best art shows in Dallas happen in the smallest spaces. Take The Safe Room at the Texas Theatre, the lovely little room turned gallery tucked away at the top of the mostly hidden staircase. In early 2013 when Lauren Gray reached out the guys at the historic movie house about curating some art shows somewhere in the theater, this was the space they chose. And almost every month she presents new art shows, mostly by local emerging artists, made almost more engaging by the setting.
Before The Safe Room, Gray co-founded the former And/Or Gallery with Paul Slocum, which was one of the go-to spaces in Dallas during its three year life, from 2006-09. So, she's not new to the gallery game, but she brings a fresh energy to the space picking artist after artist from Dallas or elsewhere who seem destined to blow up.
The Safe Room, was it your idea or how did you get involved? It was my idea. I emailed the guys that run the Texas Theatre and asked them if I could curate shows there. They showed me the Safe Room and I thought it would work as a weird tiny gallery space. So far it has, since April 2013.
What kind of art do you try to program in the space? I don't aim for a specific type of work. The only thing I say to artists that show there is that I want them to feel free to max out their shows as installations, if they choose to do that. I like it when the space is really transformed and used in a way that couldn't be done in another space. Other than that the art is always different, so the shows are always very different, and I like it that way.
You're an artist yourself, describe your practice or maybe what you've been working on lately or both. I've been working on photography-based works lately. Mainly abstracted or constructed space work, but I also like to drive outside of the city a lot and discover new places and take pics there. I have props that I'll insert into landscapes, stuff like that. I recently took pics at this huge paper and plastic recycling place and I was placing logs around there. Got some strange looks that day. I have a ton of stuff in my car so I'm as ready as possible for impromptu inspiration. I also work in my apartment on constructed pieces. I'm applying to grad schools to focus on photography and I'm experimenting more. It's super fun.
Do you view curation as a practice of art, or how do you approach it? Yeah I do see it as an art because I contribute a lot of time, suggestions, and money to the shows. Some curators want control, but I think I let control go more than most. I think it works out because I try to support their visions of how they'd like to use the space, and the artists like that. I'm not in this for money so I'm not thinking about work to sell. I'd also like to do my own public art, or at least curate it or be involved in a collective. There's a great collective in New Orleans called New Orleans Airlift that I've been following that makes fantastic public installation art. I actually emailed a landowner in Oak Cliff (where I stay) recently and asked if they would let me build huts as a public art piece. The guy that owned the land turned out to be an architect and said he thought it was a good idea but he thought he might sell his land soon so it wasn't the right time. There's so much building going on here right now I guess ain't nobody got time for that right now when there's land to be sold!
Are you teaching right now? I'm not teaching right now, but I am the instructional assistant in the art department at El Centro College in downtown Dallas, which has been a great learning experience and is a great job. I have assisted though and I love it. I try to encourage the students to be into whatever they're learning, for sure.
You're a native to Dallas, what keeps you here? Have you ever left only to return? Well my parents and friends mainly but I also think it's a great city with its own character and with a lot of diversity, and it's very affordable compared to a lot of other cities. It's like Houston, but just different. Not as trendied out or expensive as Austin has become so there's more room to create here. Plus Fort Worth and Denton being close by offer a lot as well...I mean Denton has the great music scene and draws acts the rest of DFW may not, and the stockyards in Fort Worth is such a weird, real deal cowboy land, and the museum district is so nice there. Ideally I like to drive out to Possum Kingdom as well if I make it to Fort Worth. But yes, I did move to Austin and Cincinnati at certain points and wound up returning to Dallas.
Describe your routine on a good day in Dallas. Hmm. Well I'd probably wake up and go take a walk around Kidd Springs Park listening to something nice on my headphones. I'd probably get a fat breakfast burrito and then go for a drive around Dallas and take pics of weird things/people around the city...Then go to King Spa and and get a massage and eat Korean Food. Then go to Texas Theatre with friends to catch an indie film or band or act? Something like that.
100 Creatives: 100. Theater Mastermind Matt Posey 99. Comedy Queen Amanda Austin 98. Deep Ellum Enterpriser Brandon Castillo 97. Humanitarian Artist Willie Baronet 96. Funny Man Paul Varghese 95. Painting Provocateur Art Peña 94. Magic Man Trigg Watson 93. Enigmatic Musician George Quartz 92. Artistic Luminary Joshua King 91. Inventive Director Rene Moreno 90. Color Mavens Marianne Newsom and Sunny Sliger 89. Literary Lion Thea Temple 88. Movie Maestro Eric Steele 87. Storytelling Dynamo Nicole Stewart 86. Collaborative Artist Ryder Richards 85. Party Planning Print maker Raymond Butler 84. Avant-gardist Publisher Javier Valadez 83. Movie Nerd James Wallace 82. Artistic Tastemakers Elissa & Erin Stafford 81. Pioneering Arts Advocates Mark Lowry & Michael Warner 80. Imaginative Director Jeremy Bartel 79. Behind-the-Scenes Teacher Rachel Hull 78. Kaleidoscopic Artist Taylor "Effin" Cleveland 77. Filmmaker & Environmentalist Michael Cain 76. Music Activist Salim Nourallah 75. Underground Entrepreneur Daniel Yanez 74. Original Talent Celia Eberle 73. Comic Artist Aaron Aryanpur 72. Classical Thespian Raphael Parry 71. Dance Captain Valerie Shelton Tabor 70. Underground Culture Mainstay Karen X. Minzer 69. Effervescent Gallerist Brandy Michele Adams 68. Birthday Party Enthusiast Paige Chenault 67. Community Architect Monica Diodati 66. Intrepid Publisher Will Evans 65. Writerly Wit Noa Gavin 64. Maverick Artist Roberto Munguia 63. Fresh Perspective Kelsey Leigh Ervi 62. Virtuosic Violinist Nathan Olson 61. Open Classical's Dynamic Duo Mark Landson & Patricia Yakesch 60. Rising Talent Michelle Rawlings 59. Adventurous Filmmaker Toby Halbrooks 58. Man of Mystery Edward Ruiz 57. Inquisitive Sculptor Val Curry 56. Offbeat Intellect Thomas Riccio 55. Doers and Makers Shannon Driscoll & Kayli House Cusick 54. Performance Pioneer Katherine Owens 53. Experimental Filmmaker and Video Artist Mike Morris 52. Flowering Fashioner Lucy Dang 51. Insightful Artist Stephen Lapthisophon 50. Dallas Arts District 49. Farmer's Market Localvore Sarah Perry 48. Technological Painter John Pomara 47. Progressive Playmakers Christopher Carlos & Tina Parker 46. Purposive Chef Chad Houser 45. Absorbing Artist Jeff Gibbons 44. Artistic Integrator Erica Felicella 43. Multi-talented Director Tre Garrett 42. Anachronistic Musician Matt Tolentino 41. Emerging Veteran Actor Van Quattro 40. Festival Orchestrator Anna Sophia van Zweden 39. Literary Framer Karen Weiner 38. Man Behind the Music Gavin Mulloy 37. The Godfather of Dallas Art Frank Campagna 36. Rising Star Adam A. Anderson 35. Artist Organizer Heyd Fontenot 34. Music Innovator Stefan Gonzalez 33. Triple Threat Giovanni Valderas 32. Cultural Connector Lauren Cross 31. Critical Artist Thor Johnson 30. Delicate Touch Margaret Meehan 29. Fashion Forward Charles Smith II 28. Dedicated Artist Carolyn Sortor 27. Political Cyber Banksy Wylie H Dallas 26. Dance Preserver Lisa Mesa Rogers 25. Rob 'Ain't No Creative Like A Bow-Tie-Wearing Creative' Shearer 24. Scholar of the Stage Susan Sargeant 23. Photographer of Record Justin Terveen 22. Music Man Jeffrey Liles