Mixmaster presents "100 Creatives," in which we feature cultural entrepreneurs of Dallas in random order. Lauren Cross knew she wanted to start a gallery when she was living in London as an undergraduate student. She'd transferred from University of Texas at Arlington, just a car ride from her family, to Richmond -- home to The American International University in London -- to study art. That's where she says she fell in love with the gallery, and came into her own as an artist.
Her journey to WoCA Projects, a Fort Worth space dedicated to showing the works of underrepresented artists, was a winding but focused one. On what was meant to be a short visit home, she met her husband, with whom she moved to Boston. There she enrolled in an MFA program, with an emphasis on artistic independence. She became versed in feminist and social justice theories, and fluent in the language of exclusion. Not just in textbooks, but in her own artistic experience -- an issue she never experienced in London. Eventually she and her husband made their way back to Dallas, where she enrolled in a doctorate program at Texas Women's University with scholarship in social justice and women's studies. And nearly three years ago, she opened the doors to WoCA.
"I'm a believer that just because you're an artist doesn't mean you can't do other things," says Cross.
When did you start creating art? I started creating art when I was little, but I don't think I necessarily thought I was creating art. I had exposure to art at a young age. We always had art supplies at my house, but my mom didn't ever create "art time" for us, I just always had this draw to it. I randomly would pick up watercolors and my mom never bothered me, she would just ask what I was working on.
So you started as a painter? Well, I was always fascinated with photography, because that was how my family told our history. In order for me to learn it, I had to look at pictures and I'd ask my grandmother what pictures she had. I had this connection to those old photos, and that sensibility comes up in my work. Around 10, I wanted a camera, and at one point my dad was at a bus station with someone who was selling all that he had to get from point A to point B, and he sold my dad his camera. I became sort of a documentarian about everything. But I never took an official class until college. I mean, I wouldn't say I became an artist until college.
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So, you went to UTA for art? *laughs* No, actually. Nursing. I had some bad experiences with art teachers in school, and by high school I'd grown more focused on band -- I played the French horn. But I didn't want to go to school for that. I admired my aunt who was a nurse and the way other people admired her. But when I was doing nursing in college, I realized everyone else was really passionate about this and I wasn't. I didn't care, and I knew that was a problem. I did this self-reflective analysis about what I should be doing, and when I looked back through my childhood, the times when I was the most happy were when I was making art. But I grew up middle class, so being an artist didn't really make sense. Ironically, my parents were very supportive.
Where did WoCA Projects come from? When I graduated from Richmond, I really fell in love with the galleries. All we did was go to galleries, so I learned by seeing. In London everything is very out-there. I really fell in love with gallery culture. I said then that I wanted to run a gallery. I learned more about art, and the discrepancies in the art world in regard to race and gender, not just by reading about it but through my own experiences. In my MFA program, I really became aware of myself and I've always had this mindset that it's not just about me. When I got into the doctoral program, where I focus on women's studies and multicultural studies, I thought, "Now I have the language and the credentials to actually justify this."
Have you been happy with the result? When I started WoCA, I got myself geared up for all kinds of war wounds. But surprisingly people liked it. And I realized, well, we've made some progress. What people have learned about talking about women of color and their experiences, is that we have to include everyone in that conversation. Anyone can show in WoCA, but we have that social justice mission, and we're about showing artists who won't get that opportunity somewhere else. It took some time to strike that balance. It's been nice to hear people say they came in expecting one thing and they came out thinking something else. It's been nice to know that when you're trying to accomplish a social activism goal, it can be done in an accessible way. Not that it has to be warm and gooey all the time, but that it can be accessible.
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