Feature Story

Get to Know: Lauren Ross

Laumeier Sculpture Park recently welcomed a new arts aficionado as its executive director. Lauren Ross, who began her post this month, is eager to bring her expertise to the 41-year-old institution and hopes to promote the park as a leading cultural institution, locally and nationally. Her 25-year career includes titles like curator at Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma; curator and director of arts programs for the High Line, an outdoor linear public park in her native New York City; and most recently, inaugural curator of the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Contemporary Art in Richmond. “All of those experiences will contribute to what I’ll be doing at Laumeier,” Ross says. “This is the next step at the right time in my career.”

my background …
I have an interest in modern art and an educational background in art history, with a B.A. from Cornell and an M.A. from Hunter College at the City University of New York.

discovering laumeier …
Laumeier has been on my radar for a while. In 2010, I gave a tour of the High Line to a group from Laumeier, and afterward, I signed up for the park’s mailing list. I’ve been keeping tabs on it from afar since then but didn’t get a chance to visit until this process began. I do have some friends and colleagues who have worked in St. Louis, like Paul Ha who was director of the Contemporary Art Museum and Cara Starke of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation. They gave me a sense of what the art scene is like in St. Louis.

nature and art in st. louis …
When I came to visit, I was struck by the plethora of green space. It blew me away. Besides the larger parks like Forest Park and Tower Grove, it seems like every neighborhood in the city is anchored by some sort of green space, which is important to me. That’s where I want to live, where there is art and nature. Also, the quality of art is strong in St. Louis, with places like the art museum, CAM and Kemper Art Museum at Washington University. There are also a number of impressive smaller institutions.

promoting laumeier and its strengths …
With the quality of the art scene in St. Louis, the challenge is to get people to visit Laumeier, which really serves not just St. Louis, but the surrounding counties. It is unique in that it is one of the few well-established sculpture parks in the country, and one of the issues I will focus on is how to serve our regular visitors while raising the park’s profile on a national stage. One thing I like is the programs like summer camps for younger people, the K-12 age group.

working with the community …
Partnerships are crucial, the way institutions share resources. I am hoping to start some conversations in a casual way. I love Laumeier’s program that ‘embeds’ one person at the park for a year. It’s not a professional in the visual art field, but instead someone like a botanist or poet; there is a whole pool of individuals with interesting ideas and work.

getting settled in st. louis …
I’m really looking forward to getting to know the people, being part of the community, finding good food and craft beer and a life outside work. My experience so far is that St. Louis is a welcoming place.

working with contemporary artists …
I figured out early in my career that contemporary art felt right for me and that I wanted to work with living artists. Working artists are a part of our time, what we are living through now; they show the world around us in a different light. Contemporary art hasn’t been written into history yet. It is changing all of the time. It’s exciting. Part of my job is to help people into art. It’s very rewarding helping artists who aren’t well-known yet.

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