Lauren A Zelaya, Brooklyn Museum’s Assistant Curator of Public Programs
We discovered Lauren via Brooklyn Magazine's 30 Under 30 round up list. Based on the brief bio, we knew we wanted to speak to this incredibly smart and talented woman. Lauren, hustler and curator, shares her story on how her career has been a linear path and how art can impact society. Read her spotlight below about living an artist life full-time:
Lauren, why are you passionate about the arts and how early on did you discover this?
I believe art can be life-affirming and help us connect with our sense of self and each other. Visual art and images are powerful and shape so much of the way we see ourselves in the world and what possibilities we are able to imagine. My mom started putting me in art classes as early as she could. Art has long been a means for me to explore my identity and as someone who didn’t always see my experiences reflected back to me in the world, it eventually helped me articulate who I am and find my community.
Let’s get political - how do you see art making social changes?
Creativity is a useful tool for problem solving. Art can teach us how to imagine something other than our reality--whatever that may be-- and if we harness that power a lot of transformation is possible. Social movements have always understood the power of images to communicate messages and to mobilize and build community. Even in the most oppressive conditions, people find a way to make art--oftentimes in ways that are essential to assert their humanity and to survive.
How did your experience at Smith College shaped you into the woman you are today?
My experience on the Board of the student-run radio station at Smith taught me a lot about leadership and collaboration and being a DJ helped me find my voice. It was also where I produced my first events and fell in love with that work. My experience studying Art History there deepened my critical thinking and passion for art. Being able to learn in an environment that prioritizes women, and is inclusive of queer, trans and gender-nonconforming people was so valuable.
In terms of the museums, why is the Brooklyn Museum unconventional compared to other notable museums?
All museums are suffering from histories of colonialism, racism, classism and inequity in general. Some days are exhausting because it feels like so little progress has been made in the field. When I curate programming that puts people who are historically unwelcome in museums at the forefront and receive feedback from visitors about how meaningful it is, it feels worth it.
I hear from a lot of people that they feel more welcomed at Brooklyn Museum than other museums-- and especially from other people of color--that they feel represented in the art and programming here. This is largely thanks to twenty years of our Target First Saturdays (our monthly evenings of free art and cultural programming), which have long been about making people a priority and in particular, centering, welcoming, and producing programming that is relevant to people of color, including the people who live in the neighborhoods that surround the museum.
You mentioned it is a “double-edged sword” when one has the opportunity to work within their passions - can you tell us why you think that and what are some of the benefits of one’s worlds’ integrating?
My personal and work life are super intertwined and it can be challenging to strike a work-life balance and to know when it’s time to rest and recharge or to even recognize what it looks like to fully unplug. Unfortunately in our field, the opportunity to do work you are passionate about can be used to devalue our labor or contributions-- we are often told that low pay is the trade off for being able to do work we love.
It’s a privilege to have a career that reflects my interests and passions and that allows me to show up as my full self in the workplace. I get to be around art, and collaborate with and meet so many brilliant and generous artists and creatives.
In addition to your “day-time” hustle as the Brooklyn Museum’s Assistant Curator of Public Programs, what side projects are you involved in and do you hope those manifest into something more?
I am lucky that I get to manifest a lot of dream projects in the workplace. I am currently organizing a performance series at the Museum for July that will feature new and recent work by female-identified and gender non-conforming artists of Latinx descent working in Brooklyn and the greater NYC area.
Outside of work, I am currently a screener for the Brooklyn Film Festival and host a bi-weekly radio show where I vibe with other creatives and organizers in Brooklyn-- I play an immigrant-centered soundtrack with everything from the cover girls to French Montana and we drink lime-a-ritas. It’s a low-key hobby that keeps me centered and allows me to catch up with people whose work i admire and celebrate them.
To close off, what is the worst and best advice you were given in the pursuit of your career?
You do not need to take unpaid internships in order to make it in this field so don’t listen to people who say that—I hustled and pieced together a lot of freelance work before I landed my full-time job. Thankfully there are a decent amount of paid opportunities in NYC that support emerging professionals in the arts.
The best advice my mentors have given me is to always show up as my full self at work and to find and maintain a support system of like-minded individuals in the field. Non-profit work can be exhausting and having a community of care, support, and good humor is essential.
To see the latest exhibitions at Brooklyn Museum, you can view that here. To learn more about Lauren, you can stalk her on instagram @cch1qu1taa. To listen to radio / podcast project, check out the recent episode here.
Interviewed by Chary