OZ Arts Nashville was founded as a non-profit in 2013, and Lauren Snelling is the acting artistic director. A native of North Carolina and a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, Lauren did not first discover her passion for presenting in the arts until a study abroad trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. From there, she moved to Australia, where she worked as everything from a theater manager to stage manager for the Sydney Olympics Opening Ceremony. She returned stateside, first to New York then to Asheville, NC, and now calls Music City her home. She works alongside Rus Snelling, her husband and production manager and lighting designer at OZ Arts, and together they are raising a beautiful daughter.
With a the help of a small-but-mighty team, Lauren is helping to establish OZ Arts as a renowned contemporary arts center by showcasing art of various disciplines and genres. Her excitement for the growth of the arts community is contagious, and her ability to draw crowds to OZ’s West Nashville location is noteworthy. It is with excitement that we introduce Lauren Snelling as today’s FACE of Nashville.
Tell us a little bit about OZ Arts Nashville.
OZ Arts is a contemporary performing and visual arts center. Our main focus is to support artists with time and space to present works that are stimulating and pushing the boundaries of their particular field. We have a unique opportunity and responsibility to give artists whose work reflects what is going on with humanity a platform from which they can communicate important messages in a medium that is current.
We work with visiting artists from all over the United States — and we have brought in a few artists from overseas. We also work with a large number Nashville-based artists. The idea with that is that we are we are bringing artworks here that Nashvillians would have to leave the city to see otherwise. We are giving people the opportunity to see something and witness a type of work that we think is extraordinary. We are bringing it here to Nashville — so they do not have to go to Brooklyn or Miami or Boston or Chicago to see it.
Our artistic program includes main stage productions, TNTs, The Artists’ Lounge and educational initiatives. TNTs, which we plan with artists well in advance and present once a quarter, allow us to spotlight local artists’ works on the same scale as a visiting artistic program. Monthly, we have The Artists’ Lounge, which is free and situated in an intimate setting. This is a more experimental program that allows artists to try out new things or explore new collaborations and get their work in front of a live audience.
With every artistic program we present, we aim to have an educational component of some kind. We hope to develop a more robust series of outreach initiatives in the future, but at this point, we are still young. One initiative is OZ School Days, which we started at the advice of Metro Nashville Arts Commissioner Jen Cole. It primarily takes place on the days Metro Public Schools are out of session but parents are working (such as President’s Day and Columbus Day). Kids ages 5-15 go to Centennial Performing Arts Studios (OZ Arts’ partner for OZ School Days) from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and explore four different disciplines of art. Each day is focused on a different theme — fame, courage, choice — and the theme is generally related to the main stage program taking place at that time.
Particularly with contemporary art, people often feel like they don’t know enough going in the door so they choose not to go. When actually, it should feel just the opposite. Contemporary art means anything goes. You don’t have to arrive knowing very much about the program, you just have to have an open mind. That is what we are trying to communicate as we cultivate new audiences for OZ.
How have people reacted to this new-to-Nashville concept of art?
There has been an incredible amount of support. The arts community here is really unique and special. When I first arrived, Tim Ozgener told me that people in Nashville really want to see things succeed. I had a New Yorker attitude and was hesitant to believe him, but it is actually true! We have been so fortunate to have local colleagues — from Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Parnassus Books and the Belcourt to Nashville Rep, Actors Bridge, and the Nashville Ballet — who have been extremely supportive. Within our field, we have received nothing but great feedback and enthusiasm.
Getting the word out to Nashville about our programs was a real test when we first arrived, but the reactions from the community have been overwhelmingly positive. Our programs do not consist of mainstream artists, so our audiences have had to either do their research or go out on a limb; luckily people have been adventurous and had a curiosity that transcends the unknown. Now I just want more of Nashville to know about OZ Arts and I want artists and audiences to feel like its their place. There are accessible programs for everybody, and we are proud to have so far cultivated incredible diversity in our audiences from age to ethnicity.
I am really happy with the way that people have reacted and I am excited to see it grow.
What have been the most memorable productions/presentations since its OZ Arts’ opening in 2014?
There is something memorable in every presentation. To me, seeing the space transformed in so many different ways is what is so remarkable.
One totally crazy thing we did was bring BANDALOOP here. The sure feat of staging a vertical dance company in multiple locations is something I (and our tech team!) will never forget. Another big feat was co-curating the Tricia Brown Dance Company’s Retrospective in Three Parts. Because of the impact Patricia Brown has had on the contemporary dance world, it was an important show for me. Also, hearing Philip Glass talk about OZ being a great place for music will never leave me for the rest of my life. These were some of the memorable ones, but there are so many more.
What are you most looking forward to during the 2016-17 season?
Since I Suppose, which is taking place now, is really something for the adventurous. It is not for everyone, but I believe it is one of the most fascinating ways to experience art. It really hit home for me.
MacArthur Fellow Michelle Dorrance & Dorrance Dance will perform on electronic tap floors in December and in February. I am very excited that we have been able to commission our first large-scale visual art work by an artist who will be visiting Nashville, Heeseop Yoon.
What excites you the most as far as working within the growing art scene in Nashville?
The quality of the artists and their vision is what most excites me. There is a lot of support and camaraderie within the arts community in Nashville. We experienced a lot of that that with Tony Youngblood during OZ Arts Fest. His work, Modular Art Pods, involved more than 100 artists, which was just phenomenal.
The artists who are moving here and are working here, they get it. The caliber of their work is very is really good and they have a down-to-earth sense about them. People are making really important work here that holds its own across the country.
Do you have any piece of advice that you lean on?
A friend gave me this advice — and I have to remind myself of it a lot: breathe and let time work its magic because often if you are always hurrying to fix things, you will spend all of your time fixing. You need to let everything settle before you react. Knee-jerk reactions are no help to anyone.
And art is extraordinarily important in all of our lives, but it isn’t open heart surgery. When you are in the moment, you have to remember that you are not saving lives and everything is not an emergency.
What is your next dining destination?
What are three things you can’t live without?
Cheese, my goldendoodle (Squiggles) and coffee.
Thank you, Lauren! And thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s photos.
Check out the new “FACES of TriStar” series. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’re thrilled to introduce you to Dr. Casey Chollet, a radiation oncologist at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at TriStar Health and today’s FACE of TriStar. Click here to read how she’s changing lives of Middle Tennesseans!