Q&A: Lauren Gray of Safe Room Gallery at Texas Theatre

Lauren Gray Photo by Katie Bernet
Lauren Gray Photo by Katie Bernet

The “Safe Room” at the Texas Theatre is so named for an immovable 1930s safe some 4 feet tall. The 200-square-foot room is accessible by a narrow staircase, and it sits solitary at the front of the building like a crow’s nest. The room has been the site of VIP lounges during the Oak Cliff Film Festival and other events. Over the past few months, Oak Cliff resident Lauren Gray has been using the room as a temporary art gallery. Gray already has produced two exhibits there this summer, and she expects a show from artist Sally Glass to open Aug. 10. The Safe Room Gallery is open 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

What gave you the idea to turn this space into a gallery?

The guys [the theater’s management team, Aviation Cinemas] just let me use this room. I live in Oak Cliff, and I’d just been hanging out here all the time. I had been thinking about opening a storefront, and I asked them, and they said “yes,” and they’re letting me do it for free. I have two other day jobs [at All Good Café and a physical therapy clinic], so I’m not really trying to make money, so I just let the artists do what they want, and the guys [Aviation Cinemas] are down for that, too. Nobody’s really here for the money; it’s just to feed the community.

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It’s a pretty cool space.

Yes, it’s got great light, and it works very well as a gallery. It’s got some weird things on the walls [electrical boxes, for example], and then that safe doesn’t move. But I work around all of that. It’s nice having people that are waiting for a movie to start, and they just wander up here. It doubles the audience, I guess.

Tell us about the two shows you’ve had so far.

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The first show was perfect. It was Cassandra Emswiler, and it was all Oak Cliff or Texas Theatre-themed paintings. Her mom and her grandmother grew up in Oak Cliff. The acoustics are really great in this room. So during that show, she played a recording of “Canticles of Praise” because it was a song her mom sang in the choir. The next artist is Sally Glass, and she just told me she’s going to do a sound element, too. [The current] show is really different. It’s a husband and wife [Raychael Stine and Titus O’Brien], and the cheapest painting is, I think, $1,900. Some of Cassandra’s paintings were $60. But [Stine] was an assistant to Richard Patterson, and she just got tenure track at the University of New Mexico, so she’s got cred. I didn’t even know what she was going to put in the show. I hadn’t seen these paintings; she’s just a friend.

What is your background in art?

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I had a gallery called And/Or Gallery with my ex-boyfriend Paul Slocum. We had that from January 2006 to September 2009. So I already know a lot of Dallas artists. But I should say, this is not going to be just Dallas artists.

It’s interesting to me that your day job is not in the art world, yet you’re so committed to promoting art.

I worked for a gallery after college, and I was just bored. It’s selling the same boring work all the time just because that’s what people want to buy, and that’s not fun. I don’t think that would feed me as much as even waiting tables, which sounds weird. Everyone always says, “Do what you love.” But if you do what you love as a job, it can consume you. And I like to be able to leave my work at work.

Why are you doing this?

Because I can do it [laughs]. It’s just for fun. I don’t think art should be about money. I’ve made art, and I’ve never really made any money from it. It’s freedom to do what you want. And I just want to support [the Texas Theatre] and the young art scene. And I hang out here anyway. I don’t have a family to support or anything, so I can do this. 

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