Member Spotlight #23: Lauren Goshinski, Freelance Creative Director
Lauren shares her journey of being a freelance curator in North America. Fearless and unrelenting, she gives us a peak of what it’s like to carve your own path. [Interview by Alix Vadot]
“Does a fish in water think about swimming?” This is how Lauren Goshinski, aka Boo Lean, describes her immersion in the arts.
Her dedication to creating space in North America for forward-thinking musicians and media artists is reflected in the roles she has taken on over the years (in addition to being a DJ herself). From co-founding Pittsburgh-based VIA Festival, social club 6119, and gFx collective for women and non-binary creatives in night life, to booking talent for clubs (such as Hot Mass and Cobra), and recently co-directing the Vancouver-based New Forms Festival, Lauren has unquestionably earned her place as a leader in the underground music and arts movement taking place in the U.S. today.
Lauren is spontaneous, forward-thinking, tenacious, real — and her passion is contagious. Nothing she does is without purpose. When choosing to take projects on, she is invigorated by institutional critique, and strives to support artists who are themselves seeking to affect systemic change.
She has presented a powerful roster of talent along the way, from pioneering musicians like ESG, Richard Devine, and DJ Marcelle, to game-changers like Kelela, Junglepussy, BEARCAT, Oneohtrix Point Never, Nene H, NAAFI, Lafawndah, Zebra Katz, Cakes da Killa, Aurora Halal, Laurel Halo, Juliana Huxtable, and visual artists working across film, VR, and more.
Born in New Jersey, Lauren moved to Pittsburgh around the age of 12 and, since college, has poured her energy into invigorating the music and cultural scenes that exist, and those that lack, in the city. Starting with discrete audiovisual events, Lauren and a team of like-minded promoters launched VIA in 2010, as a full-blown festival and event series that explored new relationships between sound, visuals, technology, and scenes. She built up VIA as an international platform, while holding down her full-time job, first at Carnegie Mellon University then as a curator for a film and arts non-profit organization. Holding down two full-time jobs (as Lauren puts it), is common in the U.S., where cultural funding remains limited and is often not perceived to align with nightlife culture.
“One way I explained [VIA] was where the gallery meets the club. I was blending my understanding [and the history] of sonic and visual movements that were happening in club culture, with what most people would expect ‘art’ to be, in a gallery. I was bending those rules, breaking the system apart and starting to create new languages, because I saw artists doing that, but no platform could accurately reflect it.”
VIA — from the word itself, meaning “by way of” or “passing through” (and a play on A/V) — was an invitation to see the city from a new perspective, to create, and to feel. Even more, it was a place to merge disciplines and communities locally, nationally, and internationally.
“I thought of it as a laboratory. The festival followed a story of change that’s been happening in Pittsburgh for the last ten years. I learned about the really complex ways that cultural work intersects with gentrification, and development of the city. My motivations were to preserve — or, at the very least, mark — spaces in time, through cultural activity. If we knew that something was under development and was inevitably going to change, I was very idealistic about taking over or populating this space with underground culture for at least a period of time, so that that memory becomes part of that space, before it turned into a Chipotle or something.”
Lauren’s search for unoccupied spaces quite literally opened doors. In 2012, Lauren and the VIA team were offered a lease on a dilapidated building in East Liberty — “Ground Zero for some of the worst gentrification that’s happened in recent history in Pittsburgh”.
In what was to become 6119, “When we walked in, it was like frozen in time. It had been raided 10–15 years before. There were still drinks on the bar. All the memberships were in the filing cabinet. When we started reading through all the files, I realized this was mostly a gay club over the last 50 years [that is was open].”
The club also seemed to have been a haven for Pittsburgh’s underground ball scene in the 80s and 90s. Lauren called an artist and archivist — Harrison Apple — who happened to be researching queer nightlife histories in the area at that time, in what became the Pittsburgh Queer History Project.
“Harrison archived the entire club. We went through it layer by layer like you would excavate an archaeology site. We then contacted our peers who needed space who ran queer parties, club nights, and QTPOC groups like True T who joined in and threw a bunch of balls as part of the programming.” Learning about and celebrating the history of scenes, and continuing their legacy in a new way, is a thread that runs through many of Lauren’s projects.
Unfortunately, 6119 closed its doors two years later, at the mercy of large-scale developers. “We couldn’t retain the social club license, and got buried in all this other legal stuff. It was just not possible. We were too small.”
Lauren’s work in creating worlds for self-expression is second nature to her. She explains that “as a child, [she] would create worlds and bring together all different casts of characters to create an experience — kind of like a movie director.”
In her role as a curator, she often pairs together audio and visual artists to commission new performances and immersive experiences. ASMR-NPC is a project that Lauren developed specifically for a 13-story atrium in Pittsburgh’s Union Trust Building — a testament to her ambitious exploration of relationships between technology, sound, and space. Inspired by the atrium’s acoustics and stunning architecture, she worked with “internet avatar artist” LaTurbo Avedon and YouTube personality Brittany ASMR to create a surreal virtual reality, binaural ASMR “spa” experience. Check out the project here.
Expanding connections between scenes is another important part of how Lauren operates to help affect change.
In addition to shesaid.so, she is part of various networks to create solidarity between organizers and opportunities for artists. As a board member of International Cities of Advanced Sound, she stays connected with directors from 30 international festivals. Of those festivals, Kampala-based Nyege Nyege resembles VIA’s younger, more DIY structure, while following similar mandates as more mature programs like CTM, Unsound, and Mutek, which receive larger amounts of cultural funding.
“It’s a huge opportunity to meet people that you look to for inspiration. Now I can sit in a room with them and talk about how to build pathways for cultural exchange, one-to-one. A lot of my survival was dependent on that network.”
This journey, she warns, is not always as romantic as it sounds…
VIA ran for 8 seasons, until a severe leg injury in 2018, coupled with layoffs at the non-profit she worked for due to lack of funding, marked a sharp turning point in her career, forcing her to move into freelancing full-time. “It’s very hard for most people to freelance in this line of work. And I think anyone reading that who freelances would agree. This is a daily struggle. It started forcing me to find different ways to apply my skills. And I’m still going through that process.”
The creative industry is fueled by freelancers, yet that role comes with many difficulties and often comes out of a period suffering. “There’s a lot of things in this world that are out of your control that you have to contend with, along with the industry being a really hard place to navigate.”
As she was getting back on her feet (literally and metaphorically), Lauren was invited to co-direct and curate the 2019 New Forms Festival, along with JS Aurelius from Ascetic House in Vancouver, and CCL, who had been living in Seattle. The festival was a chance for her to once again weave together an intricate web of connections. “Lots of times when you create these festivals from the ground up, you’re creating them [within a space and with people you are familiar with]. But in this case, it was three people from three different parts of North America brought together.”
One of Lauren’s goals for New Forms was “to make purposeful connections between Vancouver and Pittsburgh.” Through the festival, she was able to connect her peers from Pennsylvania-based Honcho PGH with Vancouver-based Public Disco — a collaboration she has hope will last beyond the festival.
Any advice for someone who might want to follow in her footsteps?
“The real talk is that this work can hurt. But you need to stay nimble. For a very long time, I balanced my time between two worlds. I was happy to work in a university and a non-profit — they aligned with my morals. But it’s also how I got my healthcare and had my salary every year, and I essentially worked two full-time jobs. The minute I was off one job, I was working on my own business. I think that I carried that work ethic into freelancing, where I’m always trying to make the most of every situation. But sometimes you’re better off saying no to certain jobs that don’t align, or find ways to allow yourself a bit more time or freedom to stay connected with a community of artists. It’s very much about solidarity within a community, to feel like you can survive in this industry, interestingly.”
“I still believe that folks behind the scenes are eating shit, to be honest. Even though we’re the drivers behind events that feed this ecosystem, we can seem invisible, because most of the attention is paid to who is on stage. So many female-identifying producers and curators also get written out of the pantheon. There is a consistent expectation that women have to endure — to be always absorbent, always patient. People in this work often feel like they can’t crack. They can’t express if they are upset about something for fear of losing an opportunity. We need to work across the industry to demand livable wages for cultural producers, and push government to protect nightlife and atypical spaces. Without this, a large swath of careers, events, spaces, and opportunities for artists, will cease to exist.”
By acknowledging this, and continuing to advocate for support behind-the-scenes in her projects, she hopes that the visibility and value of cultural producers is heightened.
Conversing with Lauren led to raw, unashamed conversation.
“It’s alright to cry,” she laughed. As was once said famously on Sesame Street.
Overpowering tears. Tears of happiness. Tears of pride. Tears of fatigue.
Lauren recently cried at a Beverly Glenn Copeland show at MoMa PS1. “I went to go see him and openly just sobbed in the middle. You can also have really happy cries.”
For your listening pleasure, here is a playlist curated by Lauren Goshinski [boo lean] on Currents Alpha a.currents.fm
Lauren is a creator, an inspirational soul, and a change-maker driven by purpose. Our conversation was political from beginning to end. Unfortunately, today, arts and culture are at risk in North America. Funding models are not like anything that exists in the EU, and freelance curators like her don’t get the support they need. Gentrification is pushing out artists, something New Forms and Vancouver on the whole have faced at an alarming rate. Weeks before announcing the 2019 program, New Forms lost access to their long-time venue due to issues related to development. Thanks to the team’s ingenuity and community partnerships they were able to find a temporary home, but a need for sustainable space remains. Dozens of cultural spaces in the city are also caving under skyrocketing rent and tax codes, making it nearly impossible to afford events, let alone keep the doors open. As Lauren’s hometown, Pittsburgh, continues to change, a future for diverse platforms and communities there is also threatened. These stories demonstrate the extent to which artists and cultural workers in North America need support and protection.
For more examples of the work Lauren does, you can visit her website.