Anthony Lauro Brings Passion
to Education, Public Art
By Leon M. Rubin
When Anthony Lauro was on the faculty of the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio 20 years ago, the school and the Columbus Museum of Art once sponsored “A Day Without Art” to raise awareness about AIDS. To illustrate their point, the museum covered all its paintings with white sheets – hiding them from view.
Although he appreciated the message, Lauro remembers thinking that the tactics didn’t go far enough. “They should have covered the cars, the buildings, everything. Art is everywhere,” he observes. “It’s part of the fabric of our society.”
As a member of the Broward Cultural Council’s Public Art & Design (PAD) Committee, Lauro wants to engage Broward County residents and visitors in conversations not only about where art is – but what it is.
To cite just one example, he notes that people frequently stop to have their photos taken next to the Hope sculpture outside the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale, where Lauro has served as deputy director and director of the art school since 2005. “It’s a destination,” he says. When the museum completes the installation of four monumental murals on the outside of its Edward Larrabee Barnes-designed building later this year, they will add even more appeal to the already memorable venue.
“We want to engage drivers and people passing by. Art is not just painting and sculpture,” he says. “Art can exist on the exterior of a building – not just inside. It’s the color of the buildings, the architecture, the plantings. The aesthetics of the environment are very important.”
Lauro has been working to bring art to people – be they students, museum visitors or passersby – since the mid-1970s, when he joined the Columbus College of Art and Design as an instructor. Over the next 20 or so years, he rose through the ranks – eventually becoming a full professor, chairman of the Department of Photography and later dean of media studies (which encompassed photography, film, video, animation and computer animation).
After a brief foray into the business world, he became director of education at the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale in 2004 – satisfying an urge to get back to teaching. “It was very rewarding for many years,” he explains. “I love the feedback from the kids. I always knew what was going on because I was teaching them. When I moved away from the college for awhile, I felt I had lost that touch.”
Lauro knew Irvin Lippman, director of the museum, from the time that Lippman was director of the Columbus Museum of Art and, together, they started the museum’s Studio School. Offering a wide range of classes to school-age children as well as adults, the school quickly became popular with students “from first grade to 90,” Lauro says proudly.
“With cutbacks in art programs in schools, we’ve become the safety net for the kids who are really interested in art,” Lauro states. “We provide merit- and need-based scholarships. If a person is interested, we accommodate them. There’s no reason why we should not educate kids who are interested in the visual arts. That’s very important to me.”
Lauro’s own arts education began at an early age. As he was growing up in the Bronx, his mother – who was an artist – introduced him to museums. He developed an appreciation for art and aspired to be an advertising designer until a childhood accident – in which he tragically lost an arm – changed his direction.
He gravitated toward photography, earned his B.F.A. from the Maryland Institute College of Art and his M.F.A. from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. He has been an artist in residence in Germany and Japan and the recipient of individual artist grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council.
Today, Lauro uses the medium of photography to capture intriguing site-specific installations that he creates in his studio or in museums. “I play optical games, psychological games,” he says. “I deal with perspective and altered perspective. You think you’re seeing one thing but you’re actually seeing something else.”
This process of creating a connection with art is central to Lauro’s view of the importance of public art – and the passion he brings to his role on the Public Art & Design Committee.
“I love being on the committee,” he says. “It’s very frustrating that everyone wants to cut the arts” in the face of tight budgets, “but art is not frivolous. You can’t just look at the money that’s spent. If you create something really special, it becomes a destination.
“Look at Chicago,” he continues. “People go there to look at the art. Culture is the biggest tourist attraction. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same thing.”