Caroline Cox is an emerging art historian and curator passionate about creating dialogue and sparking change through art. She works as the Research Assistant and Community Manager for Less Than Half, an online space that celebrates women artists past and present. Caroline graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2020 with majors in art history and economics, and her senior thesis focused on race and landscape in the works of Kevin Beasley and Dawoud Bey. She has interned at the New Orleans Museum of Art and spent last year as an Advanced Level Program Intern at the Smithsonian American Art and serving as an AmeriCorps Member at the Notre Dame Center for Civic Innovation where she developed a class for middle schoolers that combined visual thinking strategies and discussion to explore contemporary art and big ideas like identity, home, and the body. Caroline is currently based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
What was the most important thing you learned at your first job in the Arts?
My first position was a summer internship at the New Orleans Museum of Art where I worked mostly with the Grants Manager but also with the entire development team. Going into that summer, I didn’t know much about development or all the different roles in a museum. I loved attending meetings with the development team because I got to see how they interacted with the curators, with the marketing team, with exhibition designers, and just generally across the museum. I think the most important thing I learned was the collaborative spirit of museum work. There are so many people in different roles that play important parts in putting together and ensuring the success of the exhibitions and programming that I was more familiar with from the visitor’s perspective.
Where are you from and what is the arts community like there? How has your upbringing shaped what you do in the arts today?
I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Neither of my parents are very artistic or that interested in the arts, but I have an uncle in New Orleans who is very into fashion and interior design. I grew up exploring the past in antique stores with him, which I think not only inspired my own love of fashion and interior design but influenced my love of art as well. I didn’t grow up visiting a lot of museums or traditional art spaces, but my family started traveling abroad when I was in high school, and I became interested in going to museums and learning history through art.
Studying art history in college, I became really passionate about how we can create more inclusive narratives of art history and more welcoming spaces for people to interact with art and artists. One of my favorite things about art is its ability to tell stories and connect people to new ideas and voices across time and place. Although I didn’t grow up going to traditional art institutions, I did have the privilege of growing up in a culturally rich part of the country, which I think influenced my interest in making art history more inclusive and engaging to a more diverse audience. There is so much history, creativity, and artistic talent in New Orleans and the South more broadly, and I think those stories are so important to share and talk about.
Tell us more about the Less Than Half Salon…
Less Than Half is an online platform dedication to female art, and the Salon is our private online community space. It brings together art historians, artists, gallerists, and anyone with a passion for or special interest in women artists and their work. Every week we’re having really engaging conversations about the place of women in the art world and art history through weekly news roundups, member feature interviews, and Thursday Thoughts, which pose questions about something happening in the art world or members’ experiences as women artists. We also host a bimonthly book club with past topics like Black Feminist Art History and potential future topics like Art and Motherhood. The community is a mix of super engaged commenters and those who prefer to read what’s going on and drop into the occasional event or discussion, but there’s always an interesting conversation going on or someone new to learn from.
What is one thing you do every day that sets you up for success at work?
Working remotely in a job that doesn’t always have the same weekly schedule, I find going into each day with a clear idea of what I want to get done that day really useful. I also have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the solitude that comes with working from home, so I find that my most successful days are the ones where I’m able to sit outside at a local coffee shop or work from home with a friend.
You’ve held roles at various nonprofits. What prompted your transition to Community Manager at Less Than Half?
After my internship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum ended, I was looking for a new position so that I could gain more experience before applying to graduate school in art history. Hall, the Founder and Director of Less Than Half, had emailed one of my professors from Notre Dame who forwarded me her email looking for a research assistant. I reached out to Hall and after talking to her about Less Than Half, my background, and the position that she was envisioning, I was really excited about the opportunity. Her vision for the community at Less Than Half as a space to have truly meaningful dialogue about women artists—something that isn’t always easy to find in the dominant media or art world—and as a platform to share more inclusive narratives of art history was a perfect match for the kind of art history that I’m passionate about. I was also really excited about the opportunity to develop relationships with living artists through the Salon.
What is the best piece of advice you can give about working in the art world?
I’m still in the stage in my career where I will gladly accept any advice about working in the art world, but the best piece of advice I can share is probably the one that has been shared with me the most often, which is to make as many connections as you can. You never know who will become an important figure in your career as it develops. I’ve already noticed people I’ve met during college or earlier in my career having a sustained presence in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. And everyone that I’ve connected with has always been extremely gracious and eager to help, so I think just sending out an email if you come across a new project they’re doing that interests you can keep your name in their mind and possibly lead to new opportunities in the future.
What are you most excited for this year at your company or in the art world as a whole?
I’m hoping that it continues to get safer to attend more in person events during this pandemic era because I would love to be able to connect in person after two years of virtual meetings. With Less Than Half, I’m most excited to continue learning with and from the community and hopefully meet more of the members in person as well.
How do you think the art world can become more transparent?
One thing that we’ve been talking about in the Salon recently is price and salary transparency. The art world can often seem very mysterious and secretive, and I think having greater price and salary transparency could help make things more transparent all around and hopefully more equitable too. Salary transparency can help ease gender and racial pay gaps, and galleries more openly disclosing prices could help female artists and artists of color avoid underpricing their work. We’ve had to rely on crowdsourced spreadsheets to learn about art world salaries, and they consistently highlight the inconsistencies in pay and the big compensation gaps between leadership and everyone else, so I’d love to see institutions themselves taking steps to be more transparent during the hiring process. Data and statistics on funding and diversity efforts are also greatly needed in the art world, especially after so many institutions so publicly committed themselves to diversity, accessibility, equity, and inclusion recently.
What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
I just got back from New York where I was able to see so many great exhibitions, but my favorite by far was Jennifer Packer’s solo exhibition at the Whitney. It was work that you wished you could sit in an empty room with for hours. The way that Packer is able to create such layers of texture through sheer veils of paint and an almost monochromatic color palette is dazzling. I loved discovering the way that she balances representation and abstraction, clarity and obfuscation, and absence and presence to engage with the history and politics of representation—especially as it relates to picturing people of color—and to image a spirit of care and protection in her work. There are some really amazing young artists of color doing such interesting work in portraiture right now, and I’m excited to continue following Packer’s career.
If you could own work by 5 different artists, who would be in your collection?
I feel like my answer to this question constantly changes, and I could fill infinite number of spaces with artists I’d be honored to bring into my life and live with. Right now, I’m going to say Christina Quarles, Kevin Beasley, Ivy Haldeman, Carrie Mae Weems, Diedrick Brackens, and if I could add a few more Qualeasha Wood, Demond Melancon, Erin M. Riley, Wayne Thiebaud, Deana Lawson, Lee Krasner, and Do Ho Suh.