Boss Babes ATX is now Future Front Texas, and the nonprofit is building a creative community across our state with women and LGTBQIA2S+ innovators front and center.
By Stacey Ingram Kaleh, Photos courtesy of Future Front Texas
Future Front Texas wants us to know that creatives can come from anywhere and from any background. Creatives and creativity fuel our communities across nonprofits, industry, government and small businesses. However, when it comes to equitable representation of women, LGTBQIA2S+ folks, BIPOC folks and people with disabilities across creative disciplines and sectors in our state, there’s much work to be done. What does it look like to center these marginalized creatives? That’s a future the team at Future Front Texas (FFTX) asks us to imagine and realize.
Bringing together women and LGTBQIA2S+ creatives, founders and leaders, FFTX is a small nonprofit dedicated to building an inclusive community that nurtures creativity and professional resilience. They design spaces, resources and opportunities to help creators in Texas thrive. Formerly Boss Babes ATX, the nonprofit recently underwent a transformation and rebrand, resulting in the Future Front Texas of today.
“We let go of the pressures of having to be one thing and not change,” says Jane Hervey, founding creative and executive director. “One thing I find really inspiring about our evolution is what I think we genuinely believe at Future Front and hope to inspire in other people, and that is giving yourself the room to experiment and to change. We know more now than we did when we started. We do more; our team is bigger. We’re different. With this rebrand, we gave ourselves permission to rename ourselves, to get specific about what we’re really doing and to do that together.”
Homegrown in Austin, the organization began in 2015 as a grassroots initiative when Hervey started a meetup series born from a blog and the hashtag #bbatx. Boss Babes ATX meetups were designed as spaces where women in creative industries could connect, share resources and support each other. Hervey conceived of the meetups to address a need she identified when conducting a study at the University of Texas at Austin; she examined the ways lack of representation in media and festivals influenced women working in those industries, particularly when it came to their concepts of self, professional aptitudes and ability to build community.
In a short time, the meetups grew and evolved into something bigger than expected: a shared mission. The organization became a nonprofit with four staff members and 15 volunteers in leadership that, in its first six years, hosted more than 100,000 people from across the state at markets, festivals, workshops and conferences and distributed more than $100,000 in grants, commissions and community funds. “When this all started as a blog I created in college, alone, it was about these questions: ‘What does it look like to be supported at work in a creative career?’ and ‘What does it look like to be in creative community if you’re a woman?’ Those questions have expanded to really reflect on gender and sexuality and equity in our communities,” Hervey explains. “We’re still asking that question, ‘What does it look like to be supported in your creative work?’ But we’re asking it together.”
Through Boss Babes ATX, Hervey found the creative community she sought and dreamed of from the outset. That community has now built Future Front Texas alongside her. The rebrand and new name for this collaborative, co-created vision better represents where the organization is today, who it serves and what’s to come.
It’s Okay to Change: Acknowledging a Natural Evolution
The journey from Boss Babes ATX to Future Front Texas was a natural evolution, but not without growing pains, according to Hervey and Cynthia Muñoz, board member and FFTX’s founding vice president of innovative impact, where she has a hands-on role in the nonprofit’s programming and community infrastructure.
“When you start as a series of meetups run out of someone’s savings, and you turn into this nonprofit that is not only doing these meetups but is now doing workshops, markets and festivals and welcoming 20,000-plus visitors a year…there was just this moment where it was like, we are not what we were,” says Hervey.
The organization started working on their name change and rebrand in 2019. Muñoz explains that the organization spent a long time preparing for the rebrand by prioritizing audience research: focus groups, stakeholder meetings and community feedback. “It was a very collaborative process, and we were all really invested,” she says. “What Boss Babes had created was really good, and we didn’t want to lose any of the magic that Jane had created. It was important to us that when we created this new thing that it was just as meaningful and just as welcoming and innovative as the old version of it.”
While there was a lot of love for and attachment to the “Boss Babes ATX” name, there were also issues with it. “Our name felt gendered and loaded, and it started to carry some baggage with it,” says Muñoz. “‘Future Front’ feels more inclusive.” For her, the new name feels “exciting” and “right,” and when the organization officially announced its rebrand, it meant a lot to the organization to receive positive feedback from their community. “It just clicked, and that love kept pouring in.”
What’s in a (New) Name?
Hervey and Muñoz make it clear that the community has embraced the name “Future Front Texas” because it was crafted with intention and a desire to authentically reflect the organization and the people it serves. Each term within the name holds great meaning. “Future” serves to recognize that the work the nonprofit does is forward-thinking, creative and a catalyst for change. It also captures the team’s expectation that they will continue to evolve.
“Any time you create something, you’re thinking of the future,” says Muñoz. “‘Future’ allows room for growth; it allows room for development and for you to change.” What does it mean to be at the front? “I think it means being seen, being visible,” says Muñoz. “It also means being heard, being prioritized, and it’s about uplifting people who are typically kept on the sidelines and focusing on highlighting these people and what they’re creating.” She shares that “front” represents a repositioning, a shift that moves people typically without power to positions of power.
“When I think about putting femme and queer voices at the front, and LGTBQIA2S+ folks and women at the front, and people of color at the front, and all of these identities we serve, I think it’s that intentional act of acknowledging who gets air time, visibility and storytelling,” says Hervey. “It’s looking at who’s at the front of our communities and spaces and challenging that to include more. I love that ‘front’ is part of our name and that we can put things we care about and that we want to see in the world at the front.”
“Texas” aims to be more reflective of the artists and visitors the organization attracts from across the state and also positions Future Front Texas for focused growth, celebrating roots in Texas and building strong, connected communities across the state.
In essence, the name seems to embody the co-founders’ effervescent hope for the future and infinite possibilities for supporting marginalized creatives and advancing inclusion.
“There’s so much we want to change about the world or about ourselves, so many things we want to be, so many things we want to see or accomplish before our time on this earth is up. What I like about Future Front is that it’s this very simple idea that, well, maybe instead of applying all of that pressure now—‘This is what I have to be now. If I’m not this now, then I’m doing something wrong’—I think it just offers this openness of, well, what could you do now where a future like that is possible? If we can imagine it, we can become it,” Hervey conveys with passion.
“I really think that when it comes to creative careers and creative work, so much of that is imagining. So much of making art, and making spaces and festivals and markets, is imagining. My hopeful belief is that everyone in our community feels like they can make something. That we can step outside of our day-to-day roles and routines and make what we want to see.”
Future Front’s rebranding process has helped the team to hone in on its core values and to crystalize its vision of making a welcoming space for people to come together, to participate in this kind of imagining and shaping of a shared future. “Future Front is this imagining of the future, and it’s about making that the now instead of cutting yourself off and maybe not being hopeful,” Hervey proclaims.
The Future Front leadership team is now comprised of nine women, nonbinary and LGTBQIA2S+ leaders, all of whom have a “co-founder” title. This team is modeling the inclusive, collaborative spirit they want to foster and grow.
All of the founding team members are creatives in their own right, in their work at FFTX and beyond.
Hervey is a sixth-generation Texan and grew up on the border in the rural farming community of Rio Hondo. She moved to Austin in 2011 to attend the University of Texas and search for her place in the city’s music scene. While she’s now a nonprofit founder and director—her daily responsibilities include everything from fundraising to team management to building sets, tie-dying T-shirts and working at events—she’s also a writer, electronic musician and vocalist and runs her own design house, group work creative house.
Staff and board members at the Future Front ATX space, a small but vibrant outpost at Canopy in East Austin, also seem to embrace multidimensionality. They pursue multiple paths simultaneously, working in nonprofits or industry, creating art, DJing, side-hustling and volunteering for causes that are close to their hearts.
Muñoz, for example, works for the social impact team at Indeed, is a Notley Fellow and is a visual artist working under the name Cindy Popp. She has been involved with the organization in a number of roles, from the first meetup of Boss Babes ATX to today. “Before I was on the board, I was on the programming committee, helping to shape events like our work conference—a professional development program. Before I was on that committee, I was a resident artist, and before that I just hung out at all of the events.” Muñoz is focused on creative approaches to fundraising, like hosting tie-dye workshops, and contributes to overall strategy for the nonprofit.
Founding programs manager and staff member María Rivera Felizardo is a multimedia artist whose work incorporates video, augmented reality, electronic music, online media and performance, often combining all of the above. Under the name p1nkstar, she produces nightlife experiences showcasing trans and queer talent and performs as a futuristic pop star. Her work has been exhibited nationally, and she has received three “Best of Austin” awards from The Austin Chronicle for creating art that makes space for everybody. At Future Front Texas, you can find her designing and coordinating programs like The Front Market and The Front Fest.
Hali Martin, founding vice president of communications, has extensive experience in digital marketing for technology companies, film festivals and universities. They work at Bonterra, a technology company dedicated to social good. In addition to their creative communications work with Future Front, Martin explores a passion for diversity and inclusion and queer theory and teaches workshops on Google Analytics and SEO.
Xochi Solis, founding board president, is an established mixed-media artist and community organizer. Beyond her nonprofit leadership and studio work, Solis advances the preservation and performance of Tejanx culture by DJing with the Austin chapter of the Chulita Vinyl Club. After coming to the organization as a volunteer, she became board president in 2020 and helped lead the team through the rebrand and transition. “This organization has given me a platform to explore community organizing beyond the realm of a single industry or a boxed-in cultural narrative,” reads a statement from Solis. “I have learned it takes responsibility, ownership, compassion, consideration and love to actively build and maintain the spaces we want to see in our local communities.”
Hervey, Muñoz, Rivera Felizardo, Martin and Solis work alongside colleagues Jonnyka Clouds Bormann, Aisha Lewis, Amanda Vaughn, Ph.D., and Lina Zuluaga, rounding out the board. Each founding team member brings a unique perspective and professional skill set, but all have been involved with growing the organization in a variety of capacities and exude passion for bringing creatives together and supporting one another through a culture of mutual respect.
Programs that Nurture Fun and Unapologetic Optimism
After a couple of years of digital and hybrid activities, the team is eager to get back to high-energy in-person events.
Future Front will continue to host two big flagship events that build on the foundation laid during their Boss Babes days—the biannual The Front Market and annual The Front Festival (formerly craftHer market and Babes Fest, respectively). The Front Market showcases around 400 art and design businesses led by women and queer entrepreneurs each year between spring and fall events.
The Front Festival 2022 took place Aug. 25 through 28 at multiple venues across the community, closing out Austin PRIDE and celebrating post-pandemic abundance with a pool party at The LINE hotel, music showcase at the Parish, film showcase at The Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria, giving everyone a space to celebrate and plenty of good times. The lineup of almost entirely local and independent artists included We Don’t Ride Lamas, Kiki Machine and Future Front’s resident DJs as well as filmmaker Katie Broyles, writer and director of the short film Moondog, and many others.
Year-round, FFTX serves creatives across the state through educational workshops and meetups, grants and commission programs designed to support a diverse group of women and LGTBQIA2S+ founders, designers, artists and innovators. These include a Community Leaders of Color Mental Health initiative that provides 50-plus pro bono therapy sessions for BIPOC women, nonbinary and LGTBQIA2S+ creators and a residency program for 15 Texas-based artists.
“People are gathering, meeting up to learn with each other over creativity and also exploring concepts of professional resilience, equity at work, wellness at work, creative work in general,” Hervey describes. “We’re still putting out lots of community guides and resources. So we collaborate with a lot of different organizations to bring resources forward, whether that’s our pro bono therapy initiative for community leaders of color or our Creative Future of Texas Fund, where we award micro-grants to women and queer founders, designers, artists and innovators.”
All of Future Front’s programs and events are guided by their core values—creative thinking, collaboration, professional and personal curiosity, experimental entrepreneurship and intersectional action—and their “Be a Good Human Guidelines,” which include being kind and courteous to yourself and others and eliminating racial, sexual or gender discrimination, ableism, fatphobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination, for starters. These values help create an inclusive culture that is poised to help participants embrace fun and optimism in creative pursuits.
“Living out our values is important for us,” says Solis. “They’re for the people we serve, but also for us.
Solis looks forward to the continued growth for FFTX and to bringing more donors to their mission to help scale their programs. Martin and Rivera Felizardo share this enthusiasm for the future, as they look forward to growing the funds they are able to give to artists through grants, increasing their membership to see member-led clubs flourish and securing a physical space to call home and infuse with their caring creative culture.
As Future Front Texas grows its community-building initiatives, it’s constantly reexamining what it means to be a community.
Hervey thinks about serving her community in the broadest sense. She draws no boundaries between the people she works and collaborates with on a daily basis, the 100 or so volunteers and 20,000-plus visitors Future Front engages and the Austin and Texas communities as a whole. “We have to make space for everyone to participate in art and culture,” she states. “At Future Front, we want to make space for people who are creating creative businesses in their backyards, doing creative projects on their own and trying to change their creative workspaces.”
She is consistently challenging herself and her organization to be more inclusive when defining community. “I have to ask myself who’s missing, all the time. ‘What can I do about who’s missing, and do I have the resources to try to better include and better acknowledge the communities and the systems we’re a part of?’ I think we have a responsibility to question the communities we serve, the communities we are a part of and to question whether or not that is actually a reflection of the communities we are truly in.
“When I think of serving the community today, in Austin right now, it’s reconciling the histories and the past and the inequities and the celebrations and the cultural traditions and the attitudes with who I am today, with who we are collectively, and doing the best we can with what we’ve got. That’s what serving the community looks like. It’s hopeful, celebratory, healing, creative. It’s a good time!”