Woman's Building

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Woman's Building
Location Los Angeles, California, United States
Type Art center
Community center
Genre(s) Feminist art
Contemporary art
Women's movement
Opened November, 1973
Closed 1991
Website http://womansbuilding.org/

The Woman's Building was a non-profit arts and education center located in Los Angeles, California, in the United States. The Woman's Building focused on feminist art and served as a venue for the women's movement and was spearheaded by artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and art historian Arlene Raven. The center was open from 1973 until 1991.[1] During its existence, the Los Angeles Times called the Woman's Building a "feminist mecca."[2]

History[edit]

Woman's Building, ca. 1978, photographer unknown

Feminist Studio Workshop[edit]

"The time: mid-'70s. The place: the Feminist Studio Workshop, later to become the Woman's Building.
The quest: to find themselves, to make art, to change the culture."
- Jan Breslauer, 1992[2]

In 1973, CalArts teachers artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and art historian Arlene Raven were finally finished with trying to offer feminist education in a male-dominated institution like CalArts. That year they quit CalArts and founded the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW).[2] FSW was one of the first independent art schools for women, and revolved around a workshop environment, allowing women to develop their artistic skills and knowledge outside a traditional educational environment. The vision of FSW was that art should not be separated from activities related to the women's movement. FSW originally met in de Bretteville's home, and in November 1973 the three women began renting a workshop space in a vacant building near MacArthur Park,[2] calling it the Woman's Building after a building from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. FSW sublet space in the building to performance art groups, the Sisterhood Bookstore, the Associated Women's Press, local chapters of the National Organization for Women and the Women's Liberation Union, and three galleries: Womanspace Gallery, Gallery 707, and Grandview.[3]

The (new) Woman's Building[edit]

In 1975, the building that FSW was renting was sold, and they, along with the other tenants, moved to a former Standard Oil Company building from the 1920s. In the 1940s the building had been converted into a warehouse, consisting of three floors of open space, making it ideal for FSW's classes and exhibitions.[1] The space was the first arts organization to locate itself in downtown Los Angeles, contributing to the revitalization of the area during the 1970s and 1980s.[2] FSW became the main tenant as the previous smaller tenants left, and decided to hire an administrator and create a board of directors to handle the growth of the organization. FSW obtained funding from memberships, tuition, fund-raising and grants.[1]

Numerous programs and groups formed out of FSW. They offered a two-year program in interdisciplinary arts, such as performing, graphics, video and writing. Deena Metzger started the writing program which included an on-going Writing Series. Readers in the series included Meridel LeSueur, Honor Moore, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich. They also hosted large-scale exhibitions, media and social events. From 1976 to 1980 the Feminist Art Workers toured the Midwest with interactive performance and installation artworks. A performance group called the Waitresses formed, who performed in restaurants using the waitress as a metaphor for women in society. The Incest Awareness Project consisted of a series of interactive exhibitions from 1978–79, including a video installation, Equal Time and Equal Space, directed by Nancy Angelo, in which audience members would sit surrounded by video monitors playing videos of incest survivors sharing their experiences. A group piece, In Mourning and in Rage, created by Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz, featured 10 tall women, wearing 7-foot-tall head extensions, draped in black, standing on the steps of the Los Angeles City Hall. Each woman represented a victim of the Hillside Strangler and a statistic of violence against women. Works such as these are credited with shaping the contemporary performance art scene.[2]

In 1979 artists from the Women's Building issued a nationwide call for lesbian artists to organize exhibitions of their work as part of the Great American Lesbian Art Show (GALAS).[4]

Final 10 years[edit]

Women in design poster, 1975 . Woman's Building records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

In 1981 the Feminist Studio Workshop closed, due to the diminishing demand for alternative education. With FSW's closure, the programs of the Woman's Building were altered to cater to the needs of working women. The building's hours were reduced and two thirds of it rented to artists for studio space. That year all three of the founding members left, and former students Terry Wolverton, Sue Maberry and Cheri Gaulke led the organization. They also began the Vesta Awards, an annual fundraiser.[2] That year, the Woman's Building founded the Women's Graphic Center Typesetting and Design, a for-profit business designed to strengthen their finances and support the artistic endeavors of the Building. They provided phototypesetting, graphic design, production and printing services. However, in 1988 the Women's Graphic Center closed, and the income for staff salaries disappeared. Wolverton served as sole executive director from 1988 to April 1989 before leaving. Pauli De Witt replaced Wolverton, staying only briefly and failing to rescue the organization financially. After she left, a 13-member board ran the Woman's Building.[2] The Woman's Building never recovered and despite pushes to move to another location,[2] they closed the gallery and performance space in 1991.[1] They continued to hold the Vesta Awards, with keynote speaker Lucy Lippard and proceeds going towards an oral history of the organization.[2]

Legacy[edit]

In 1991, Sandra Golvin, President of the Board of Directors, donated the Woman's Building records to the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art.[1]

The Woman's Building and its legacy is the subject of a major exhibition called Doin It In Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman's Building at the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design from October 1, 2011 through January 28, 2012. The exhibition was part of the Getty initiative, Pacific Standard Time.[5] The exhibition was accompanied by a 2-volume catalog, and a website that includes historical information including readings and video interviews with participants.

Participants[edit]

Visual artists[edit]

Numerous artists worked as staff, exhibited, and supported the Woman's Building, including:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "Woman's Building records, 1970-1992". Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 15 Aug 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jan Breslauer (1992). "Woman's Building Lost to a Hitch in 'Herstory'". Business Closings. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 15 Aug 2011. 
  3. ^ Chicago, Judy (1975). Through the Flower: My Struggle as A Woman Artist. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. pp. 201–202. 
  4. ^ "Woman's Building Timeline". Retrieved 2 Feb 2014. 
  5. ^ "Woman's Building Homepage". Retrieved 15 Aug 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Wolverton, Terry. Insurgent Muse: Life and Art at the Woman's Building. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers (2002). ISBN 0-87286-403-0

External links[edit]