Woman's Building

Woman's Building

The Woman's Building was a non-profit public art and educational center focused on showcasing women's art and culture. It existed in Los Angeles from 1973 to 1991.


The founding of the Woman's Building in Los Angeles in 1973 was the culmination of several years of activity (see Bibliography) by women artists who were energized by the feminist movement in this country. This activity included protests of major museums for their exclusion of women artists, the opening of gallery spaces dedicated to the work of women, the founding of the first feminist art education programs (in 1970, by Judy Chicago at Fresno State College and in 1971 by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro at California Institute of the Arts), and the first large scale public feminist art installation, Womanhouse. In 1973, artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levrant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven founded the first independent school for women artists, the Feminist Studio Workshop. The FSW focused not only on the development of artmaking skills (in visual arts, writing, performance art, video, graphic design and the printing arts), but also on the development of women's identity and sensibility, and the translation of these elements into their artwork. Central to the founders' vision was the idea that the arts should not be separated from other activities of the burgeoning women's community, and the three looked for a site for their school that could also be shared with other organizations and enterprises.

This space, the Woman's Building, opened in November 1973. The Woman's Building took its name and inspiration from a structure built by Sophia Hayden for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago to house exhibitions of cultural works by women from around the world. When the Woman's Building first opened in 1973, it occupied the site of the old Chouinard Art Institute near MacArthur Park. Hundreds of women came from across the United States (and from as far away as Canada, Mexico, Holland and Switzerland) to attend the FSW. The facility was also home to galleries, theater companies, Sisterhood Bookstore, Womantours Travel Agency, a coffeehouse, and the offices of the National Organization for Women. In 1975, the Woman's Building moved to a building on North Spring Street, near Chinatown. At that time, the organization began to generate its own programming, so the entire three floors of the reconverted warehouse were filled with artistic activities. In 1981, the Woman's Building underwent major organizational change as a shift occurred in the cultural and economic climates of the United States. By that year, the organization's founders had all left to pursue other projects, and a "second generation" of FSW graduates would carry the organization through the next decade. That year the FSW closed, as the demand for alternative education diminished.

The educational programs of the Woman's Building were restructured to better accommodate the needs of working women. That same year, the Woman's Building also founded two profit-making enterprises to strengthen its financial base: the rental of artists' studio space, and WGC Typesetting and Design, a full service design studio. During the 1980s, greater emphasis was placed on expanding the multicultural base of the organization, and on providing opportunities to assist women artists in their professional development. Until its closing in 1991, the Woman's Building was an internationally recognized symbol of the vitality and substance of women's creative achievements.

Timeline: the Woman's Building Organizational Milestones


* Judy Chicago founds Feminist Art Program at Fresno State College

* Women artists protest the "Art and Technology" exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (which included no women artists)

* Founding of Los Angeles Council of Women Artists 1971

* Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro found Feminist Art Program at CalArts

* Sheila de Bretteville founds Women's Design Program at CalArts

* Creation of Womanhouse, collaborative installation by students in the CalArts Feminist Art Program 1972

* Womanhouse exhibited to the public

* West Coast Conference of Women Artists hosted by Feminist Art Program and West-East Bag

* Women's Caucus for Art founded at College Art Association annual convention

* Womanspace Gallery opens 1973

* Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW) founded by Judy Chicago, Sheila de Bretteville, and Arlene Raven

* FSW students and volunteers, renovate the historic Chouinard Art Institute

* The Woman's Building opens its doors at 743 S. Grandview on 11/28/73


* Womanspace closes

* Chicago leaves FSW staff to work on The Dinner Party


* Chouinard building sold

* Series of five conferences: "Women in Design," "Women's Words," "Personal and Public Rituals: Women in Performance Art," "The Feminist Eye" film and video conference, and "Lady Finger/Mother Earth" women in ceramics conference.

* FSW students renovate Spring Street building

* Building Women concert raises funds for renovation, features Lily Tomlin, Meg Christian, Holly Near, Margi Adam, Cris Williamson, New Miss Alice Stone Ladies Society orchestra


* Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) founded

* Feminist Art Workers performance group founded by Nancy Angelo, Candace Compton, [Cheri Gaulke] , Vanalyne Green and Laurel Klick

* Mother Art performance group founded by Jan Cook, Gloria Hadjuk, Christie Kruse, Suzanne Siegel, and Laura Silagi 1977

* Lesbian Art Project founded by Arlene Raven, with Terry Wolverton, Nancy Fried, Kathleen Berg, Donna Reyna, Maya Sterling, and Sharon Immergluck

* Ariadne: A Social Art Network founded by Suzanne Lacy and Leslie Labowitz

* The Store, a thrift store created by artist Nancy Fried, opens

* Chrysalis: a magazine of women's culture begins publication


* WB receives CETA IV grant to hire and train staff

* Publication of "Spinning Off" begins

* The Waitresses performance group founded by Jerri Allyn, Anne Gauldin and Denise Yarfitz

* WB celebrates 5th anniversary, raises Naked Lady, sculpture by Kate Millett, to the roof of the building


* Incest Awareness Project begins, a collaboration between Ariadne: A Social Art Network and the Women's Resources Program of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center

* Judy Chicago's collaborative project, The Dinner Party, opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 1980

* Nancy Angelo's multi-system interactive video project, 'Equal Time in Equal Space," opens at the Woman's Building

* The Great American Lesbian Art Show (GALAS), a collaboration between the Woman's Building and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, opens in Los Angeles and throughout the U.S.


* Feminist Studio Workshop closes

* "Spinning Off" ceases publication

* WGC Typesetting and Design opens as a profit-making arm of the WB

* WB begins rental of artists studio space


* Vesta Awards honoring women's contribution to the arts are founded

* Woman's Building adopts Affirmative Action policy for Board, staff, and exhibiting artists

* Sisters of Survival performance group founded by Jerri Allyn, Nancy Angelo, Anne Gauldin, Cheri Gaulke and Sue Maberry

* Woman's Building sponsors broadside project for Chicana artists, "Madre Tierra," coordinated by Linda Vallejo


* WB celebrates 10th anniversary and publishes "The First Decade"

* Women's Graphic Center Commission Project, "Private Conversations, Public Announcements," posters exhibited at Los Angeles City Hall

* Arlene Raven curates "At Home" at the Long Beach Museum of Art

* Cheri Gaulke curates performance art series, "At Home at the Woman's Building"


* Woman's Building produces "Putting Our Hands to Other Labor," documentary video about the women's art movement in Southern California.


* Women's Graphic Center Commission Project, "Cross Pollination," posters exhibited at Los Angeles City Hall


* Betty Ann Brown hosts an "Art Tour of Santa Fe" for WB donors.

* Woman's Building commissions artists to produce original videotapes and airs them on a monthly public access cable program, "The Woman's Building Presents"


* Woman's Building organizes conference, "The Way We Look, The Way We See: Art Criticism for Women in the 90s," co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Women at UCLA, Astro Artz/High Performance and the Wight Art Gallery.

* WB celebrates 15th anniversary, publishes "Fifteen Years and Growing" and produces "Sweet 15" video; Eighteen artists create original "birthday cakes" to be exhibited and auctioned at the WB.

* WB publishes literary anthology, "Women For All Seasons", edited by Wanda Coleman and Joanne Leedom-Ackerman


* Mary Jane Jacob hosts an "Art Tour of Chicago" for WB donors.


* Woman's Building closes.


* "At Home" exhibition catalog by Arlene Raven. Long Beach Museum of Art. 1983.
* "Through the Flower: My Struggle as a Feminist Artist" by Judy Chicago. Doubleday, 1975.
* "Separate and Equal (Nonprofit Women's Spaces in California)" by Leigh Ann Clifton. "Artweek", August 6, 1992, p. 4.
* "Running Commentary" by Linda Burnham. "High Performance", Fall 1991, p. 8.
* "The Women's Art Movement Today" by Terry Wolverton. "Artweek", Feb. 8, 1990, p. 20.
* "Hope for the 90's" by Betty Ann Brown. "Artweek", Feb. 8, 1990, p. 22.
* "Woman's Building Turns 15." "High Performance", Fall 1988, p. 18.
* "Performance Art of the Woman's Building" by Cheri Gaulke. "High Performance", Fall/Winter, 1980, p. 22.
* "Art: The Woman's Building--Alive and Living in L.A." by Shirley Koploy. Ms., Oct. 1974, p. 100.
* "More Alternative Spaces: The L.A. Woman's Building" by Suzanne Lacy. "Art in America", May-June 1974, p. 85.
* "Women's Graphic Center" by Helen Roth. "Dumb Ox", #4, 1977, p. 38.
* "The Lesbian Art Project" by Terry Wolverton. "Heresies", Sept. 1979.
* "Sheila de Bretteville" by Dugald Stermer. "Communication Arts", May/June 1982, p. 45.

External links

* [http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/lacy90.htm Interview with Suzanne Lacy from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art]
* [http://womansbuilding.org/ Woman's Building Website]
* [http://www.womansbuilding.org/wb/ Woman's Building Image Archive]
* [http://womansbuilding.org/fromsitetovision/ "From Site to Vision", a complete e-book about the Woman's Building]
* [http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/findingaids/womabuil.htm Woman's Building Records at the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art]

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