Woman’s Building HistoryImage Database

History
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.
NAKED LADY, a sculpture by Kate Millet, is raised to
the roof of the Woman’s Building in 1978 to celebrate the fifth anniversary.
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.