Los Angeles’ Woman’s Building remembered
January 15, 2012
In 1973, artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven set out to find a home in Los Angeles for the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW), their new independent school for women artists. The space they chose occupied the site of the old Chouinard Art Institute near MacArthur Park. The Woman’s Building, as they called their new home, was a hotbed of creativity and inspiration for the next 18 years.
For several years, there had been protests against the exclusion of women artists from museums, galleries, and the art press in Los Angeles. The Woman’s Building was concrete evidence that women’s art had arrived on the scene. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times recognizing the Otis College of Art and Design exhibit “Doin’ It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building,” Sheila de Brettville recalled, “We really weren’t looking back—we were riding the huge wave of feminism taking place everywhere around us. The woman’s movement was the real model.”
The FSW building took its name and inspiration from a building at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago that was designed and managed by women and filled with work by women artists from around the world. The FSW facility housed the FSW and its hundreds of students as well as galleries, theatre companies, the Sisterhood Bookstore, Womantours Travel Agency, a coffeehouse and the state office of the National Organization for Women (NOW). In two years, the Woman’s Building occupants needed more space and moved to a building on North Spring Street near L.A.’s Chinatown. Three entire floors of the converted warehouse were filled with artistic activities of all kinds. A personal history and photo essay on the building’s history by Terry Wolverton is available at the Woman’s Building website.
Recognizing the importance of this first home for women’s art, de Bretteville recalled it as “a collective and collaborative activity. And it’s always hard in American culture to understand anything that is a real upending of hierarchy and alternative to a patriarchal or heterosexist society.“
See also: Judy Chicago, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia; “Jewish Women Artists,” JWA Discover; “Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party acquired by the Brooklyn Museum,” This Week in History; “Arlene Raven, 1944 – 2006,” We Remember.