The records of the Woman's Building feminist arts organization in Los Angeles measure 33.5 linear feet and date from 1970-1992. Originally founded by artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven in 1973, the Woman's Building served as an education center and public gallery space for women artists in southern California. The records document both the educational and exhibition activities and consist of administrative records, financial and legal records, publications, curriculum files, exhibition files, grant funding records and artist's works of arts and prints. A significant portion of the collection documents the Women's Graphic Center, a typesetting, design, and printing service operated by The Woman's Building.
Scope and Content Note:
The records of the Woman's Building measure 33.5 linear feet and date from 1970 to 1992. The organization played a key role as an alternative space for women artists energized by the feminist movement in the 1970s. The records document the ways in which feminist theory shaped the Building's founding core mission and goals. During its eighteen year history, the Building served as an education center and a public gallery space for women artists in Los Angeles and southern California; the records reflect both functions of the Building's activities.
The Administrative Files series documents the daily operations of the Building, with particular emphasis on management policies, budget planning, history, cooperative relationships with outside art organizations and galleries, special building-wide programs, and relocation planning. Included in this series are the complete minutes from most Building committees from 1974 through closing, including the Board of Directors and the Advisory Council. The General Publicity and Outreach series is particularly complete, containing publicity notices from most events, exhibits, and programs held at the Woman's Building, including brochures, announcements, programs, invitations, press releases, newspaper clippings, and magazine articles.
The Woman's Building's educational programs centered on courses offered by the Feminist Studio Workshop and the Extension Program. While the Workshop provided a two-year program for women interested in fully developing their artistic talent, the Extension Program offered a broad range of classes, specifically oriented to working women interested in art and art vocations. The records fully document both programs, focusing on the course development and descriptions, teacher contracts, class evaluations, budget planning, and scholarship programs. Although the Archives does not have the entire slide library, there are files concerning the establishment and administration of the library, as well as a few folders of slides.
The Gallery Programs series houses the records of the visual, performing, literary and video arts events held at the Woman's Building. Administrative files detail the daily operation of the gallery spaces. The files in the remaining subseries are primarily arranged by event and contain proposals, announcements, publicity, and artist biographies.
The Women's Graphic Center became a profit-making arm of the Woman's Building in 1981 but the typesetting and design equipment had been used by staff and students since 1975. The records in this series focus on the work produced at the Center, including general projects and artist designs and art prints. Many of the design and printing examples were produced for Woman's Building events and programs.
The Artist's Works of Art series includes artist books, resumes, correspondence, postcards, and samples of art in the form of sketches, drawings, and prints. There is also material related to Woman's Building projects. Especially noteworthy is the "What is Feminist Art?" project where artists gave their responses in various formats and mediums from text to pieces of artwork.
The Printed Materials series contains feminist and art publications not produced by or for the Woman's Building.
The collection is arranged into 7 series.
Series 1: Administrative Files, circa 1970-1991 (Box 1-9, 32; 9 linear feet)
Series 2: Educational Programs, 1971-1991 (Box 10-14; 4.9 linear feet)
Series 3: Gallery Programs, 1973-1991 (Box 14-20, OV 54; 5.7 linear feet)
Series 4: Women's Graphic Center, circa 1976-1989 (Box 20-23, 32, OV 33-50; 5.6 linear feet)
Series 5: Artists' Works of Art, circa 1972-1990 (Box 24-25, OV 51-53; 1.7 linear feet)
Series 6: Grants, 1974-1992 (Box 25-30; 5.3 linear feet)
Series 7: Printed Material (Not Woman's Building), 1970-1983 (Box 30-31; 1.3 linear feet)
In 1973, artist Judy Chicago, graphic designer Sheila Levant de Bretteville, and art historian Arlene Raven founded the Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW), one of the first independent schools for women artists. The founders established the workshop as a non-profit alternative education center committed to developing art based on women's experiences. The FSW focused not only on the development of art skills, but also on the development of women's experiences and the incorporation of those experiences into their artwork. Central to this vision was the idea that art should not be separated from other activities related to the developing women's movement. In November of 1973 the founders rented workshop space in a vacated building in downtown Los Angeles and called it The Woman's Building, taking the name from the structure created for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The FSW shared space with other organizations and enterprises including several performance groups, Womanspace Gallery, Sisterhood Bookstore, the National Organization of Women, and the Women's Liberation Union.
When the building they were renting was sold in 1975, the FSW and a few other tenants moved to a three-story brick structure, originally designed to be the administrative offices of the Standard Oil Company in the 1920s. In the 1940s, it had been converted into a warehouse and consisted of three floors of open space, conducive to publically available extension classes and exhibitions offered by the Woman's Building staff and students. By 1977, the majority of the outside tenants had left the Woman's Building, primarily because they were unable to sustain business in the new location. The new building was more expensive to maintain and the FSW staff decided to hire an administrator and to create a board structure to assume the financial, legal, and administrative responsibility for the Building. The funds to operate came from FSW tuition, memberships, fund-raising events, and grant monies.
In 1981, the Feminist Studio Workshop closed, as the demand for alternative education diminished. The education programs of the Building were restructured to better accommodate the needs of working women. The Woman's Building also began to generate its own artistic programming with outside artists, including visual arts exhibits, performance art, readings, and video productions. That same year, the Woman's Building founded the Women's Graphic Center Typesetting and Design, a profit-making enterprises designed to strengthen its financial base. Income generated from the phototypesetting, design, production, and printing services was used to support the educational and art making activities of the Building.
When the graphics business closed in 1988, the Woman's Building suffered a financial crisis from which it never fully recovered. The Building closed its gallery and performance space in 1991.
Among the other resources relating to the Woman's Building in the Archives of American Art is an oral history with Suzanne Lacy on March 16, 1990, March 24, 1990, and September 24, 1990. While not credited as a founding member, Lacy was among the first group of staff of the Woman's Building which she discusses in her interview.
The Getty Research Institute also holds a large collection on the Woman's Building which includes a wide range of material relating to its exhibitions, activities, and projects.
The Archives of American Art donated 5 boxes of video tape from the collection to the Long Beach Museum of Art, Video Annex in 1994. According to documentation, this was the desire of Sandra Golvin and the Board of Directors of the Woman's Building.
The Woman's Building records were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1991 by Sandra Golvin, President of the Board of Directors. An small addition of a set of "Cross Pollination" posters was donated in 2019 by by ONE Archives at University of Southern California Libraries via Loni Shibuyama, Archives Librarian.
Woman's Building records, 1970-1992. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Getty Foundation. Funding for the digitization of this collection was provided by The Walton Family Foundation and Joyce F. Menschel, Vital Projects Fund, Inc.