"Women are powerful, incredible artists with a lot to say."
International Women’s Day is a movement to celebrate the achievements of women and be a force for a more inclusive, gender equal world. Perhaps one of the greatest success stories of creating space, community, and equality for female artists can be found in the Woman's Building. From its founding in 1973 to its closing in 1991, the Woman’s Building was a potent symbol of women’s creative community. Its exhibitions, performances, readings, lectures, public projects, and educational programs inspired and fostered generations of women artists, writers, performers, and scholars.
Sue Maberry, Director of Library and Instructional Technology at Otis College of Art and Design, was a project director at the Women's Building and has been actively involved in preserving its history. Currently a member of the Woman's Building Board of Directors, she recently participated in the Woman’s Building: Animating the Archives panel at the L.A. Art Book Fair and was featured by KCET in the spotlight piece The Woman’s Building: L.A.’s “Feminist Mecca.”
Maberry was also vital in the development of Doin' It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman's Building presented by Otis College's Ben Maltz Gallery in 2011. The exhibition sought to document, contextualize and pay tribute to the groundbreaking work of feminist artists and art cooperatives that were centered in and around the Woman's Building in the 1970s and 1980s. Doin' It In Public was part of the Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980 collaboration, initiated by the Getty, to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene. Doin' It In Public was the first exhibition to fully explore the contributions of the Woman’s Building and included capturing the oral history through commissioned interviews with prominent artists and leaders of the movement including Sheila de Bretteville, Terry Wolverton, Suzanne Lacy, Mother Art, The Waitresses, and many others.
To celebrate International Women's Day, we asked Maberry about her time at the Woman's Building and how its tradition is being carried on by a new generation.
How did you first become involved with the Woman’s Building?
It was 1976, and I was in college taking art and women’s studies classes. I found out about the Woman's Building through the New Woman’s Survival Catalog and immediately knew I had to be there.
Is there something you learned during your time there that you still carry with you?
That art makes a difference in people’s lives and culture. That women are powerful, incredible artists with a lot to say.
How important is documenting and archiving these stories and works in ensuring female artists are given parity in art history classes and museum walls?
Just as the original Woman’s Building of 1893 was lost to history for 70 years until Judy Chicago and her students discovered the catalog in a second-hand bookstore, the Woman’s Building founded in 1973 was almost lost to history. So much of what is exciting nowadays owes much to the creativity and persistence of all our foremothers. I am very grateful to Otis for supporting the online database which began in 1997 as part of the Getty Information Institute's "Faces of L.A." Project. More than 1500 images documenting both featured artists and their projects were selected and digitized. Then in 2011, Otis supported Doin' It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman's Building curated by Meg Linton and funded by the Getty’s the Pacific Standard Time initiative. These projects have been incredible in preserving women’s history in the arts.
What does the Women's Building seek to achieve today and how can people become involved with the organization?
We exist now only to preserve the history. Metabolic Studio discovered the Woman’s Building and became interested in archiving the history. Through their grant, we are able to fund emerging women artists who want to create new work that “animates the archives.” The resulting work, accompanied by several events, will be on exhibit at Avenue 50 Studio, 131 North Avenue 50, Highland Park, CA 90042, from Saturday, May 13 through Saturday, June 3, 2017.
The work that came out of the Woman’s Building has informed many contemporary feminist and social justice artists, do you think that the Woman’s Building could be revived by a new generation?
In a sense, the Woman's Building accomplished many of its goals. Women artists are visible and important contributors to art and culture now. But many young women are still hungry for spaces where they can network and collaborate and discuss issues. The Women’s Center for Creative Work is a not-for-profit organization that cultivates L.A.’s feminist creative communities and practices. I see them as one group carrying on the tradition of the Woman's Building. They are doing great work and it’s appropriate for this generation to define and create organizations that support their needs now.
Image: Group of women from the Feminist Studio Workshop pose while making a banner that reads The Art of Community, 1979. Photo: Florence Rosen