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Spinning Off  August 1979  1

Feminist Education: Everything's Possible

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It began in 1973, when eighteen women from around the country traveled to Los Angeles to participate in an exciting and innovative educational program founded by Judy Chicago, Sheila de Bretteville and Arlene Raven; the Feminist Studio Workshop. The Woman's Building, which housed the school, galleries, Woman's Graphics Center, a bookstore and coffee shop, opened in the old Chouinard Building on Grandview St. The Woman's Building and Feminist Studio Workshop (FSW) were entirely created and run by the women who participated in them. There were no models for feminist educational institutions; teaching methods, programs and administration evolved throughout the year. The feminist art movement flourished and by 1974 the Woman's Building had a national reputation as a viable institution for women in the arts.

[[bold, subheading]] My Beginnings...

I was enrolled in a small "experimental" college 90 miles east of Los Angeles, when I heard about the Feminist Studio Workshop. I went to the Woman's Building on several occasions and was impressed with the enthusiasm and autonomy I saw there. I met some students and staff and was terrified by the self-confidence and expertise they had. And I knew I wanted it.

As a writer and video artist I was unhappy in college.  My feminist point of view was not honored by many and my small support group of eight women did not provide the diversity nor the "push" I needed to develop my political perspective and my work. I drove to Los Angeles one rainy day in February, '75 to get my autographed copy of Through the Flower, attended the Women Writers Conference in March, and finally, in August decided to move to LA and enroll in the FSW. I was still unsure of exactly what I was getting into and was afraid to make a move that, from all I had heard, would change my life. I began to keep a journal.

[[bold, subheading]] My Arrival...1975.

October 6 —— Fifty women enrolled in the program with me.  The staff is bigger than I thought: Suzanne Lacy, Deena Metzger, Arlene Raven, Helen Roth, Sheila de Bretteville, and Ruth Iskin. I am so self-conscious! We had a day of worksharing; it was exciting to hear about everyone's work. We are all so different from one another, writers, performance artists, administrators, photographers. I think I am the youngest one here. I keep comparing myself to everyone, getting scared, deciding over and over whether I should stay or leave. Our marathon CR (consciousness raising) on money, authority, work and sexuality was pretty good. CR will meet each week. I feel awkward in the group, but can see it as a good "home base."

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October 16 —— Today was the fourth day in a row Sheila Ruth and I shot interviews with women working on reconstruction of the building. I'm still shakey behind the camera and Sheila is asking a lot of me. Got one really nice shot of a woman putting walls up in the graphics lab. We had CR about mothers yesterday. I discovered that my definition of mother is someone who'll take care of me and make me feel good about myself. And I'm angry that I don't have that person in my life, that I don't have a "nice" mother. I feel confused about that relationship and what it means about how I see myself. After CR we ran on the railroad cars and celebrated ourselves, and our mothers, hooting and hollering and doing the Irish Jig.

"The difference between talking to a mixed art school class and one made up solely of women has to be experienced to be believed, but there sure as hell is a difference in the way women open up, become smart and imaginative and assertive - and better artists. Those who denounce such situations as 'separatist' should get a glimpse of the sense of purpose and relaxed exhilaration at the Woman's Building. There, everything seems possible, including a non-separatist future." 
[[indented]] -Lucy Lippard

November 7 - Only five more weeks till the grand opening. The Building is looking great and everyone is working like crazy getting work ready for the show. There's an atmosphere of anticipation, excitement, worry. Crits are getting longer, and more crucial as the show approaches. We spent our community meeting talking about audience, what kind of things to include in the show and who to speak to. It was exciting to imagine sharing our work with all of those people.

December 15 - It's over. Yesterday was the grand opening. We got the tape done Friday night at 11 and drove straight to the Building to celebrate. We sang a round of the video song for everyone. Lots of women were still there, hanging photos, crying; Sharon was singing and passing out M&M's to everyone.

   The opening was outrageous. 2,000 people attended. I felt proud, connected to everyone in the workshop, appreciating their determination, talent. The Building looked beautiful and I thought of the months of work, support and love we put into it and the show and one another. There was singing and dancing in the evening, and, of course, Sheila and I videotaped most everything.

March 23 - A couple people have suggested that I send my poem out and try to get it published. It's nice going to people's homes and seeing the ones I printed hanging on walls. I remember the first batch I printed didn't have my name on them. That was pretty funny. Arlene mentioned it and I got embarrassed and 

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now I know why I didn't. I met a woman the other day and she asked my name twice and then said, "I saw your poem and I loved it." I was embarrassed and thought 'What does she know about me?' Then she asked, "Do you have any other work? I'd like to see it."

"When a woman artist positively identifies herself to us through her work, she commits a courageous and daring act of self-exposure, because her contribution has neither spoken to nor been understood by the mainstream of culture, and the content of her art has been bypassed by interpretations which could not reveal it." 
[[indented]] -Arlene Raven

[[bold, subheading]] Epilogue

May 2 - The workshop is nearly over. Today in community meeting we heard people's plans, women who were not returning and second year students who are graduating. It was sad and exciting. Sheila and I showed a video tape of things we edited out of the construction tape...the candid moments, the bloopers, the funny expression. We talked about our community, staying together, working together, we planned a feminist retirement home. I thought about how crazy it must seem to the world, the mainstream, these women and our school, our women's culture that is still growing and not defined. A woman who values herself and other women is not a "normal" thing; a woman who values work and is aggressive in her own is not a "normal" thing. There is incredible optimism in this community, and intelligence and risk taking, We are not anonymous.

An international landmark as a center for feminist education and women's culture, our community broadens through the activities of organizations founded like Feminist Art Workers, the Lesbian Art Project, Ariadne: A Social Art Network, and the Los Angeles Women's Video Center. The Extension Program, Summer Art Program and Feminist Educators Workshops at the Woman's Building allow women with different time and financial needs to participate in feminist education.

"We can and must define female reality for ourselves and develop what we as women want to be." 
[[indented]] -Charlotte Bunch

The ultimate goal of feminist education is to create a strong support community, which includes the development and refinement of skills, self-sufficiency, purpose and accountability, out of which individual women move into the public world and make change. We are defining for ourselves and creating our culture. After all, everything is possible.

(indented) Article by Joan M. Power

[[picture of many women]]
[[left side of picture- vertical text saying "photo by Florence Rosen"]]
The class of 1979 Feminist Studio Workshop. 

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