The Only Woman’s Building in Town

Photo of the Woman’s Building on Grandview in Los Angeles, 1973, by Maria Karras; courtesy of Sue Mabery, Otis Art Institute.

In video artist Susan Mogul‘s charming new short-short documentary video about the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles (see below), yours truly recalls how those of us who worked there were often asked, “Where’s the men’s building?” We’d answer, “That’s every other building in town!”

Founded in 1973 by artist Judy Chicago, art historian Arlene Raven and graphic designer Sheila de Bretteville, the Building was both a psychic umbrella and a physical space, initially housing a feminist art school, galleries, a graphics center and a bookstore. It was a place where women artists, writers and performers were challenged and nurtured at a time when the male-dominated mainstream art world—which Judy  called “the big ball game”—would either belittle or ignore  them.

The Building, in various physical manifestations, managed to last a remarkable 18 years, long past the first bloom of the feminist art movement. Today, it is still being studied and fondly remembered: Otis Art Institute in L.A. is putting on a major exhibition next year called “Doin’ It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building.” To pique interest, they’ve  released Mogul’s video, below.

I was the co-administrator of the Building in its earliest days and ended up curating a number of gallery shows, most notably one by then-92-year-old photography pioneer Imogen Cunningham. In Mogul’s film, you’ll see glimpses of Cunningham at the Building in a couple of still photos, and in another snapshot you can spot Jill Johnston, author of feminist/queer classic Lesbian Nation. Among those feminist folks interviewed by Mogul about their Woman’s Building days is Phranc, the gender- and genre-bending artist/singer, and musician/composer Miriam Cutler, who led a feminist ragtime band.

You can’t miss me in Mogul’s video: I’m the one who has a hot flash at the end.

Learn more about women’s history here

About

Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.