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Historical Note | A Finding Aid to the Woman's Building records, 1970-1992

Woman's Building records, 1970-1992

Historical Note

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.