It was artist and writer Bia Lowe who first told me of her wish that one day there would be a compilation of every public event that had ever taken place at the Woman’s Building. She was, she said, keeping files of fliers and newsletters, with the intention of someday working on that compilation.
Before Bia moved from Los Angeles, she handed over those files to me, as if in the hope that I would pick up her mission. That wasn’t my plan. I had considered it a quixotic dream, likely impossible to attain. After all, eighteen years of daily events—classes and workshops, exhibits and performance, video screenings and readings, and social gatherings—who could ever recapture a complete record of it?
In the mid-nineties, the graduate student Michelle Moravec was working on her dissertation at the University of California, Los Angeles; she was studying the Woman’s Building. As part of her research, she visited the Woman’s Building collection at the Archives of American Art, part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D. C. Sifting through what were, at the time, some eighty boxes of un-catalogued documents, Michelle compiled a timeline of events as she found them. This timeline was, however, uncategorized as to the kind of event and often, which artists participated.
When Sondra Hale and I began to co-edit From Site to Vision: the Woman’s Building in Contemporary Culture, we believed it important to include a timeline and turned to Michelle’s. It provided a tremendous foundation. Having participated at the Woman’s Building, Sondra and I were able to provide additional structure, coherence, and to expand upon the number of events.
And so I found myself fulfilling Bia’s original vision, using her files as a basis, along with my own somewhat imperfect sense of recall, working to reconstruct a history of public events from 1973 to 1991 at the Woman’s Building. I was eventually assisted in these efforts by Darolyn Stroley, a student of Sondra’s in the Women’s Studies Program at UCLA, and by M. Gwin Wheatley, who conducted an initial copy editing of the voluminous document.
As Otis College of Art and Design began to prepare for its “Doin’ It in Public” exhibition about the Woman’s Building as part of The Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: Art in Los Angeles 1945-1980, they provided additional assistance in the form of Joanne Mitchell, who continued the effort to fill in gaps in the document, and Elizabeth Pulsinelli, who did a final copy edit.
Despite these many women’s efforts, I anticipate omissions, errors and incomplete entries. How could it be otherwise? In the seventies, we were so busy changing the world we never bothered to put the year after the date on our flyers. We are also working from incomplete documentation; while the Archives of American Art represents the largest collection of papers of the Woman’s Building, the “complete record” is dispersed among the tens of thousands of women who participated over its eighteen-year history. We want to assure readers and Woman’s Building participants that if we have left out or incorrectly represented an event, it was accidental. We invite you to provide us with additions and corrections by sending them to Maberry@otis.edu. We will do our best to verify changes and add them to the timeline on our website within three months of receiving them. We do not guarantee to implement changes we cannot verify. Thank you for your help!
— Terry Wolverton