Woman's Building founder Arlene Raven believed that "there was a major conflict between gay and straight people [at the Woman's Building] that wasn't dealt with." In February 1977, she led a workshop for around twenty women who felt that their artwork contained lesbian content. In April, Raven hosted a second work-sharing group, this time at the home she shared with fellow FAS faculty member Ruth Iskin. At this meeting, Raven proposed the formation of a research project on the history and meaning of lesbian art. By May 1977, six women who called themselves the Natalie Barney Collective (after an expatriate American lesbian who lived in Paris during the early 1900s) committed to organizing the Lesbian Art Project. Although the project had many components, most significantly, it sought for lesbian artists what the Woman's Building offered to women artists as a whole, a supportive community that would explore the meaning of their art. After nine months, the collective disbanded and the Lesbian Art Project continued as a joint effort of Arlene Raven and Terry Wolverton. During its brief history, however, the Lesbian Art Project had a profound impact on the Woman's Building, particularly in the Feminist Studio Workshop, where both Arlene Raven and Terry Wolverton taught. Furthermore, the project initiated a period of three years in which numerous projects about lesbians occurred at the Woman's Building, including the Great American Lesbian Art Show (see Document 14) and Terry Wolverton's collective play Oral Herstory of Lesbianism.
Lesbian Art Project
Eight lesbian artists working within the Feminist Studio Workshop at the Woman's Building have embarked on a three-year research project into the history and meaning of lesbian art and lesbian sensibility. "This has never been done before," says Arlene Raven, feminist art historian and staff member of the FSW, who initiated the Lesbian Art Project. "Even though there have always been large numbers of lesbians and gay men making art, their work has seldom been presented in that context.
"Lesbian artists are only beginning to address lesbian issues in their work. We are sure that there is a particular sensibility that characterizes art created by lesbians, but we don't yet know how to describe it."
Project members have sketched out three major areas of work: (1) the creation of a close-knit community of lesbian artists, using consciousness raising to explore lesbian sensibility, and work-sharing and criticism groups to support and develop lesbian culture; (2) extensive research into historical and contemporary lesbian creators, and the evolution of feminist theory and analysis; (3) extending the group and the information it accumulates into the public realm through social events, media coverage and publications, and by connecting with other lesbian creators nationally and internationally to share information, skills and ideas.
Some of the project will be playful and joyous—as was the case with the group's first public event, an August garden party to celebrate the publication of Blue Moon, a book of poetry and prose by project member Terry Wolverton. (The book was designed and printed in the graphics lab of the Woman's Building, and is available by mail from Terry Wolverton c/o the Building.)
"This project is an opportunity to publicize the work of lesbian artists and to show the positive contributions made by lesbians to culture," says Sharon Immergluck, another project member. "It's especially important work just now, at this time of Anita Bryant and the homophobic backlash."
The eight women who will direct the project have formed the Natalie Barney collective, named for the famous American expatriate who was active in the lesbian culture of Paris in the 1920s. Natalie was chosen, says Arlene Raven, "because she had such a positive image of herself as a lesbian." Members of the collective—in addition to those already mentioned—are Judith Loischild, Kathleen Burg, Mary Yakutis, Maya Sterling and Nancy Fried; the group will be open to new members in the fall, when it will sponsor several events.
"We also want to record our own group process," Mary Yakutis says. "Lesbians need to learn new ways of relating to each other, not based on heterosexual models."
Some of the actions envisioned by the Lesbian Art Project for the coming year include: formation of CR and work-sharing groups; creating dialogue within the lesbian creative community; establishing a lecture series to bring lesbian creators from around the country to Los Angeles to talk about their art and creative processes; compiling archives and a slide library to make the work of lesbian artists more available to the general public; and organizing a lesbian art caravan to tour the U.S. in the summer of 1978, connecting with other lesbian creative communities.
"We want to invite lesbians in the community to participate in this project," says Terry Wolverton. "We'd like you to share thoughts, feelings and information about lesbian creativity and art, about being a lesbian creator. Send us slides or other examples of your work, so that we can share them with a large audience and learn from you. Send us any research information you may have about lesbian creators now or in the past. Enroll in the Feminist Studio Workshop and work directly with the project."
The Lesbian Art Project also needs financial support, which is tax deductible. Send questions, comments and contributions to the Lesbian Art Project, Inc., the Woman's Building, 1727 N. Spring St., Los Angeles CA 90012.
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