Guest post by Crystal Baxley.
Greetings from sunny Los Angeles!
After 17 years, I’ve recently relocated to Los Angeles from Portland. It’s not fucking easy; but I’m generally really stoked on the whole thing. I’ve got a lot to learn about L.A. art, and there’s a hole in B@S L.A. coverage – so here we are, together.
You might know me from my years helping to organize Open Engagement. By “know me” I mean if you ever attended Open Engagement while it was at Portland State University, you might have seen me running around with some kind of clipboard, some number of days into a blowout. (I had several kinds of clipboards, but never time to wash my hair during the conference.) I work part-time as the Studio Manager to an amazing pair of artists, I focused on Art and Social Practice for my BFA, and I co-created Songs on Conceptual Art, the L.A. release party of which Christopher Knight called a joke created to dis the project’s inspiration, John Baldessari (THX, DUDE) and Getting to Know You(Tube).
The weirdness of trying to get acquainted with and eventually participate in a new art scene is next level. The weirdness of trying to make new friends as an adult is ultra next level. So to find an arts related venture that addresses both of these current life dilemmas for me is really exciting. I found out about the Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW) from another recent Portland transplant, and it is an immensely encouraging endeavor for me as an artist, a feminist, and someone who is looking for opportunities to get out of the house and start this new life.
But first, some history:
The Woman’s Building (1973 – 1991)
Doin It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building, part of Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980, was an exhibition at OTIS that extended into two publications and public events that documented, contextualized and payed tribute to the “groundbreaking work of feminist artists and art cooperatives that were centered in and around the Los Angeles Woman’s Building in the 1970s and 1980s.”
The Woman’s Building was founded in 1973 by artist Judy Chicago, art historian Arlene Raven, and designer Sheila Lerant de Bretteville as a public center for women’s culture with art galleries, classrooms, workshops, performance spaces, bookstore, travel agency, and café – all dedicated to women’s culture. At the time, it was described as ‘a special place where women can learn, work, explore, develop their own point of view and share it with everyone. Women of every age, race, economic group, lifestyle and sexuality are welcome. (Meg Linton, 2011, p. 11)
The Women’s Center for Creative Work (2013 – NOW)
Inspired by the rich history of the Woman’s Building presented at Doin’ It in Public, The Women’s Center for Creative Work was founded in 2013 by artist Katie Bachler, graphic designer Kate Johnston, and producer Sarah Williams. Bachler, Johnston, and Williams were galvanized by the energy of the exhibition and the subsequent responses they were receiving from female peers when asked about creating a creative-woman-centered initiative. Starting with a dinner in the desert with 60 of their closest female-identifying friends, Bachler, Johnston, and Williams have only been expanding their endeavor, which currently has over 1,400 members.
In their own words:
The Women’s Center for Creative Work is a collaboration of Los Angeles-based women engaged in conversations about creative practices and contemporary feminisms of all kinds. We represent a network of women interested in supporting each other socially, creatively and economically and building the structures (physical and transcendental) that maximize connectivity and empower us collectively. The organization has existed nomadically through events, workshops, conversations, screenings, residencies, collaborations, and site-specific projects for over a year, and is looking to establish a permanent, physical home base beginning in early 2015.
Rather than propagate a set system of beliefs, the WCCW acts as a hub for a powerful network of feminist groups in Los Angeles, each with their own agendas. We don’t all have the same wants and needs. What we share is a sisterhood with our fellow feminists, regardless of gender. We stand in solidarity, together, no matter how each of our current projects differ.
Our network is tiered with multiple ways to engage –sharing studio space, working together at long tables, hosting events and conversations, participating in Women’s Dinners, being part of the economic network. When we stand together we are powerful force of feminists across L.A. and beyond, a place from which a culture of support, equality and inclusivity can be nurtured and grow, where we can all find power in a collaborative structure, to redefine value in our community at large.
So far the WCCW has hosted workshops on welding, ceramics, and grant writing, just to name a few. WCCW co-organized L.A.’s most recent Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at LACMA, and had a booth at Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair with publications from their own projects and programming, alongside a community marketplace for members to distribute their own publications and Rad Ladies in Residence: “a rotating cast of special guests in casual conversation and site specific projects”. In August of 2014 they had a residency at Echo Chamber, with programming including a Worker in Residence program and a weekly Feminist Film Series.
The organizers of the WCCW want to say “YES”. They want to support as many projects that are in line with their mission as possible; to be as many places as they can. Down to just two (volunteer) administrators, often the most they can do is acknowledge the numerous emails they receive proposing ideas and detailing projects from other L.A. based creators with the response that what you are doing or want to do sounds cool – and you should do it. The WCCW supports that you want to do that, and here are some ideas for people or places that might be interested in doing that with you, too.
One Axe is an incubator and quarterly showcase of emerging women playwrights and directors. Ranging from absurdist comedies and serious monologues to tragedies and melodramas, the plays we produce pride themselves on high-quality innovation with a low budget. We strip down to the barest and most essential elements—writers, actors, and directors—to allow our playwrights room to experiment and workshop their ideas. We encourage audience interaction. We encourage spontaneity and fun. We encourage anything you feel you can’t do in another theater, but, mostly, we encourage women. We want to live up to our motto: Sharp. Singular. Plays. And we want you to join us.
The Feminist Library On Wheels (F.L.O.W.) is a multimedia collection of feminist texts, artifacts and ephemera made available to as diverse an audience as possible, by bicycle. The collection is created exclusively by donation, asking the community share the resources it believes are important to feminist dialogue.
The Feminist Reading Group, which meets bimonthly in NE Los Angeles, is a community working to understand ourselves, the worlds we occupy, and the texts we read in deep, truthful, respectful, and joyful ways. The Group explores many themes: feminist histories, race, class, gender, space, sexuality, art-making, culture, creative practices, relationship, conflict, globalism, family, colonialism, media, aging, work, organizing, reading, politics, writing, activism, and technology, among others. Members are invited to participate in an open process of sharing, to be generous and honest with ourselves and others through our thoughts and actions, when speaking and when listening. We are committed to making this space safe; it is not like a class or other institutional structure, based on hierarchies of knowledge or experience. We don’t convert or correct each other — each person’s agency is protected. We support and celebrate our different forms of creativity, expression, and expertise. All who wish to join us in this spirit are welcome.
The group meets every other Wednesday at Otherwild, with a new second group currently operating out of a member’s home on Thursdays to accommodate varying schedules. I attended a Wednesday meeting in February to discuss We Should All Be Feminists, and it felt great to be in a space with others and openly discuss how Beyoncé’s use of a sample of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Tedx Talk in the ***Flawless video feels problematic in the catchiest way.
MOVING FORWARD (NOW – FOREVER)
Feminism is the struggle to end sexist oppression. Its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege men over women. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all of our lives… Feminism as a movement to end sexist oppression directs our attention to systems of domination and the inter-relatedness of sex, race, and class oppression. – bell hooks
The feminism of the 1970’s had problems that subsequent generations are still trying to rectify. By focusing so intensely on gender and de facto devaluing the importance of race, class, culture, ethnicity, religion, culture, age, ability, and sexuality, the Woman’s Building’s approach to creating a “community” for all women was inherently flawed. The founders of the WCCW acknowledge these shortcomings, and closely examine what it is about the Woman’s Building that is helpful to take with them moving forward. The feminism of the WCCW is an intersectional one; working in opposition to the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and welcoming cis women, trans women, intersex persons, and those who identify as genderqueer, often alongside male allies.
The WCCW is committed to privileging the experiences and elevating the work of women. That being said, we are not interested in promoting gender as a binary experience and welcome anyone into the community who is interested in approaching the creative experience through a feminist lens. We are sometimes interested in experimenting with women-only spaces and welcome anyone who identifies within that range to take part. In general, however, most of our events, programming, and projects are welcoming to anyone of any gender who is interested in being a member of our community.
It’s hard to have gender continue to be such a marked form of oppression. It hurts my bones to think about it. But it’s so important to think about it, and it’s more important to think about it together. The WCCW is working to do that; to build a supportive, creative, “enabling architecture” in this giant dystopian concrete mass. I’m in L.A. to take some new chances, to have some new conversations, and to do some new things with new people. I feel like the WCCW can support me in those endeavors, and maybe they can support you in yours, too, or connect you with someone who can! If you’re in LA, keep an eye out for the opening of WCCW’s long-awaited and very considered physical space in the near future; until then, you can still become a member online and/or sign up for these upcoming events:
Digital Archiving Workshop, April 25th ($20 members/$25 non-members) (See you there!)
Bookkeeping for Creatives, Tuesdays from April 21 – June 23rd ($450 members/$550 non-members)
 Do you know anyone hiring?
 If you know anyone hiring HMU
 Let’s hang out!