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 Dear Ms. Mueller,

Thank you for asking about my experience re: The 1974 Feminist Art Program at CalArts. My path probably isn't a common one, but i did learn some lessons worth sharing.
    I entered the program with the optimism only a 20-year-old can have. I came straight from Texas, a place where segragation had only recently been declared incorrect, men were usually abusive and women executives or techs or even artists were virtually nonexistent. With extraordinary luck and connections, I might have made a career of supplying fashion sketches to the Star Telegram. For my first two decades, the primary work of all the women I knew was fighting over men. So I fled. To be in the you-count-too environment at CalArts freed me in a profound way.
     I will say this for the inaugural CalArts Feminist Art Program: It was the first place I ever met women who stood up for me. Rather than compete for attention, they encouraged me as an artist and a person. And they did so even though I didn't fit the program director Miriam Schapiro's criteria for a good feminist, which as near as I could figure had something to do with getting my parents to buy her paintings.
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You may have noticed I wasn't invited to contribute to the Women's Art Festival, and there was only trace evidence of me in the publication "Anonymous Was a Woman". That's because I am a miserable failure at sucking up.
    After graduation I was able to make a living in Los Angeles producing stuff I called "art to wear". A lot of it was quite beautiful and I was proud of it, regardless that it often ended up on showbiz types, who were pretty much the only people who could afford it. In 1976 I decided I'd rather live in New York. I astutely moved my business there when the city was on the verge of default. All of my carefully arranged handshake deals fell right through. The only work I could get was waitressing. My first appartment was broken into and ransacked, and I lost my job because my boss didn't believe I couldn't come to my work just because I didn't have a front door. I ran into Miriam Schapiro on the street, and she pretended not to know me. I should've moved someplace else right away. But I was young and stubborn, besides which I fell for a local boy, and that was that.
    When my appartment was trashed, a woman from the building got me work in advertising production, an industry considered male territory because of its high tech nature and big salaries.

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I fought my way from the entry-level position of board artist to production manager and eventually, when the artists were displaced by technology, to computer system manager. I now work in production at the largest prepress service for the publishing and advertising industry in the U.S. It ain't art, but it sure beats sketching rompers in a backwater.
    I have no regrets. The truth is that I gave up art for a more remunerative career because I live in a town where the yearly rental of a 2-room apartment costs more than a new Mercedes. Eventually I stopped apologizing for lapsing and started writing as a creative outlet. About the same time I also developed an interest in bicycle racing. The collective results were a bronze medal in NY State for competition, three years a a contributing editor to several national sports magazines, my first novel, forty articles published in Spy, the Village Voice, and other periodicals, and a mention in "Who's Who in the East". I became a U.S. Olympic Commitee-licensed bicycle racing official, and am now one of the highest-ranking such officials in the country. My interst in bicycles morphed into an interest in motorcycles, which lead to working as a motorcycle referee in bicycle racings at a pro level.
    When men see me operating a hulking motorbike, they always feel compelled to say ultrasmooth things like, "Aren't you afraid?" I have to laugh.
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I already went through my period of political proselytizing. Mainly I succeed in alienating people and wasting everybodys time. Most people, especially men, don't have big attention spans, so you have to teach by example. There are just too many things to do, and life is short.


    Though I don't spend much time analyzing my life or measuring myself against others, I can assure other women that waiting around for someone to give you permission to do anything is a loser game. My advice? Take risks. No whining. Question authority. Don't take crap off anyone. Remember people who help you. And when you do move up, don't slam the gate shut behind you.
    After twenty-three years of kicking down doors, I can confidently say that the world is still full of rude males, and that gender stereotypes are alive and thriving. It's a shame, it being the Millenium and all. The Feminist Art Program was supposed to change all that. But if I learned one thing from Miriam Schapiro that served me well, it was this: come out of a corner swinging.

Fight the good fight.

Sydney Schuster

Miriam Schapiro/Feminist Art Program: Anonymous was a Woman. A Documentation of the Women's Art Festival. A Collection of Letters to Young Women Artists. Valencia, 1974