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 Dear Ulrike,

Thank you for asking me to write a few comments about my experience in the Feminist Art Program at California Institute of the Arts in 1973-1974. We were the first group of women artists to study art at an accredited art school in history. Miriam Schapiro made sure that the Smithsonian Historical Records in Washington D.C. noted this new phenomenon in art education. I am always proud of that fact.
     My experiences at that early part of my professional art instruction created a bottomline awareness that a woman artist was as important as a man artist.
    Studying the writings of early feminist writers, art historians and artists backed up the premise of the importance of the androgynous ideal in art. There was not too much discussion about the sexuality, at the time, about lesbians versus straight, or Marxism. Feminism was truly an emergence of an androgynous perspective. The goal was to create strength within the woman as an artist and person, not as a political animal. Not to create female art, but mainstream art. This was my final assumption.
     I decided to leave the program as there was a little to much emphasis placed on group projects and complications. One book was enough.
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I learned I could lead the group and help steer important decisions in order for the book, "Anonymous Was A Woman" to be laid out and readable. I stayed up for 48 hours restructuring the final layout to the doubts of some of my colleagues in the program. I felt working in a group was not for me. Over time, I also began to notice that my fellow feminists who were of the same age or slightly older, maybe a year or two, felt like my comrades. The women who were between 5-10 years older than us on the contrary, were still not able to give that kinship and support needed in the real world. This was another reason I left, because I could see this generational difference, to this day, it still exists.
    Feminist art at CalArts, was adamantly opposed to creating vaginal art, or art that only associated to a female reality. In fact Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago had had some split up or power struggle which had something to do with this. Mimi didn't want to talk about it. Discipline and professionalism was always her credo and the need to work, work, and express yourself true. When Judy Chicago started the Last Supper project in Venice, we at CalArts of the feminist art program were disgusted to discover that Ms. Chicago did not pay her women workers even a minimum wage for their devoted assistance. We thought she was leading a cult.

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A younger artist recently said to me how great she thought the Last Supper was because it was created by all women. I still maintain that it is important to pay your woman assistants money, as Lynda Benglis did when I collaborated with her during that time. The final blow came when Lynda Benglis came out with the Dildo Ad in Art Forum which touched on the joke that art was not about sexuality, sexuality was about advertising! Mimi Schapiro and other feminists deeply criticized Benglis for doing such a controversial act We, the younger women supported her to the end.
    We had consciousness raising groups by night and shared our deepest darkest secrets, our anger against patriarchal fathers or brothers, or even mothers who never developed. The greatest moment for me was when I brought my mother to a meeting of our feminist literature class taught by Sherry Brody. The discussion was built around how great woman writers were able to assert themselves into their work even while they still raised families. The few that did gave themselves the permission to develop themselves, their art, and help the people around them evenly. After that discussion, my mother went back to college and is now a practicing MFCC.
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    I have always been aware of women in art, and as I pursue my series, "Artists' Hands", photographing the hands of professional artists, I make a point of seeking out those women from the feminist program still working in the arts, like Jill Giegerich, or other woman who are devoted to their art. If I photograph too many men, I get nervous and start seeking a woman artist to even the score as much as possible.

Good luck

Rena Small

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