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A Home by the River for Women at Work

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WCCW's homey exterior

Just last week, women in lime colored long sleeves, knee pads and gloves -- Women in Non-Traditional Employment Roles (WINTER) -- flocked to the small, oddly geometric house that sits at the end of the Glover Place cul de sac, right next to the Los Angeles River.

Inside, these women and a few more volunteers meant business. They tore up carpet, broke down walls, and sanded to finally get the Women's Center for Creative Work (WCCW) Headquarters ready for its community opening May 15.

After two years of itinerant existence, WCCW, a spiritual offspring of the Woman's Building, "an epicenter of both the Feminist Art Movement and the Los Angeles Community Arts scene," which existed from 1973 through 1991, is finally putting down physical roots in the riverside community.

"We signed a five-year permanent lease. This will be our permanent space," says co-founder and managing director Sarah Williams, who met me at the space as it was being transformed.

Though the space looked like a home, it was actually the offices of Vent Vue Products, a commercial window production facility whose owners were retiring and decided to sell its Elysian Valley property. The new owners had happily decided to rent the space piecemeal to interested parties, particularly artists. "We had been looking for a space for a long time. We wanted a space where work could happen, but we also were within a budget."

WCCW is able to rent the space through membership fees and grants from Social Practice Art, WHH Foundation, and the Pasadena Arts Council.

WCCW is located adjacent to the L.A. River in Elysian Valley | Photo: Carren Jao
WCCW is located adjacent to the L.A. River in Elysian Valley | Photo: Carren Jao

Like the Woman's Building, WCCW was created to be a place where women could work on their creative endeavors and be around others who would complement and nurture their work.

Appropriately enough, WCCW's journey began with the exhibition, "Doin' It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman's Building" at Otis College of Art and Design. "We had heard of the building, but we had no idea that it had lasted so long and had such an inspiring effect," says Williams. Despite the Woman's Building's far-reaching effects on the art scene, Williams and her co-founders, artist Katie Bachler and graphic designer Kate Johnston, couldn't find anything close to it in a contemporary setting. The lack emboldened them to start a seed of something on their own.

WCCW didn't start out with grand ideas, it began with a simple dinner in the deserts of Pioneertown, California. Forty-five women hiked fifteen minutes under the desert sun, talking about their work and the ideas of wilderness and homesteading, surrounded by quilts, wines, and colorful ponchos.

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One dinner turned into another, this time in the shadow of the Woman's Building near the future Los Angeles State Park. This time, more than a hundred women attended, discussing their creative work, the future of feminist practice and placemaking in the city.

"There were a lot of energies surrounding our beginnings," says Johnston. The successful outcome for the dinners showed the three women that there was a need for a place for women in creative disciplines to collaborate and network. Thus, the Women's Center for Creative Work was born.

Since then, Bachler had moved to Baltimore, leaving Williams and Johnston at the helm, but the work continues despite both Williams and Johnston juggling day jobs (Williams with ForYourArt and Johnston within her own graphic design practice). "We all had very different skill sets and there was a lot trust between us," says Johnston, "We start at two ends of a project and work until we meet in the middle and its done! We make decisions very quickly."

Women working to overhaul the WCCW space | Photo courtesy of Women's Center for Creative Work
Women working to overhaul the WCCW space | Photo courtesy of Women's Center for Creative Work

Though the organization had a respectable name, it had none of the usual trappings that came with such an honorable appellation. It was agile and nimble enough to keep up with all the interests of its members. Johnston says, "One of our biggest challenges is impatience. When we decide on something we want to see it manifest immediately!"
Since then, WCCW has become an amplifier for its members' inclinations. It has produced feminist storytelling parties at the Gal Palace on Rampart, composting workshops in Culver City, and events at Echo Park's Otherwild. "We're staying true to our four-pronged mission," says Williams, "which is laid out in our website."

It is to:

  • Embody the historical trajectory of feminism in Los Angeles
  • Run a women-led creative co-workspace
  • Maintain an enabling architecture for female-driven creative projects and practices
  • Provide professional, emotional & artistic nourishment for our community members

The second bullet point is what the WCCW HQ is meant to be, a physical space where women can gather. No longer will the organization scramble for space. It will gain a greater sense of stability for its members. It will also now be able to host more facilities for its creative community. Williams says the plan is to install a print studio with computers, photo printing, and office space. There will be space for the book collection of the Feminist Library on Wheels, while it's not roving the city on bike. An Otherwild outpout will also be installed, which will showcase a few select pieces from its Echo Park location. Two other studio spaces will be available for rent.

Most importantly, there will be a gathering space for other member run organizations, such as the Feminist Reading Group, which focuses on exploring feminist texts and One Axe Plays, an incubator for works of women playwrights and directors. WCCW calls these organizations that took root within it, nodes, connecting joints within a complicated geometric structure. In other words, just like the Woman's Building, WCCW sees itself not as a lone organization, but an enabler of other movements and creative endeavors.

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