How an Almost-Forgotten Federal Program Kickstarted the Feminist Art Movement

In conjunction with the exhibition ART/WORK, City Lore, Cuchifritos Gallery and the Women’s Caucus for Art will be hosting a Zoom presentation: How an Almost-Forgotten Federal Program Kickstarted the Feminist Art Movement.

From 1974 to 1981, more than 10,000 artists, actors, writers, and musicians were employed under the federally funded Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), in addition to 10,000 administrative art positions (museum curators, program directors, docents and guards; theatre technicians, lighting and costume designers; arts administrators and office staff). CETA especially benefited women and artists of color.

Judy Baca’s Great Wall of Los Angeles was enabled with CETA grants. In the middle-to-late 70s, CETA paid the staff salaries at LA’s Woman’s Building and the Women’s Studio Workshop, at Women Artist News and HERESIES, and alternative art spaces like ARC, N.A.M.E., Hallwalls, and LACE.

Among the many CETA artists are Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Awardees Ruth Asawa, Bernice Bing, Suzanne Lacy, Judy Baca, Maren Hassinger, Senga Nengudi, and past national WCA president Helen Klebesadel.

In New York City, Cynthia Mailman, Candida Alvarez, Christy Rupp, and Ursula von Rydingsvard were CETA artists. CETA photographer Marcia Bricker was the first to document Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ Touch Sanitation.

This panel will discuss how this little-known government program and its support of women artists helped give rise to the feminist art movement.

Virginia Maksymowicz
Professor Emerita, Franklin & Marshall College, former CETA Artist, and WCA member since 1978

Jerri Allyn
Former CETA artist from Los Angeles will talk about her work with the Women’s Video Center, which came under CETA funding through the Woman’s Building.

Arlene Rakoncay
President of the Chicago WCA and former Director of the Chicago Artists’ Coalition will address CETA’s impact on both the CAC and individual artists.

Senga Nengudi and Maren Hassinger
Former CETA artists, will look back upon their work through Brockman Gallery in Los Angeles and talk about how their experiences gave rise to their careers.

Ann Kalmbach
From the Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale, NY will document the history of their CETA funding, how it enabled expansion of their program, and its legacy today.

Nina Kuo
Former CETA photographer for the Cultural Council Foundation in NYC, will give her perspective on what was the last and the largest of the CETA artist projects nationwide.

Photo: Outside the Woman’s Building, 1975 © Maria Karras; collection The Getty Institute