‘We would love to buy a building with the help of our extended community’

We talk to Sarah Williams, co-founder of The Women’s Center for Creative Work, which is popping up in the backlot of Frieze Los Angeles 2019

BY Jennifer Piejko in Frieze Week Magazine | 16 FEB 19

Spreads of stapled zines in cheerful hues of cantaloupe, berry, and pistachio sherbet with titles like Making Art During FascismEmergency Health Grant Resource Guide and Mapping Feminist L.A.'s "Angelena Atlas” line the shelves; grass-green and indigo bumper stickers, neon graphic tote bags, and flower and logo pins hang from every surface, along with little note cards bearing messages like “Culture-making is a fundamental human and societal experience.” and “We are a process, not the product.”—Women’s Center has managed to make dissent amusing, even rosy.

Since 2013, The Women’s Center for Creative Work has taken profound, humorous, buoyant approaches to the most elemental of social work: building community. Housed in a small, freestanding building in Frogtown, along the ebbing, sometimes murky, often black, L.A. River, the group has hosted fundraisers, screenings, mothers meet-ups, reading circles, free sessions with immigration and tax attorneys and artists in residence. This quarter, they are hosting gloria galvez, who continues to work on her project Going Bananas, with a theme of "Sweaty Concepts.” “In alignment with our ‘Core Values,’” says Co-Founder and Executive Director Sarah Williams, “we prioritize programs that center people who have historically been marginalized in feminist and art spaces. This includes programs led by and/or centering people of color (especially Black or Indigenous people), trans* and non-binary people, and disabled people.”

Perhaps the most accessible—and portable—example of the group’s policy of “radical transparency” is A Feminist Organizations Handbook, a self-published spiral-bound guidebook to establishing a makeshift Women’s Center anywhere, including exercises for self-starting organizers, design, community engagement, administrative protocols, and the key elements for establishing such an organization. The Handbook is available for sale at Frieze; it is also made free for download for anyone, anywhere here.

While WCCW has been sustainable for several years now, even administering over $200,000 to uninsured artists in Southern California through their Emergency Health Grant program, they face the same precarity that many of the city’s artists face in the rapidly gentrifying area of Los Angeles: housing and studio rents are skyrocketing, and their lease expires in April 2020. “We’re in a housing crisis that is affecting many, including artists. We need more affordable housing and safeguards for tenants. We'll need more direct-to-artist grants.”

Many creative communities in urban centers are currently facing the same challenges, but, in typical form, Women’s Center is thinking ahead. “We would love to work to collectively buy a building with the help of our extended community, and have there be more space for varied types of programming, and more robust exhibition and residency space,” Williams shares. Sounds like a plan.

Visit Women's Center's pop-up shop on the New York City backlot of Frieze Los Angeles, Febraury 15-19.

You can support the Women’s Center for Creative Work here.

Jennifer Piejko is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles.