Changing Houston, Changing Women's Lives:
The Houston Women's Caucus for Art, 1978 - 1988 (Continued)
By MaryRoss Taylor
Treasurer Sara S. Squires talked the printer into accepting scheduled payments. The Board agreed to a hardship budget, but not without the loss of some disappointed members. Exhibitions, once routinely costing $1000 or more, were held to around $100 each. Speakers and panels returned as a monthly feature, but for the first time almost everyone presented was local, and the focus was to be on "personal and practical matters." Garage sales and small fundraising events were calendared and the emphasis on grantwriting was replaced by marketing.77
A pro bono public relations consultant signed on in January 1987 through Business Volunteers for Arts to assist with membership development.78
By May 1987, Squires reported no outstanding bills. To maintain the important tradition of subjecting members' work to outside evaluation, curator and art historian Robert Hobbs, who briefly worked at CAM, was engaged to jury the members' show for the 1988 national conference even though his travel might be an expense.79
By December 1987, shortly before the 1988 national conference in Houston, the chapter had 167 paid members, the most ever.80
Johnson had handed over a solvent organization to the 1987 - 1988 president, Terry Grigsby Rogers, a C.P.A. who had served on the Community Advisory Board. Monthly programs resumed with a modest level of out-of-town speakers. Solomon Grimberg from Dallas lectured on Frida Kahlo and Dallas Museum of Art curator Sue Graze made studio visits.81
In March, Fotofest 1988 followed the national CAA / WCA conference and the Caucus sponsored a show of African American women photographers curated by future MacArthur Fellow Deborah Willis.82
The national conference was a great success, with a wealth of well-publicized related events open to the public. But the success of the conference did not translate into local benefits for the host chapter, although the members who worked to bring it about gained new professional recognition.
Houston's art community had changed markedly in a decade. The original political agenda of the HWCA had, in many respects, been achieved; the number of exhibitions related to the national conference seemed to confirm that the city was open to work by women artists. The Caucus had shifted from pressing a public policy agenda to serving members. The gallery ceased to bring in new work from outside Texas and never regained the vigor it had during the mid 1980's. The profile of the organization diminished as women artists became, thanks to the Houston Women's Caucus for Art, no longer a novelty in Houston. Despite the much greater visibility of art by women now, a primary purpose of the Caucus - supporting individual artists by organizing a network of friendly peers - continues to meet a need. Yet today the future of the Caucus, with its politically charged name, is being debated by its members. The need for it as an activist organization is no longer clear; the Houston "Gorilla Girls," a chapter of the New York Guerrilla Girls, have been active since the 1980s. The Caucus attracted practicing visual artists; a large new networking organization offers programs and gatherings for women in both the literary and visual arts. (One artist observed wryly that the writers are willing to do the substantial administrative work necessary to organize events and publicize them.) It is unclear whether the Caucus will continue to be viable in Houston, but it is undeniable that the Caucus permanently changed the art institutions of Houston. In the process it provided important skills and new friendships for women artists in Houston.
- MaryRoss Taylor is a founding editor of ArtWomen.org.
» Click here to read her bio.
Return to Current Issues