Changing Houston, Changing Women's Lives:
The Houston Women's Caucus for Art, 1978 - 1988 (Continued)
By MaryRoss Taylor
On February 7, 1978, four weeks after their first meeting, the Caucus decided to boycott the annual benefit art auction held by Channel 8, the PBS station at the University of Houston.18
Charity donations of their work by artists were no longer tax-deductible at market value, so HWCA members said, "When dentists donate root canals, we'll donate art!" The boycott was to be a surprise, but a chapter member involved in the benefit disclosed the plan. The chapter denounced the whistle-blower and rebuffed the auction committee's offer to institute a minimum bid. Fifty artists refused to give work. The boycott created a stir in the media and at the station. The power of acting as a coalition surprised chapter members themselves.19
Emboldened, HWCA confronted the Houston Chamber of Commerce about the upcoming Main Street festival (precursor to the large and popular annual Houston International Festival). This time the controversy originated in terms of gender, but the Caucus demanded competitive access for all. In an amiable letter, chapter president Roberta Graham Harris told Chamber of Commerce officials that Main Street visual arts chairman Michael Metyko rebuffed a proposal from the chapter to exhibit art because "The Women's Caucus has had enough publicity this year" and Main Street "is not a hype women's issue."20
The Caucus was dissatisfied with the exchange of letters and copied the correspondence in May to Mayor Jim McConn. Soon the Mayor's Cultural Liaison, Molly Parkerson, accepted Gertrude Barnstone's invitation to meet with Caucus members at Lynn Randolph's home.21
The Caucus was working out of members' living rooms, but its representatives were all business. They presented Parkerson "suggested guidelines" that began "Open to all…regardless of race, sex, or creed" and proposed "highly respected members of the art community…as advisors to those who select the members of the Judging Committee." Parkerson, who went on to serve on the HWCA Community Advisory Board, endorsed the guidelines to the Chamber of Commerce.22
In 1979, Festival organizers appointed an experienced artist and Caucus member, Alice Lok Cahana, to head the Visual Arts section.23
Despite the gender bias that set off the Festival confrontation, the values the Caucus advocated were both inclusive and mainstream. The chapter fought for open competitive opportunity regardless of race, creed or gender.24
Equally characteristic was the appeal to recognized art experts to judge their work. The Caucus sought acceptance by an art establishment that had always snubbed women. Since Houston artists generally felt snubbed by the local museums, it was natural for the Caucus and male artists to join forces in demanding a greater role in Houston art institutions.
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