Changing Houston, Changing Women's Lives:
The Houston Women's Caucus for Art, 1978 - 1988 (Continued)
By MaryRoss Taylor
The Birkett Foundation had purchased the station, former firehouse #16 at 1413 Westheimer, for preservation. A master lease was given to the civic group Neartown Association. In September 1981, Neartown began discussing the possibility of leasing space to
The original fire truck bay of the 1923 building would serve as a gallery.48
Though it was much smaller than the exhibitions the Caucus had been organizing, the space was inexpensive and would be always available and under their control. The Caucus agreed to share the building with three other community groups: Park People, Bayou Preservation Association, and the Citizen's Environmental Coalition.49
In the summer of 1982, with sculptor Toby Topek as president for 1982 - 1983, the chapter raised funds for and pitched in on the renovation of the Firehouse. A detailed prospectus for HWCA Committee responsibilities was drafted and revised. Its goal was to delegate authority deep into the membership in anticipation of growing volunteer responsibilities in connection with the new gallery.50
Launching the Firehouse Gallery meant that, in addition to putting art in community venues, the Caucus had to attract the community to their own space. Though inexpensive, the gallery would require attendants. Despite the challenges, it seemed a logical undertaking. Alternative (artist-run) spaces multiplied in Houston as the Firehouse was getting underway. These included Studio One (1980), Houston Center for Photography (1982), Diverse Works (1982), Center for Art and Performance (1982), Midtown Art Center (1982) and Square One (1983).51 The Cultural Arts Council of Houston, which was formed in the mid-1970s to support the arts with hotel and motel tax revenues, began funding Artist-in-Residence programs in 1979. Those helped, along with federal government grants, to staff artist-run exhibition sites.52
The Caucus sustained its national network by exhibitions and public lectures while work on the Firehouse Gallery began. In the spring of 1982, HWCA presented a series of well-attended talks at Lawndale "addressing the artist's role and responsibility in society, the function of the art object, the question of spiritual content in art and the responsibility of society to the artistic voice." James Harithas, former CAM director, spoke on March 12; London-based critic Suzi Gablik spoke on April 9; and founding Menil Collection director Walter Hopps spoke in May.53
A juried exhibition organized in November 1982 was shown at the Philadelphia Art Alliance during the national CAA and WCA conference in February 1983.54
The jurors, Marge Goldwater of the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art and Becky Reese, then curator of Huntingdon Gallery at UT - Austin, took part in a Caucus panel discussion in Houston in November 1982. In December 1982 a reception promoting membership featured a talk by national president Muriel Magenta.
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