Thinking Out Loud – Dear Zoe

I wanted to say something to you after the grand opening of Women & Their Work’s permanent home but I didn’t want to come off like a pontificating adult talking down to a teenager so I let it go but these thoughts keep niggling at me so here goes…

I watched you watch all the goings on at the celebration. Lots of people talked about how amazing it was that a lot of money was raised during a pandemic in an insanely short time but I wondered if they conveyed that this home, this commitment to women’s artistic work—painting, sculpture, dance, words—flew in the face what is typical in a patriarchy. I wondered if you knew that what you witnessed was heroic.

Maybe you did. Maybe you didn’t. I wanted to share with you why I thought the establishment of a permanent home for women’s art was beyond brave.

When I moved to Austin in 1980, Women & Their Work had just started. I was aware of it but I didn’t think too much about it. Actually, that’s not true. What I thought was W&TW must be a lesbian organization because I didn’t understand that I had any work so I must not be the woman in their version of women.

Yeah, limited thinking. Cringeworthy, really.

I grew up in a family of women. Three older sisters. More aunts than uncles. Grandfathers who died long before grandmothers. An all-girl prep school. I was literally surrounded by women most of my life but the notion of women and their work was foreign to me. Women’s work. Was it a job? Was it being married and running a household? I didn’t understand that women’s work is expressing ourselves in the world. In my twenties, I couldn’t fathom that my work was unique and important. Simply, I didn’t understand the commitment and vitality and vision of Women & Their Work.

Now I see how important it is never to forget that a women’s view of the world and our place in it is what makes this world our world. It took a while to see that an organization like Women & Their Work (whatever our work is) makes that inclusion possible.

In a way, I’m glad if the celebration was No Big Deal for you. Like ‘Oh Yeah, women make art. Women express themselves. I knew that.’ That’s the beautiful thing about heroic destiny. People come together to change the way things were and, when we look around forty years later, that change is simply the way things should have always been.

Which is why I’m writing to you. As you stand on the permanent ground of Women & Their Work, know this one thing: every relationship, every artwork, every word, every creation stands on the last creation, the last action. There are other acts of heroism ahead of you. I don’t know what they will be. But if you look back to this moment, you can remember what a few women, with a daring vision that flew in the face of the norm, accomplished. You can know what is possible.