The Opening of the New York Feminist Art Institute

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Doris C. Freedman interviews Nancy Azara and Carol Stronghilos on the upcoming opening of the New York Feminist Art Institute (NYFAI).

NYFAI was inaugurated at a large benefit at the World Trade Center in March of 1979. Louise Nevelson was the guest of honor celebrating her commissioned wall sculpture that had been installed in the lobby of WTC 1. Founding members of NYFAI were Nancy Azara, Lucille Lessane, Miriam Schapiro, Carol Stronghilos, Irene Peslikis, and Selena Whitefeather. NYFAI offered workshops and classes, held performances and exhibitions and special events that contributed to the political import of the women’s movement of the time.

Besides painting, drawing, art history and other disciplines in the visual arts; NYFAI soon added poetry, performance, filmmaking, diary and short story writing.  NYFAI attempted to reach women from all walks of life and had a diversity of women in race, ethnicity, age, and sexual preference, both as instructors and students.  Instructors at NYFAI over the years were Harmony Hammond, Louise Fishman, Miriam Schapiro, Elke Solomon, Judy Chicago, Jewelle Gomez, Nancy Azara, Darla Bjork, Ntozake Shange, Phyllis Chesler, Maureen Brady, Elaine de Kooning, Barbara Hammer, Lucy Lippard, May Stevens, Faith Ringgold, Arlene Raven, Gloria Miguel (of the Spider Woman Theater) and Zarina Hashmi. Guests of honor at Open Houses and events included Louise Nevelson, Louise Bourgeois, Lenore Tawney, Alice Neel, Vivian Browne, Faith Ringgold, Elaine de Kooning, and Nancy Spero. At these events held twice yearly, there were, for example, poetry readings by Ntzoke Shange and Jewelle Gomez and their students, and faculty and student exhibitions. After a productive eleven years, NYFAI regrettably closed its doors in 1990.

NYFAI Mission: (1979Our vision of the New York Feminist Art Institute obliges us to act now to create an environment for the training of women in the arts. The challenge is to discover a teaching method which encourages women to use personal experience to create radiant art of our own. The curriculum of the school involves the development of self awareness in a social and political context, and the development of a sense of group identity. Work is both collective and individual. Consciousness raising and feminist philosophy are the primary components from which the curriculum organically develops.

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