Women's Art Alliance: The First 10 Years

Jul 11, 2019

The Springfield Art Association Thursday opened Women's Art Alliance: The First 10 Years, an exhibit commemorating the founding of the Women’s Art Alliance 40 years ago.  The WAA grew to become the Prairie Art Alliance in 1995, which then merged with the Springfield Art Association in 2016 and renamed SAA Collective. 

Reporter Daisy Contreras spoke to Corrin McWhirter, SAA Collective gallery director, about looking back at the group of women who started it all and their impact on the community. 

McWhirter said the project idea came over a year ago when the group wanted a way to honor artists who had passed away and who had been instrumental to creating the community's art space. 

"Out of those conversations, it snowballed into 'do we have an anniversary coming up?''' McWhirter said.

The group spent one year organizing to reach at least 81 women who had been members of the Women's Art Alliance from 1979 to 1989. The idea was to showcase an original art piece from the 1980s and one piece of new work. 

McWhirter said many of the original members had moved out out town, while many others had stopped making art. The invitation to have their work showcased in an exhibit inspired them to create new work just for the exhibit, she said. 

"Some of these women don't realize the importannce of the work that they did 40 years ago to help continue this on to where it is at," McWhirter said of the SAA Collective. 

The organizing committee was able to collect over 150 pieces of work, some coming from as far as New York, Canada and Alaska. 

The origin of the Women's Art Alliance goes back to Polly Poskin, who was then the Women's Alliance program director. The Women's Alliance grew out of the Springfield's Rape Information and Counseling Center and Sojourn House shelter for domestic violence, and was meant to address the needs of women in the community -- from career to health support. 

"The Women's Art Alliance was founded to give female artists an opportunity to exhibit their work, which in Springfield, wasn't available in the 1970s," McWhirter said. 

And that's probably the biggest impact that the Women's Art Alliance had in the community: helping artists get the visibility they needed to keep producing, McWhirter said. 

"And that's just a wonderful thing to recognize -- that a bunch of women just got together and got it done."

The exhibit will be on display at both, the M.G. Nelson Family Gallery at the SAA campus and the SAA Collective in the H.D. Smith Gallery at the Hoogland Center for the Arts from July 11 -- August 29. 

An opening reception is scheduled for Saturday, July 13. More details can be found here