To hear Felicia Shaw say this, some soul-searching had to be done. It was just over a year into the pandemic and Shaw, along with a group of dedicated volunteers and staff, had moved the Women’s Museum of California (WMC) out of Liberty Station, a space that had been his house for eight years.
While staying in a shared office space inside the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park last year, the team began discussing where the WMC might find a new home. . More importantly, they needed to consider where her curatorial message—a message rooted in historical and current struggles for women’s rights and equality—could be most helpful. “We had to take a minute to think about where we want to engage the public and host our educational programs and exhibits,” says Shaw, who became WMC’s full-time executive director in 2020. “The Women’s Museum exists for nearly 40 years and has a long history of engaging with audiences in various spaces.
When Shaw and staff toured a vacant space at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation in southeast San Diego, they knew they had found the perfect place to begin a new chapter in the museum’s rich history. At the time, the space was used as a kind of community center and food distribution site in response to the pandemic. Shaw says she saw opportunities: “I saw the potential for this space to be an anchor, a cultural hub for the Jacobs Center, as well as the community, all grounded in the notion of storytelling. women’s stories.
In addition to a major overhaul and reimagining of the Jacobs Center space, with new windows and updates to the facade, the “evolution” of the museum will place a new emphasis on interactivity. This will include bilingual programming, workshops and exhibitions rooted in engagement and activism. “This isn’t your mother’s museum,” Shaw exclaims. “The kind where we expect people to come in and just stand in front of a wall.”
Artistic director Katie Ruiz, who joined the museum’s staff in January and is perhaps best known for her own brand of feminist-inspired art installations, sees the museum’s programming moving away from standard historical fare towards a unique blend of history, modern art and activities that inspire a new generation of activists.
“I had already established a relationship with the museum and when the more modernized vision of the space really kicked in and I heard they were looking for an art director, I was like, ‘Oh, s ‘please let’s do this,'” Ruiz explains. , which previously held exhibits in the museum’s Liberty Station space. “I love that it’s in such alignment not only with what I do as an artist, but also with my activism. I always have this quote on my wall that says, “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it.”
The WMC first started as an archive called the Women’s History Reclamation Project, started in the founder’s home in Golden Hill in 1983. It moved to Golden Hill’s Art Union Building in 1997 and to Liberty Station in 2011. Shaw considers the movements are happening alongside the various waves of feminism and activism, as well as simply going where the museum’s message is most needed. Southeast San Diego is a neighborhood that has historically been overlooked when it comes to cultural programming, and Shaw and company want to fix that. “It feels natural, yes, because it was a natural evolution for us to want to step up and step out and move forward in terms of our mission of connecting with people,” she says.
This is evident in the inaugural exhibit at the new location (open now), Shaping Feminism: Textiles of the Women’s Movement, which examines how craft art practices have informed feminist activism over the years. Of course, banners from the early 20th century suffrage movement, as well as contemporary pink p-hats, will be on display, but guests can also create their own pins and participate in interactive workshops where children and adults can learn how to make their own art-as-protest items.
“Historically, the Women’s Museum really leaned more into the suffrage era,” says Shaw, “and yes, that was a big part of the movement, but a lot of things happened in the 60s and 70s, and now we’re in this third or fourth wave of the women’s movement. There’s everything that’s happened since women got the right to vote. And now we’re in another battle. This is so to tell contemporary stories with the iconography, materials and elements of the past that people recognize today. We want to make it relevant for people today.