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St. Kate's welcomes nationally recognized Women's Art Institute

Patricia Olson will serve as the new director of the Women's Art Institute as it moves to St. Catherine University.
Patricia Olson will serve as the new director of the Women's Art Institute as it moves to St. Catherine University.
Photo by Richard Fleischman.

On Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. in the Visual Art Building Lecture Hall, St. Catherine University will officially welcome the Women's Art Institute (WAI) to its new home — with a bang.

“For our inaugural event, we’re incredibly grateful to have Gabrielle Civil present her research on black feminist performance artists in the US,” says Associate Professor of Art and Art History Patricia Olson, who has co-taught the WAI for the past 13 years with the program's founder, MCAD Professor Elizabeth Erickson. “Gabrielle is an amazing and dynamic artist whose ground-breaking work really captures what we’re trying to do with the Women’s Art Institute.”

Established in 1999 and co-sponsored by St. Catherine University, the Women's Art Institute has been an immersive, three-week summer studio program at MCAD that brings together women artists of various ages and backgrounds to explore questions about their work and its relationship with the community. It is the only program of its kind in the country that offers students college credit.

When Erickson announced last year that she was retiring from MCAD, St. Kate's jumped at the opportunity to bring the nationally recognized program to its Department of Art and Art History. "The Women's Art Institute fits in perfectly with the University's mission to empower women to lead and influence," says Olson, who will take over as director next year and expand the program to four weeks. Erickson will stay on as co-teacher.

Adds Olson: “Though the summer studio program will remain the jewel in the crown of the Institute, the possibilities for growth are endless with the resources and talents at St. Kate’s as a backdrop.” The Institute will have access to St. Kate’s world-class art facilities, lecture halls, and galleries. Olson also hopes to create synergy with various departments and professors to boast the academic offerings of the Institute.

“Our goal has always been to provide women artists the space, time, and community to challenge themselves and each other,” says the Institute’s Founding Director Elizabeth Erickson. “St. Kate’s has a reputation for doing the same—striving for excellence and encouraging its students to be active members of their communities and the world. Moving to St. Kate’s feels natural, and we are delighted.” 

Erickson and Olson have been creating community for quite some time. In 1976, the two artists founded Women's Art Resources of Minnesota (WARM), an arts advocacy organization and gallery. Around the same time, St. Kate’s also introduced a feminist art program, inspired by pioneers like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro at the California Institute for the Arts. “The program at St. Kate’s was very controversial at the time and it only lasted one year,” says Olson. “In a way, bringing the Women’s Art Institute to St. Kate’s feels like a wonderful way to honor the University’s long history of celebrating women artists.”

Gabrielle Civil could not agree more.

“Art is not just decorative and it’s not just material. Art can be an event of the self,” says Civil, who teaches in the English, Women's Studies and Critical Studies in Race and Ethnicity Departments at St. Kate’s and is working on a book, Swallow the Fish. “The Women’s Art Institute allows women a forum to go deeply into their own work and to use that momentum and synergy to break through to a whole new level. St. Kate’s is lucky to have the Women’s Art Institute.”

Sep. 11, 2012 by Colby Johnson

See also: Arts