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Identifier: MC 892

New York Feminist Art Institute Records


  • circa 1970-1990, 2005-2010

Scope and Content Note

The records of the New York Feminist Art Institute comprise 17 cubic feet (16 records center cartons and 1 oversized box), spanning the period of circa 1970 to 1990 and 2005-2010. Document types include correspondence, financial records, publications, photographic prints, slides, audiotapes, original art work, artifacts, and compact discs. The records document the foundation and the daily operation of this alternative art school, fund-raising, events, curriculum, student projects, as well as many individual women visual artists and feminist activists.

The collection was donated at three separate intervals: 1992, 1994, and between 2007 and 2010. The first donation is contained in boxes 1 through 4, box 5 folders 1-44, box 6 items 1 through 11, and box 7 folders 1-18. The second donation is contained in boxe 7 folder 19-26 and boxes 8 through 17. The third donation is contained in box 5 folder 45 through 91 and box 6 item 12. If the number of additional folders/items was larger than 5, the additional materials were added to the end of the series. For example, one folder of negatives from the third donation was added alphebetically to the Artists Works subseries, while the second donation of 10 folders of photographs was added to to the end of the series.


The largest series, ADMINISTRATIVE FILES I (1979-1990, and undated), documents the day-to-day operation of the school, and includes financial records.

The EXHIBITION FILES (1980-1990) series consists of materials documenting the planning and implementation of NYFAI exhibitions.

The FUNDRAISING FILES (1980-1990, and undated) series consists of grant application materials and documents pertaining to other fundraising activities.

The series FINANCIAL RECORDS (1977-1989) consists of materials relating to the finances of NYFAI, such as budgets, tax audits, cash receipts, and income and expenditure reports. It is arranged chronologically, by year.

The ARTWORK (undated) series consists of a single drawing by a NYFAI student.

The PHOTOGRAPHS AND NEGATIVES (1983-1990, largely undated) series documents school events and art work created by NYFAI students and teachers, and as well as slides used in classes.

The VISUAL DIARIES AND ARTIFACTS (1981-1983, 2007, and undated) series contains examples of actual diaries created by students, and also includes a compact disc containing a Microsoft PowerPoint file of forty-three visual diaries made by students in Nancy Azara's workshop: Consciousness Raising, Visual Diaries, Art Making, which she has taught from the establishment of NYFAI in 1979 to the present.

The PUBLICATIONS (1980-1990 and undated) series includes books primarily produced by the school and NYFAI affiliates.

The ASSOCIATED ARTISTS FILES (1979-1989, and undated) series is arranged alphabetically by artist's name and consists of the curriculum vitae, artist's statements, clippings, and some slides of the work of artists associated with NYFAI.

The EVENTS FILES (1977-1989, and undated) series documents the organization of events, exhibitions, and ongoing collaborative programs— such as the Visual Arts Exchange, at NYFAI.

The CORRESPONDENCE (1977-1990) series is arranged chronologically by year and consists mainly of NYFAI affair related letters, potential student inquiries, and letters from potential faculty submitting course proposals.

The PRESS CLIPPINGS AND RELEASES (1976-1990) series, arranged chronologically by year, consists of media clippings, press releases, flyers, catalogs, and posters for NYFAI events.

The series, MATERIALS FROM OTHER WOMEN'S ART ORGANIZATIONS (1985-1990), consists of announcements of events from other women's art organizations, as well as promotional materials and newsletters.

The SLIDES (circa 1970- 1989) series contains approximately 1,700 35mm slide-format images of NYFAI events and exhibitions, as well as slides used for classroom teaching at the school, they are arranged chronologically by year. In addition, there are several slides of the work of artists associated with NYFAI, these are arranged alphabetically.

The AUDOTAPES (1981-1989) series contains 3.5 mm audiocassette tapes and 8 mm videotapes of NYFAI events and speeches by NYFAI affiliates and guest speakers including Arlene Raven, Robert Storr, Nancy Azara, and others.

The series MAILING LISTS (1981-1989, and undated) is made up of thirty-plus lists containing the names and addresses of a variety of groups that were the target audience for NYFAI events and exhibitions, as well as for donor support and membership. The MAILING LISTS series is arranged by date, undated lists are arranged alphabetically, by the title of each list.

The ORAL HISTORY (2005-2010) series is comprised of 29 oral history interviews, including the original audio files on compact disc and transcripts.

NYFAI participants have created a website that houses images and oral histories. The website can be accessed at: or via The Wayback Machine.


17 Cubic Feet (16 record boxes and 1 oversized box)

Physical Location

Stored offsite: Advance notice required to consult these records.

Language of Materials


Provenance Note

The NYFAI records were donated to Rutgers University Libraries by Nancy Azara. The donation arrived at three intervals, in 1992, 1994, and between 2007-2010. Also of note, for several years during its operation, NYFAI housed the Women's Art Registry, a reference file comprising exhibition announcements, slides, photographs, and curriculum vitae of women artists, primarily assembled by art critic and activist Lucy R. Lippard. When the NYFAI records were donated to Rutgers, the Women's Art Registry collection came with them because for an undetermined time period the Women's Art Registry was housed in NYFAI. The Registry was not a NYFAI project. The two collections have been separated.


The records of the New York Feminist Art Institute comprise 17 cubic feet (16 records center cartons and 1 oversized box), spanning the period circa 1970 to 1990 and 2005 to 2010. Document types include correspondence, financial materials, publications, photographic prints, slides, audiotapes, videotapes, original art work, artifacts, and compact discs. The records document the foundation and the daily operation of this alternative art school, as well as fundraising, events, curriculum, student projects, individual women visual artists, and feminist activists. Documents donated between 2005 and 2010 detail the efforts to conduct oral histories with founding members and students.

<emph render="bold"> Administrative History </emph>

The New York Feminist Art Institute (NYFAI) was founded in New York City in 1979. It was established by a group of women artists, educators, and administrators: Nancy Azara, Lucille Lessane, Miriam Schapiro, Carol Stronghilos, Irene Peslikis, and Selena Whitefeather. NYFAI had its roots in the women's movement of the early 1970s. Believing in the need for an alternative institution to balance the inequities of male-dominated art schools and colleges, the founders of NYFAI sought to bring women of diverse experiences and backgrounds together to form a supportive community in which to create arts. They asked the fundamental question: How does the social and psychological context of our identity as women inform our art? This question would become the ethos of the school.

The founders of NYFAI became its first Board of Directors. They chose prominent women from the arts, education, and the professions to constitute a Board of Advisors. NYFAI opened in the Port Authority Building at 325 Spring Street in June 1979, with grants from the Joint Foundation, and eventually the America the Beautiful Fund, R.C.A., The Eastman Fund, and the American Stock Exchange, as well as the proceeds from a very successful benefit with the artist Louise Nevelson as a guest of honor. Fundraising would remain a constant problem, however, throughout the lifetime of the school.

The founders of NYFAI wanted the school to have a non-hierarchical structure. There were no grades; instead both teachers and students wrote evaluations of the student's progress. Continuing in the program depended on the motivation of the student. The curriculum of the school was also non-traditional: in the first year, within the context of group sessions, students concentrated on developing a better understanding of themselves and their position as women before embarking on the study of artistic technique. In her consciousness-raising classes, sculptor Nancy Azara pioneered the concept of visual diaries. These were journals kept by students recording their experiences through drawing, painting, sculpture, and sometimes text, which helped them translate their personal experiences into art. In addition to basic drawing, painting, and sculpture classes, NYFAI offered courses in feminist theory, and the history of art and anthropology from a feminist perspective. NYFAI also held evening and weekend workshops that aimed to attract part-time students, and introduced an apprenticeship program that enabled students to work on projects with established women artists. In 1981, NYFAI presented a major exhibition, "Transformations," at the New York Coliseum.

In the early 1980s, adopting the additional title Women's Center for Learning, NYFAI broadened its focus to include other arts such as print and papermaking, basketry, and puppetry, as well as courses in psychology and writing, all with an emphasis on the personal. Recognizing the need to help women translate feelings of powerlessness into action, however, NYFAI held its first political weekend in April 1981.

In 1984, NYFAI moved its headquarters to Franklin Street in New York's TriBeCa section. The non-profit Ceres Gallery on the first floor of the new building exhibited exclusively works by women artists, including yearly shows of artists associated with NYFAI. The expanded space also enabled the organization to offer low-cost studio and storage space to women artists. NYFAI continued its fundraising efforts by holding annual benefits at which donated works of art were auctioned, as well as twice-yearly open houses that honored women artists and women who contributed to the arts.

After the move to TriBeCa, the school began to place more emphasis on workshops and community involvement, as well as a slide collection and archive of women artists. In 1989, NYFAI sponsored a three-part series of programs to celebrate its tenth anniversary. "Beyond Survival: Old Frontiers, New Visions," tackled the issues of race and gender through an exhibition of the work of minority women artists, a symposium of artists and art critics, and the publication of what was hoped to be the first volume of a journal, entitled Positions, which featured essays by feminist historians, illustrations, and interviews with artists from the exhibition.

In 1990, NYFAI sponsored another exhibition, "Memory/Reality," but shortage of funding permitted only a drastically reduced selection of courses to be offered. NYFAI concluded operations in 1992-1993, at which time its archives and library were donated to Rutgers University Libraries. In 1992, the Ceres Gallery moved to Soho, eventually moving to 547 West 27th Street, where it continues to operate as a non-profit gallery with the mission of promoting contemporary women in the arts.

Related Collections

The Feminist Art Project Collection at Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers Libraries.

The Lucy Lippard Women's Art Registry, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

Inventory to the Records of the New York Feminist Art Institute, circa 1970-1990, 2005-2010 MC 892
Edited Full Draft
Fernanda Perrone, Amy Dawson, and Caroline T. Caviness
July 2009
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.