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San Francisco Foghorn
Scene Section, November 26, 2003

Photograph of students with Paola Gianturco throwing confetti to celebrate women


It is undeniable that throughout history outstanding women have gone unrecognized. Our history books do not chronicle their lives and actions as often or completely as their male counterparts. It is this injustice that the International Museum of Women (IMOW) hopes to change. Its mission is to celebrate the lives of women around the world. Projected to open in 2008 at Pier 26 in San Francisco, this museum would put any feminist on cloud nine. Last Wednesday, Nov. 19, Lovisa Brown, the programs and volunteer manager for the IMOW, and photographer and author Paola Gianturco, spoke in room 440 of Lone Mountain about an upcoming exhibit, and what students can to do to help turn it from dream into reality.

Gianturco spoke of her journey across the globe to create the upcoming exhibit put on by the IMOW in San Francisco next fall. The subject of this exhibit is international festivals that honor women, as featured in Gianturco's book, which will be released in October of 2003, entitled Celebrating Women: Festivals Around the World. Paola provided a slide show of, as she put it, “17 festivals in 15 countries done at lightning speed.”

The bright, colorful pictures of dancing, eating, laughing women from all walks of life were just a few that Gianturco took on her international journey that will likely be included in the upcoming display. These photographs depict the spirit of each festival and its celebration of femininity.

“Women are celebrated as warriors and as mothers; they are celebrated as virgins and as flirts; they are celebrated as healers and providers. They are celebrated because they are brave, political and powerful. The spectrum is inspiring. It can help us understand why we are who we are and what we can become,” Paola said.

The IMOW is the perfect example of such potential. This “museum without walls,” as Brown called it because it hasn’t yet materialized, demonstrates what women with determination can accomplish. This project to establish a major women’s museum in San Francisco began in 1997, and though the process is still at the developmental stage, big steps have been taken. Already the IMOW has put together three traveling art exhibits: the most recent was “California Woman Suffrage” shown at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House this past Sept. Additionally, the museum has a full-time staff, a board and many volunteers extremely committed to making the IMOW a “real” museum. Perhaps their biggest achievement to date was the signing of an Exclusive Right to Negotiate agreement with the Port Commission last June for the 150,000 square foot building on Pier 26, just left of the Bay Bridge.

Though the IMOW will not open at this location until 2008, it is still very active, as exemplified in its organizing of “Celebrating Women, Festivals Around the World.” Celebrating Women is the first exhibit the IMOW has curated. It is still to be determined where this exhibit will take place. However, Brown said that it will be somewhere within San Francisco that is “accessible, with enough space for the exhibit.”


USF student volunteers have the opportunity to help plan the layout of the display. When asked by USF student Chelsea Pegram what photographs would be on display, Gianturco said with a smile, “That could be decided by a committee you sit on.” Brown stressed the need for help in the process of putting together this show. “Now is the time to volunteer,” Brown said, adding that students will get to be “in on the beginning” of this monumental project.
“This kind of material has never been put together before. The International Museum of Women is breaking ground. (The display) will be the first expression of the Museum’s vision, a preview, a showcase, a debut four years before their Pier 26 location is ready to open in San Francisco,” Gianturco said.

Volunteers are needed for the organizing of Celebrating Women under three different categories: exhibit and its development, programs in education outreach and marketing and fundraising for the exhibit. No prior skill is necessary, and anyone is welcome to help.

“USF students and other volunteers will have an opportunity to make a huge impact in shaping and implementing the exhibition because, as a ‘museum with walls,’ IMOW has a very small staff that couldn’t possibly handle all the work that will be required for such an ambitious show,” Gianturco said. “Committees will work under the supervision of Museum Board members, so students will have an unusual opportunity to learn, as well as contribute. Plus, celebrations and working on this exhibit will be fun.”

Gianturco and Brown both stressed the fact that they want to make sure it is not only a visual experience, but one that captivates all the senses. “You might learn to bake festival buns, to create a romantic mask, to dance the samba. There will be music, dancing and feasting, plus all sorts of surprises,” Gianturco said. “With the involvement of the many ethnic communities in the Bay Area, the Celebrating Women exhibit will be truly interactive.” The most significant characteristic of the exhibit is the potential it has to act as a catalyst to change the outlook of its visitors regarding women and the things they can accomplish.

“As the distance between countries and people shrinks, I hope Celebrating Women will connect us and inspire us to use our similarities – and differences – to tackle the problems that beleaguer women and their families in every country,” Gianturco said at the end of the presentation.
To finish off the presentation, Gianturco passed around a bag of shredded, sparkling confetti, of which each member of the group was encouraged to take a fistful. “I celebrate women starting with those in this room.” Here’s to you, and to the women of North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, celebrating women, celebrating women everywhere!” Paola said, and with that, the wave of her hand the confetti flew.

If you are interested in volunteering with the IMOW in the organizing of this exhibit, contact the Programs/Volunteer Manager, Lovisa Brown at (415) 543-4669 ext 15, or Lovisa@imow.org.

copyright 2004 Paola Gianturco