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Vancouver Women in Focus Society
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The Vancouver Women in Focus Society, commonly known as Women in Focus, was established as a non-profit society in 1974 and originally started as part of the Women's Office at the University of British Columbia. It began when two members of the Women's Office Collective, Jeanette A. Auger and Marion Barling, taught a workshop in video skills and produced a special series of half hour programmes entitled Women in Focus. The original function of the group was to “support the production of feminist video and film, and to encourage women artists in the making of images which reflected their lives and experiences.” The group then further expanded out into distribution and in 1975 became the first national feminist film and video distribution centre in Canada. Women in Focus continued to grow and develop as a society by conducting video production workshops, lectures, concerts, film screenings, poetry readings, dances, and presentations on the theory and practice of feminist art. As part of its public programming mandate, Women in Focus rented out videotape production equipment and published a quarterly member newsletter called “Focus.” In 1978, the group began their gallery program as an offshoot to the Vancouver Women’s Film and Video Festival. The group continued to host sporadic monthly exhibitions of local women artists until 1986, when they established the Floating Curatorial Gallery as a year-round schedule of exhibitions.
Women in Focus additionally had “a mandate to emphasize women’s and artists’ issues among public policy makers on regional, national, and international levels.” As such, Women in Focus participated in and/or was a member in organizations such as: The National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Association of National Non-Profit Artist-Run Centres, the Independent Film and Video Alliance, the Canadian Museums Association, Amnesty International, the B.C. Museums Association, the British Columbia Federation of Women, Vancouver Artist’ League, Vancouver Cultural Alliance, the Canadian Conference of the Arts, the B.C. Film Industry Association and the Coalition for the Right to View. The society also organized several film festivals in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, and attended festivals elsewhere, becoming part of an international network of feminist groups. Women in Focus was further involved in multiple projects and groups dealing with violence against women, pornography, child abuse, women’s labour laws, lesbian rights, racism, education, women in politics, and women in prison. They distributed a variety of educational materials on these subjects and maintained a significant print library of books, newsletters, pamphlets, magazines and newspapers.
During the period covered by these records the society moved from the Women’s Office to #6-45 Kingsway, Vancouver, then to #204-456 West Broadway, Vancouver, and then to their final location at 849 Beatty Street, Vancouver. The office on Kingsway was next door to the office of Vancouver Rape Relief, and there was close community between the two groups, as well as with other local women’s groups. By 1990, Women in Focus’ film library had almost 200 titles and they were distributing tapes all over the world. However, the group was experiencing financial difficulty by the spring of 1991. The Women in Focus Board of Directors decided to close the society and seized a sizable amount of money from a bank account shared with In Visible Colours, a women of colour film and video group, in order to pay the society’s creditors. The ensuing legal battles caused large financial and organizational strain, as all members of the board resigned and were replaced multiple times. After a year of inactivity, the Society attempted to return to its normal operations. However, in March of 1992, Women in Focus received notice from Canada Council informing them that their Distribution operating grant had been terminated. Women in Focus ceased its distribution operations, left the Beatty Street location, and placed the society’s assets into storage. The Society stayed in operation for another year, organizing gallery shows in other organizations until March 1993 when Women in Focus ceased operations entirely. In April of that year, the group official disbanded.
Because of the collective nature of the group, it was not run on a hierarchical basis. The group was run by a volunteer Board of Directors and one or two permanent staff. Smaller standing committees were also established to handle the various functions of the society, such as the Gallery Committee and the Finance Committee. Funding was generated through a distribution, a wide variety of grants, events, and fundraising ventures. Because the group was predominantly run by volunteers, the membership frequently changed. However, there are some names which recur frequently, both as representatives of Women in Focus and in relation to independent projects mentioned in the Women in Focus records. These include Marion Barling, founder of the group; Lyn MacDonald, Susan Moore, Michelle Nickel, Jill Pollack, Nicola Sumner, Colleen Tillman, Kern Windwraith, Sue Jenkins, Sara Diamond, Jill Baird, Jackie Levitin, Robin Lawrence and Zainub Verjee.
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