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About a decade ago, Kaleta Doolin took a women’s studies course at SMU. While doing research for a paper on women in the arts, she came across a quotation from the author of a book she studied in her first art history course in the 1970s. In it, the author stated that he would have put women in his book if there were any worth representing. Doolin found the book she had used for two semesters of study and made an art piece out of it, cutting a slot through it to represent women. She also changed the book’s title to A Woman on Every Page. This was a profound moment for Doolin, who started reevaluating her education on the history of art.
A highly creative person who expresses herself in numerous ways, Doolin is an artist, philanthropist, educator and writer. She co-founded the Texas African American Photography Archive. She works with the Women Donor’s Network to create social change with campaigns like Reflective Democracy, an effort to bring more women and people of color to political leadership. Doolin is part of the University of Texas Fine Arts Advisory Council and spent years with the Public Art Committee for the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.
In August, the Kaleta A. Doolin Foundation presented The Nasher Sculpture Center with a gift of $750,000 that will be used to help fund acquisitions by female artists. “I’ve been looking for ways to make significant contributions in my lifetime and beyond,” says Doolin. This was the first time her concern with the way women are underrepresented in the arts merged with her charitable efforts for women and children. “I’ve carried that for a long time,” she continues. “I want to be an advocate for women artists. I’ve begun to see how prevalent it is that you only see men’s artwork in galleries.”
Doolin also recently joined the Women’s Fund at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to help increase the amount of women’s artwork that hangs from its walls. Along with other members of the Women’s Fund, she is working with curators to help the museum choose which women’s artwork it should acquire. “Women go into museums and galleries and don’t see representation of what women do,” Doolin says. “It gives you the wrong impression, that women don’t do as much as men do.”
But she is mostly focused on making changes at the local level, where she has made her longest charitable contributions. For 30 years, she has been involved with the Zonta Club of Dallas, known for its work with international fellowships, scholarships, United Nations programs and prevention of violence against women. Founded in 1924, Zonta is the oldest women’s organization in Dallas. “It’s taught me philanthropy,” says Doolin.
At her own expense, Doolin also served as a teacher for 20 years at her non-profit organization, Contemporary Culture, as well as the African American Museum of Dallas and the Latino Cultural Center. Working with children and teens, she developed a curriculum called "The Frame Project" in English and Spanish to help students create their own art and give them a culturally diverse education in art history. Doolin was not only one of a few teachers, but also the director of the project.
Doolin will help bring attorney and feminist activist Kim Gandy to Dallas this fall for an event at City Café. Well-known for appearing as a commentator on numerous broadcast news programs, Gandy is the former president of the National Organization for Women and now runs the National Network to End Domestic Violence. In the 1970s, Gandy worked on a campaign that overturned Louisiana’s Head and Master law, which gave husbands unilateral control over property jointly owned by married couples.
With Laura Jean Lacey, Doolin collaborated on “Container of the Soul,” the burial mound in the Facing the Rising Sun: Freedman’s Cemetery exhibit at the African American Museum. She vividly remembers digging a hole in the ground to make a fiberglass mold. A construction crew saw it and actually thought someone was getting buried on a residential property. The exhibit was originally meant to be on display for a year and has now been showing for 14 years.
And after years of exhibiting her work and curating shows, Doolin is still making art. She has video installations, a gorgeous recent piece she made out of her mother’s tablecloth, and is currently working on restoring work that was damaged in storage. She is even working on a steel sculpture for an upcoming group show. Doolin also makes limited edition artist’s books. These works of art are concept-driven, with specific forms and content, handmade using unique materials. These books have been purchased by museums all over the world, including Victoria & Albert, Centre Georges Pompidou, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Museum of Modern Art in both New York City and San Francisco.
“What I’m after is equality,” Doolin says, succinctly. She wants equal representation for women in the arts, but in every other way as well.
Kim Gandy will appear at 5:30 p.m., October 28, at City Café, 5757 W. Lovers Lane
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