The Women’s Museum of California joined the Arts District family in 2012. In need of more space, Ashley Gardner, the museum’s Executive Director, knew that Liberty Station would be the perfect home for their growing museum. Just a few years prior, the museum saw maybe 1,000 visitors in the course of one year and today they now see over 10,000.
“We needed an environment where arts and culture were supported and where people could walk by,” Ashley expressed. And so, their new home in Liberty Station has become a well established non-profit, showcasing the many aspects of women’s history.
The museum showcases a wide variety of exhibits and switches them up every month or two in hopes of having an exciting feature and appeal to a broad audience. They host special events throughout the year and also offer educational and outreach programs for schools, libraries and other organizations. Currently the museum is showcasing a historical exhibit about the Chicana movement
. In August, a more fun and fanciful show about women in the 20s and 30s will appear and in September and October they will be doing an exhibit on women in politics. “Of course it’s appropriate for this year since we have a woman being considered for the presidency. It’s not a political statement, we are just looking forward to having people connect to the history of women in politics.”
Ashley jokingly says her rise to the Executive Director position was “accidental”. Her background is in radio, TV, theater, and marketing and in 2002 she heard about a project on a Women’s Hall of Fame and decided to join the board to help with marketing. Eventually, she became the President, “because, that’s what happens when a bossy woman joins the board,” she laughs. In 2007 the museum lost it’s funding, but her passion for seeing the project succeed inspired her to take the position of Executive Director without pay. “I’ve always been passionate about women’s issues. I grew up in a family of women and I was never restricted in what I chose to do. My parents were always very supportive. That’s hugely empowering and that carried on into my adulthood to empower and support women because not all of them had that.”
As Liberty Station continues to grow and make a footprint on the history of San Diego, Ashley sees the Women’s Museum as a key player in the community. Collaboration is key, and that is one thing the museum relies on heavily. “We have several artists in Liberty Station who have their things in our store. We connect with other artists to bring more people here. We do a big event every year. Just being involved in the conversations. Making the space available. Collaboration. We were never big enough to stand on our own and we have found that is part of our success.”
Ashley is proud of the work the museum has done and has always had an attitude inclined toward taking risks. Moving the museum to the Arts District was a big risk for her team, but she asked them, “What’s the worst that can happen? The worst was we couldn’t pay our rent. Well, we won’t be the first or the last non-profit that can’t pay our rent. So we can deal with that.” The risk they took to join the Arts District family was one we are certainly glad they took. The Women’s Museum of California has added a rich, unique, element to the deep roots of history embedded in Liberty Station and San Diego.
“It’s interesting, because people love to look at old things. I don’t know what it is about old things. Nostalgia. No matter how technologically advanced we get, we want to connect with our past so we can appreciate our present and future.”
For more information about the Women’s Museum of California, visit womensmuseumca.org