The Power of Art

Women’s Wisdom leader helps nurture the community

By Jessica Laskey
January 2020

“We all have different needs,” Ali Tucker Lichtenstein says. “One of mine is to be of service and give back. Everyone at Women’s Wisdom is here because it fulfills something.”

Ali Tucker Lichtenstein is the executive director and board chair of Women’s Wisdom Art, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable art classes in a safe, nurturing environment for women overcoming poverty, homelessness, violence and abuse in the community. Founded in 1991 by Laura Ann Walton as part of Maryhouse (a daytime hospitality shelter for homeless women and children), the program was operated under the wing of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services from 2000 until 2012, then as a nonprofit corporation under the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, and then, as of June 2016, as an independent 501(c)3.

Lichtenstein first got involved with Women’s Wisdom Art in 2015 as a donor, then as a teacher of fiber arts and writing. (She is a prolific fiber artist, and taught women’s and gender studies, literature and writing at Keene State College in New Hampshire for nearly 20 years before moving to Sacramento.) When Walton decided to leave the organization in 2017, Lichtenstein was asked to assume the helm. She jumped at the chance to continue connecting with her new community through art.

“We try to find art that’s meaningful,” says Lichtenstein, who makes everything from birds to quilts to dolls to art for social justice out of colorful fabrics and fibers. “Women’s Wisdom is a bridge organization. We ask women what they need. If someone hasn’t been able to get out of the house for two years, we help them break that isolation and build confidence to go out and do things. If a woman has retired from a profession and loses her social network, we give her a place to be connected again. Some women just need a place to have a healthy snack and brush their teeth. Women’s Wisdom provides that too.”

While the Denver native has a lot to be proud of from her long tenure of artistic advocacy, Lichtenstein is most proud of her social activism through artwork. Check out her Instagram and you’ll see everything from a patchwork image of Ruth Bader Ginsberg to an embroidery circle that proclaims “God is an Immigrant.” She also created and implemented the Sacramento Commission for Women and Girls, which travels around the city hosting “Listening Circles” during which diverse women’s groups discuss what they think women and girls need in Sacramento. Each event also includes an art project where participants create quilt panels (more than 200 have been collected thus far) that Lichtenstein transforms into quilted banners and wall hangings to be used for rallies and marches.

“I’ve fallen in love with Sacramento, but it’s not perfect,” the Land Park resident says. “We’ve got a lot of problems here that I’m trying to be a solution for. Women’s Wisdom helps women keep their heads in the game, take steps forward and support each other.”

Lichtenstein also finds that art is an essential emotional outlet for the women the nonprofit serves. Whether that takes the form of painting a painful personal narrative onto a quilting square (Lichtenstein combined a series of these into an art story quilt for the group’s 25th anniversary show at the Crocker Art Museum) or creating spirit dolls, every art project has a purpose.

“No matter where I am, I always end up teaching dolls,” says Lichtenstein, who’s sewing the hair on a “cozy, all-natural” doll as we speak. “I’ve taught academics all over the world, but the most learning would always happen after hours when students and their families would gather and make dolls. There’s something about the human image that speaks to people.”

That, and tireless teachers like Lichtenstein.

“No matter how tired I am at the end of the day, the connection to people in my community keeps me going.”

For more information, visit womenswisdomart.org. To see Lichtenstein’s art, visit alilichtenstein.com.

Jessica Laskey can be reached at jessrlaskey@gmail.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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