Ariel Maria Dougherty was born May 21, 1947, in Danbury, Connecticut, to Frazer and Page Huidekoper Dougherty. Frazer Dougherty was a pilot in the South Pacific during World War II; after the war he was a test pilot for a company attempting to build an automobile-airplane, the Airphibian. It's maiden flight was the day of Ariel's birth. Page Huidekoper was a secretary to British Ambassador Joseph Kennedy before the war; she later worked as a photographer, a society and political columnist, and for liberal political organizations, including Americans for Democratic Action. The family had four children (Ariel's older brothers Frazer and Rush, and her younger sister Page Independence) and lived in Sierra Madre, California, in the early 1950s. Frazer and Page Dougherty separated in 1957 and Page moved with the children to Washington, D.C.; the divorce was finalized in March 1958. Later that same year Page married Thomas Wilson, a diplomat. Frazer Dougherty married Frances Ann Cannon and lived in New York City, with a second home in East Hampton, New York. Ariel attended Georgetown Day School, then went to Washington, D.C., public schools Gordon Junior High and Western High School. From 1962 to 1964, while in high school, she was a member of High School Students for Better Education, a student-run organization that lobbied the U.S. Congress for more money for the Washington, D.C., public school system. During 1964 and 1965, Ariel lived in Indonesia with an American family stationed at the U.S. Embassy. She completed high school by taking correspondence courses, and returned to Washington, D.C., to graduate with her classmates in June 1965.
With thoughts of becoming an artist, Dougherty enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College in the fall of 1965. She continued to study art, but became more interested in film after taking the college's first film course and teaching filmmaking to children in Bronxville, New York, during 1968 and 1969. Upon graduating from Sarah Lawrence in 1969, Dougherty moved to New York City, where she continued to teach filmmaking skills: to high school students in Queens (1969-1970), to Chinese immigrant elementary school students (1970-1971), and to teachers and high school students through the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1971-1972). She also made her first film, Sweet Bananas, in 1972. In 1973 she taught film to women inmates at the Bedford Hills prison in Mt. Kisco, New York. In addition, Dougherty taught film production to women through Women Make Movies, an organization she co-founded. During this period, Dougherty met other young people who taught film skills in community settings, including Jamie Barrios, with whom she lived beginning in 1969. He was a founder of Young Filmmakers Foundation, through which Dougherty met Sheila Paige.
Women Make Movies (WMM) began as a feminist collective organized in 1969 by Dougherty, Sheila Paige, and Dolores Bargowski to create women-made films that documented women's issues and lives. They were inspired by discussions in women's liberation movement meetings about the absence of docuementation of women's real lives in film. Paige and Dougherty's experiences teaching youth filmmaking and publicly showing their films insoired them to create a forum in which they could teach filmmaking skills to a broader group of women. In June 1972, Women Make Movies was incorporated as a nonprofit organization. The founders taught film and video production to other women in a New York City basement they called the Chelsea Picture Station, which they hoped would also function as a community film and video center. WMM raised money to send women and their films to film festivals, held film screenings, and offered to document events of other women's groups. In 1975, WMM helped organize a bi-coastal conference of feminist film and video organizations. Dougherty and Paige served as co-directors until 1975, but their relationship became increasingly contentious, and they decided to step down. That year WMM was re-imagined as a production and distribution collective; members were required to do administrative tasks and serve on committees, and could then use equipment, attend workshops, and ask for financial help for film production and distribution. In 1978 a board of directors was recruited. Grant funding decreased throughout the 1970s, and WMM began distributing films by non-members in 1979. Through the 1980s, as grants became harder to get, film distribution became WMM's main source of income. By the end of the 1980s, the organization was primarily focused on distribution of films, as well as providing information and sometimes financial assistance to women filmmakers. Dougherty served in various functions on the board of directors from 1972 to 1978 and from 1986 through the mid-1990s.
By the mid-1970s, Dougherty's relationship with Barrios had ended. She spent more time with women friends, including many who were lesbians or women-identified women. She met Carol Clement, an animator and student, and moved with her to an apartment they called "Amazon Palace." In June 1976 Clement and Dougherty decided to leave New York City and move to upstate New York (coinciding with the end of Dougherty's stint running WMM). They lived in a variety of locations in Greene, Sullivan, and Schoharie counties in the Catskills over the next several years. In 1977, the two women founded an organization, named Artemesia, "to produce media and promote its use and development in rural areas." One of the first projects of Artemesia was the Catskill Gypsy Cinema, a film series which showed locally-made and other films in locations throughout four counties.
Dougherty taught filmmaking and film studies classes at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, New York (1977-1978), and at Columbia-Greene Community College in Hudson, New York (1981). She was co-coordinator of a 1977 survey of the arts and culture industry in the Catskill Mountain region, and served as Executive Director of the Greene County Council on the Arts from 1977 to 1979. Dougherty and Clement worked on a film together, Surviva, which was completed in 1980, about a rural woman artist's struggle to support herself and her art.
In addition to Sweet Bananas and Surviva, which Dougherty conceived, filmed, directed, produced, and edited, she worked on many other women's film projects. These include Women's Happy Time Commune by Sheila Paige (camera and executive producer, 1972); Songs, Skits, Poetry and Prison Life by Bedford Hills inmates (producer and editor, 1974); educational films Rules, Rules, Rules and Mabel, Mabel (assistant editor, 1975); International Videoletters (producer, camera, editor, 1975-1976); Healthcaring from Our End of the Spectrum (producer, 1976); They Are Their Own Gifts (assistant camera, 1978); Musereel #1: Tapestry of Womanspirit (co-producer, camera, editor, 1977); and Tales of Tomorrow (co-editor, 1982).
From 1980 to 1986, Dougherty was Development Director and curator of a women's film and video series at Women's Studio Workshop (WSW) in Rosendale, New York. WSW was a feminist art organization that provided studio space to women artists, offered art classes, and held exhibitions. Dougherty was the initiator and national coordinator of TARTS (Teaching Artists to Reach Technological Savvy), a grant program WSW created with four other women's arts groups, that provided computers and technological support from Apple Computers, from 1984 to 1986. Through her work at WSW, Dougherty began to focus on general funding issues for artists' (and in particular women artists') organizations. In 1981 WSW organized a survey of women artists' organizations in the United States in order to forge connections between groups, as well as provide a picture of funding problems. Dougherty served on the board of the National Association of Artists' Organizations from 1982 to 1986, and was co-chair of their Minority Task Force, where she addressed issues of funding as well as diversity. Dougherty also was able to show her own artwork at WSW, and use her film editing skills to assist in other art installations. The Proposal, her installation about the realtionship between artists and arts administrators that included film loops, was shown at WSW in 1984, and Facelift, a video and mixed-media installation, was shown in 1985. Dougherty also collaborated on Big Book, with her film installation in the book's spine, for a WSW exhibit in 1986.
Dougherty and Clement separated in 1985. At the end of 1986, Dougherty moved to East Hampton, on Long Island in New York. Her father Frazer Dougherty was running LTV, a local cable access station, and Ariel worked as the development director for nine months. She continued to be affiliated with the station as a producer and creator of programs. In 1989, for her 20th college reunion, Dougherty made Dear Sarah. . . Twenty Years Later, a color video incorporating historic documents and her own original Super-8 footage of a 1969 student sit-in at Sarah Lawrence College to protest a tuition increase and lack of diversity. While living on Long Island, she also became more interested in ecofeminism and environmental activism. Her filmmaking began to incorporate these new interests. She was involved in two live public access shows on LTV, The Recycling Show and Cultural Democracy/Ecology (a biweekly show hosted by Dougherty that focused on feminist culture, media criticism, and the environment, 1989-1992). In 1990 she helped edit Safe Planet: The Guide to Environmental Films and Video (New York: Alternative Media Information Center). Dougherty also worked on projects relating to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil in 1992 ("The Earth Summit"): a television special, Sustaining Our Planetary Home, and a video, From the Interior, Colonized, about women's position on bio-technology.
Ariel Dougherty continues to work on films about and made by women, mainly as a producer, and to advocate for gender equity in the media at large.
From the guide to the Papers of Ariel Dougherty, 1946-1993, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)
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