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Meet Cheryl Bookout of The Chimaera Project in Burbank

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cheryl Bookout.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Cheryl. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My path as an artist has led me on many adventures. For many years, I was a clothing manufacturer designing my own line and seeing my designs hang on the racks of major department stores across the US, such as Nordstrom and Macy’s. Eventually, I could not compete with clothing manufactures shipping their product offshore to be produced. I made the tough decision to close the business and go back to my roots in the visual arts. The really positive thing I got from my experience in the garment industry was a pretty intense business experience – good and not so good.

I have always had a passion for public art projects and the voice it lends to issues of social change. My many years in manufacturing, all the small parts it takes to make a product, gave me a great deal of insight into the business world. I knew I wanted to work with arts nonprofit organizations and help artists see their visions become a reality.

After closing up shop in the garment world, I took a big risk and rented a studio in what is now the Santa Ana Artists Village in Orange County. For $281 a month, I had the entire basement of a 35,000 square foot building known as the Santora Building all to myself. This was in 1992 and I thought it was pretty much heaven, even if my family and friends thought I was crazy. At the time, the area had a reputation that was less than stellar. To earn an income I did off the wall things like work as the person who picked up the president of Taco Bell’s phone messages transcribes them and email them off to the appropriate Taco Bell employee. I could do this on my laptop in the studio while I worked on my own art projects. It was in Santa Ana I began volunteering for arts organizations to help them get their state and federal nonprofit status.

My work in Santa Ana led to an invitation from property owners in Pomona to move my studio to their Arts Colony and work with some of the grass roots art happenings going on in that part of East Los Angeles. It was an offer to move into a live/work space and I jumped at it.

As a result of my involvement with various art communities, I have had the good fortune to meet and work with amazing artists and filmmakers. I have facilitated projects with Los Angeles artists Kim Abeles, Barbara T. Smith, Cheri Gaulke, Judy Chicago and many more. My experience working with these artists opened up curatorial opportunities that have been critical to my career. A favorite was my curatorial consultant position for “Multiple Vantage Points: Southern California Women Artists, 1980 – 2006” exhibited at the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in 2007. I’ve lost track of how many exhibitions I have curated, I know it is well over 100.

One of the best things that ever happened to me was meeting Shana Betz and America Young, who became partners as co-founders of The Chimaera Project. This happened when I left Pomona and went to work for a national nonprofit located in Venice, CA. This organization provides art programs in crisis centers and shelters for adults and children moving past the trauma of abuse, sexual assault, and violence. At that time, my personal studio was in Hollywood on a piece of property owned by my friend and renowned artist June Wayne. One of the studio spaces adjacent to mine was being rented by filmmaker Shana Betz, who had just finished working on a project with another filmmaker America Young. Shana and America had a dream to create their own nonprofit to support filmmakers identifying as female. When we three crossed paths it was the beginning of The Chimaera Project. Shana and America are now the co-presidents of the organization and I am the interim executive director. The Chimaera Project awarded finishing funds to three amazing filmmakers in March of 2018 and it is very exciting to see the difference we can make through our nonprofit work. We are on a mission!

Gloria Orenstein, Professor of Women in Literature and Art course at USC, included my contributions to the arts in The California Women Artist Project archived at the University of Southern California and Rutgers University. I am past President of the Southern California Women’s Caucus for Art 2012 – 2016; member of the Desert Screenwriters Guild and have been a guest on numerous panels including: Los Angeles Contemporary Art Landscape, Brand Art Center, Glendale, CA; In Dialogue: June Wayne and the Rise of Women Artists, Pasadena Museum of California Art; Arts and Healing, El Museo del Barrio, NY, NY; Extant Women, Beacon Arts Building, Inglewood, CA; Finding Beauty through Struggle, California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA.

In 2016, I had my first opportunity to co-produce three short films: I AM BE, Gloria’s Call and Sanctuary. I AM BE is at the end of traveling the film festival circuit with nation-wide screenings and numerous awards. Gloria’s Call premiered on February 23, 2018, at the Los Angeles Convention Center in conjunction with the national College Art Association and Women’s Caucus for Art conferences. Sanctuary documents a collaborative public art project by veterans, active military and the community of Joshua Tree, CA.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Nope. Not a smooth road. As I shared in my long narrative about how I got to where I am now with The Chimaera Project, the garment industry just about did me in. It was so labor and cash flow intensive. Yet, had I not lived through all that, in pursuit of my artistic dreams to be a designer, I would not have gained enough confidence to trudge forward in the arts.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with The Chimaera Project – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
The mission of The Chimaera Project is to recognize the collective voice as a catalyst for social change. We are dedicated to empowering filmmakers who identify as female to fearlessly create, inspire and lead. Our goal is to create change by demonstrating an inclusive model.

I think one of the things I am most proud of and sets us apart from other nonprofits doing similar work in the filmmaking sector is our mentor program. For example, in October of 2017, we provided the “Storytelling Toolbox Mentoring Program” for high school students. The program provided mentors currently working in various capacities in the industry and guest speakers to pique interest about opportunities in front of and behind the camera. One of the primary goals of our mentoring program is to reach the students as individuals and at the same time emphasize the importance of each participant’s role in successful collaborative projects. Our aim is to engage their imagination and encourage them to share their stories as we strongly believe the “art of change” happens through storytelling. The Chimaera Project has three core programs: Mentoring Program, Funding Opportunities, and Networking.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
My plan for the future is to do all I can to help expand the program opportunities for The Chimaera Project. Of course, this means reaching out for more funding so we can turn around and give it to the filmmakers. On a personal level, my big change happened in January of this year. I moved my studio to Joshua Tree. This is fabulous, except now I need a helicopter to get myself to and from Los Angeles.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Robert Bookout, Danielle Eubank, Stacy Sweeting

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Gloria Orenstein

    May 16, 2018 at 08:58

    Cheryl, This is so fascinating. I had no idea of the many things you have been involved in, but I was certainly impressed with the work on Gloria’sCall and the little film my students made for our archive–on you. Hope that we can all get together soon and follow the path that the film is taking now. I have been to Mexico twice for the Leonora Carrington events, so we have a lot to catch up on. You are such an inspiration. You should be in Veteran Feminists of American. Go to their webpage and where they have bios, I’m in the list with many many women whose projects are inspiring in so many fields. I did co-create , with Suzanne Benton (artist from Connecticut), a Salute to Women Artists that took place e in NYC. We had so many women there, who have left us too early, but if you click on their Salute to Women Artists they have the panels and the names, and we also have video archives of women of all ages speaking out about their struggles in the patriarchal art world. Some were Seniors and barely made it to the stage for their 2 min. talk into the camera, but we were so proud to have them–such as Sylvia Sleigh–pioneers from the seventies. Maybe they will want more honoring in the arts—?? They have had these honoring celebrations in all fields—I mean political fields, academic fields, activist events etc. Look on the web pages for The Veteran Feminists. You belong in their group, which has expanded to all feminists now. Love, Gloria O.Glor

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