Lisa Steele

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Lisa Steele grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and was part of the student group that included Don Holman, Chuck Wall, Greg Sperry and Janice Spellerberg. She immigrated to Toronto in June 1968 with Don Holman and Chuck Wall and was part of the housing commune known as the Kansas City people. Shortly after her arrival in Toronto she, Chuck Wall and their cat, Rosie, moved to Vancouver, B.C. where they hoped to find work, buy land and build their own home in the country. Unfortunately they could not find work in Vancouver. By August she and Chuck had moved back to Toronto where Lisa found work at the Toronto Telegram newspaper. Chuck and Greg Sperry worked together washing windows.

In March 1969 she and Chuck rented a warehouse in the alley behind 33 Baldwin Street that they hoped to transform into an art studio and community center similar to the warehouse they had shared in Kansas City. The warehouse was called the “Slum Goddess.” She and Chuck lived in the back of the warehouse and paid the rent on the building. Chuck and Greg earned their living by going door-to-door in the suburbs of Toronto washing windows under the name of the Liberation Tribal Window Washers. In May a City of Toronto Building Inspector ordered Chuck Wall and Lisa Steele to stop living in the Slum Goddess because it was not zoned for residential use. This first effort to open a community studio failed and, without sufficient money to pay the rent, the Slum Goddess was shut down.

In 1971 and 1972 Lisa and her friend Janice Spellerberg worked for the Canadian Whole Earth Almanac at its offices in Rochdale College at Bloor and Huron Streets. She was involved in the Baldwin Street Photographer’s Co-op and in 1973 returned to school to learn about an emerging camera technology that came to be known as video. Lisa taught video camera techniques at “A Space” in Toronto and in 1974 she began a long association with Interval House, a crisis center for women.

Lisa became quite famous as an innovative artist in “video”. In 1978 she founded Fuse Magazine and in 1980 VTape. In 1981 she was hired as an instructor of video at the Ontario College of Art and in 2004 was Associate Chair of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto. In 2005 she and her husband, Kim Tomczak, received a Governor General’s Award.

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