Artist-activist knows much about marked women
- Cliff Newell
- Lake Oswego Review - News
Marne Lucas braved public opinion to help Portland-area sex workers get assistance
Marne Lucas proved to be quite an amazing choice to serve as guest commentator for Marked Woman at the recent Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival at Marylhurst University.
In many ways the movie is a simple melodrama with plenty of punch, typical of the films that Warner Brothers churned out in the 1930s. But it featured Bette Davis, just as she was coming into her own as a great star, and a rising young actor named Humphrey Bogart.
But the reason it is most distinctive is its bold theme. The film was based on the notorious Lucky Luciano prostitution racket in New York City, and while District Attorney Thomas Dewey had managed to get Luciano behind bars, plenty of his business partners were still in business. It took courage for the Warners to tackle this story about powerless women.
It was similar to the courage that Lucas and her friends showed in the non-profit outreach organization Danzine in the late 1990s, helping people who no one else was helping - the sex workers of Portland.
'Danzine reached a population that thought it couldn't be helped,' Lucas said. 'People who were strippers, phone sex operators, lingerie models, drug users or prostitutes.
'Danzine did not necessarily try to get them out of the sex industry, and we were not apologists. We just thought they deserved decent health care and a decent place to live.'
The organization started out in humble fashion in 1995. Danzine founder Teresa Dulce, herself an exotic dancer, started publishing a mere page of information that was distributed in strip clubs. It was full of good advice for dancers on health care and places to work, along with reviews of recent performances.
But soon Dulce proved herself to be a great communicator, and her passionate commitment drew people like Lucas to sign on for this unlikely crusade.
'It completely blossomed,' Lucas said. 'Danzine became a nonprofit, and it just snowballed. I was just trying to establish myself as an artist at this time, but I wanted to help. I started as a volunteer at their events, doing photography, and eventually joining their advisory board.
'Sex workers are definitely a stigmatized group. I have never been a sex worker myself, but I had seen many of my friends go through it. I saw helping sex workers as no different than creating awareness for any other group. The people who do this could be your daughter or your sister.'
There were drawbacks.
'We were never a candidate for a grant from a major foundation,' Lucas said.
So Danzine got creative. It campaigned for new non-discriminatory laws, it put on fundraisers like film festivals of films by sex workers and old-time burlesque shows. Most impressively, the organization sought to reach people who were adamantly opposed to it.
'There were definitely a lot of knee jerk reactions,' Lucas said. 'We tried to bridge the gap with the public by inviting them to our events, and we did a lot of lobbying with city hall.'
Perhaps the high point for Danzine came in 2002 when then- Portland Chief of Police Mark Kroker sent a letter thanking the organization for its help in the city's needle exchange program.
'This is something that would not have happened in 1995,' Lucas said.
In a lot of ways, Danzine won, even though it did end in 2003 because it could never get that all-important major foundation grant, and because Dulce, the heart and soul of the organization, moved to the East Coast to seek her masters degree in education.
However, Danzine did not end up like Bette Davis and company at the end of Marked Woman -walking off into the mist of an unknown future.
'We definitely made a lot of changes,' Lucas said. 'A lot of agencies took up programs started by Danzine. The only bad thing is that sex workers are less liable to walk into a public agency to get help. With Danzine, they knew they wouldn't be judged.'
Meanwhile, Lucas pursues a career as an artist that grows by leaps and bounds and from coast to coast, since she now often commutes to Portland from her new home in New York City. Lucas has had an increasing number of gallery showings, and she is planning to publish coffee table books on her photos of pin-ups and self-portraits.
One of her most successful showings came right at Marylhurst University in February with 'Warlord Sun King: The Genesis of Eco-Baroque,' which received kudos from none other than university president Judith Johansen.
Lucas is still an activist, too, and considers her activism totally intertwined with her art.
Strangely enough, though, Marne Lucas is a marked woman herself. She has taken on sexual themes in her work, 'doing my fair share of pinups and nudes. People think my art is very risqué.'
But Lucas totally disagrees.
'I think it's very tame,' she said. 'I think of my work as portraits of something beautiful and something quite warm.'
That is why Lucas so much appreciates Anne Richardson, who helped her husband Dennis Nyback curate the Marylhurst film festival and enthusiastically approached Lucas about being the guest for Marked Woman.
'Anne sees right through the label the public puts on my work,' Lucas said. 'She sees what I am really trying to do.'
To find out more about Marne Lucas and her art, go to her websites at www.marnelucas.com or www.eco-baroque.com or /www.opalinepictures.com.