Bigelow's early creative endeavors were as a student of painting. She enrolled at San Francisco Art Institute in the fall of 1970 and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in December 1972. While enrolled at SFAI, she was accepted into the Whitney Museum of American Art's Independent Study Program in New York City. For a while, Bigelow lived as a starving artist, crashing with painter Julian Schnabel in performance artist Vito Acconci's loft. She had a minor role in Richard Serra's video Prisoner's Dilemma (1974). Bigelow teamed up with Philip Glass on a real-estate venture in which they renovated distressed apartments downtown and sold them for a profit. 
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