Reflecting on Ventura’s art scene
The closing of the Sylvia White Gallery will mark the passing of an era in the history of Ventura’s cultural scene. The museum-quality exhibitions, performances and poetry readings were top-rate and enriched our community in so many ways. I am sad to see the gallery close. What is unfortunate is that the Sylvia White Gallery’s tenure in Ventura coincided with an unprecedented fiscal crisis that has yet to pass into the history books. In fact, many believe the Great Recession will have a long-lasting effect on the art world — especially when it comes to sales.
For the past five years, all of us working in the arts have weathered the most difficult period in our cultural history, our civic leaders included. In the lowest ebb of the fiscal crisis, it was extraordinary and very heartwarming to see our community come together in innovative ways. Artists, arts organizations, business leaders and city staff pooled resources and expertise to help get everyone through while benefiting our community at the same time. That is the beauty of our community: people who truly care. Although we all have yet to fully recover, opportunities arose that otherwise may not have happened.
As for Focus on the Masters and our own response to the recession, we, like most nonprofits, cut everywhere we possibly could, year after year, including our staff. The last area to cut was our rent. The city stepped up and offered a vacant space that had been empty for many, many years. Knowing that other nonprofits were experiencing a similar fate, the City of Ventura’s Non-Profit Sustainability Center was formed where many nonprofits serving the greater community can continue their important work in a reduced-rent situation. This allowed for much-needed stabilization. All the money these organizations save in rent goes directly into our local economy through their programing. In the last four years, FOTM was able to rehire our education staff. By next year, our Learning to See Youth Outreach programing will be back to its full capacity. This is an incredible accomplishment that we could not have achieved without the city of Ventura’s help.
The city of Ventura was a pioneer in the early days of cultural tourism and its support for the arts. The city’s leadership inspired our surrounding communities like Ojai, Oxnard and Camarillo to follow suit. The rewards of our city’s cultural investments in our community remain vital today. As the city of Ventura continues to recover, I believe financial support for the arts will increase as well. Our City Council knows how the arts generate revenue and that a vibrant arts community generates much-needed revenue and helps to pay for the essential services the city provides to our citizens. Supporting the arts is a necessity for the city’s financial stability and well-being and the City Council recognizes that. The fallout from the Great Recession is taking a little longer than any of us could have imagined.
This coming year FOTM will celebrate our 20th anniversary. During this time, I have participated in just about every facet of the cultural development of our community. All along the way, I’ve worked with dedicated people, all passionately committed to our creative community. From the artists to the City Council members, staff and arts commissioners, to our museum’s staff and board members, to gallery owners and collectors, we all remain committed to the cultural vitality in Ventura because we love our city and the artists who make it great. I have seen a lot of changes over the 20 years. What remains is the love and devotion to the arts from our dedicated community.
Focus on the Masters