Fridays in Ventura usually conjure images of Jack and Cokes, sloppy dancing and, at the end of the night, an appearance by Mr. Pizza. But for the organizers of First Fridays, the hope is to add watercolor paintings, sculptures and hand-sewn quilts to the city’s weekend iconography.
Beginning June 1, eight downtown art galleries will open their doors and keep them open until at least 8 p.m., encouraging evening viewers (and potential customers) to lead themselves on a self-guided tour of some of Ventura’s best artistic talents. The plan is to repeat the event on the first Friday of every subsequent month — hence the name.
If the concept sounds similar to ArtWalk, the thrice-yearly city-sponsored event in which the whole of downtown is overrun by local artists, well, it is — but with a few distinct differences. No city money is involved, first of all. And the participating establishments are those for which art is their primary reason for existing. Instead of art appreciation being relegated to special occasions, the creators of First Fridays hope to contribute to the continued enmeshing of art into the daily culture of life in Ventura.
“This is about art,” says Sandra McCullough, the owner of Sea Breeze Art Gallery who, along with Christine Beirne, executive director of the Buenaventura Art Association, is spearheading First Fridays. “You can have fun — art’s not scary — but you should really look at it in terms of really thinking about art and looking at how it works in your life. Everyone should have original art in their life, because it brings a certain quality. Even bad art brings a certain quality to your life.”
McCullough and Beirne came up with the idea after speaking with other gallery owners at art mixers about what the city needs to do continue proving its “New Art City” label. Although she says it is a great, supportive community for artists to work and live in, McCullough says Ventura needs to improve as a marketplace.
“Artists need to think more in terms of marketing themselves globally,” she says. “They really have to do due diligence and get out there on a global level. This isn’t L.A., where we have an influx of tourism to draw from. We basically have to do it ourselves.”
Still, some see First Fridays as an indication of local artists moving in an independent direction.
“What this represents is a groundswell of activity that has been building within the artist community,” says Josh Addison, founder of the Bell Arts Factory. “This is not a city-led event like ArtWalk. The pump is primed by ArtWalk, but this is coming from the ground up.” He adds, “This is just another indication that the art scene in Ventura is alive and well and becoming more diverse and interesting.”
Beirne concurs. “If you think back even five years ago, Bell Arts didn’t exist; Buenaventura and Accolades were the only places to buy art. Now, you have Red Brick Gallery, Seabreeze, the Upfront Gallery, which does more contemporary art, and the city is building a live-work space for artists. I don’t think it’s just a pipe dream,” she says of the notion of Ventura being a New Art City. “It’s here, and it’s going to get better.”