The Buenaventura Art Association (BAA) made some big changes this summer. The organization’s Harbor Village Gallery has moved from the location it held for 10 years to a new spot in the Ventura Harbor. That move resulted in less space — from over 1,200 square feet to less than 800 — and thus a new approach to operation.
“The larger space had six studios. We can’t do all the same things we did in the larger space,” Sharon Taylor, BAA executive director, explains. “Instead we went in another direction. The new gallery space is a co-op.”
Which means, essentially, that the day-to-day functions of the new gallery — now called Harbor Village Gallery & Gifts, or G2 for short — are in the artists’ hands. The 14 member artists — soon to be 15, according to Taylor — who have a spot in the new space do all the management. Their fees pay the rent, they handle scheduling to make sure the front desk is covered during open hours, they make the rules, co-op members interview any new prospects, etc. “We share the hosting and household duties and meet once a month to discuss our activities and new ideas to make it better, more interesting and fun for our visitors,” says Karen Wu, an Ojai-based painter and one of the co-op members. Wu’s fellow members include painter and sculptor Frank “Kimo” Mitchell, watercolorist Lorna Amundson, and jeweler Debi Nowak-Hawkes.
It’s not the first time the 62-year-old arts organization — which also runs the Buenaventura Gallery in downtown Ventura and a space at Community Memorial Hospital — has attempted the co-op model. From about December 2013 until January 2016, BAA operated two galleries in Ventura Harbor: the Harbor Village Gallery (which closed in June) and a spot called Harbor Village Gallery & Gifts Too. The latter was something of a windfall: the harbor had an empty storefront, and BAA asked if it could open a holiday boutique. It was so successful that the following summer, BAA took it over for a longer tenure, and played with the co-op model. “It was sitting empty, so the harbor let us use it,” Taylor says. “It was an experimental thing.”
Economic realities resulted in the harbor eventually taking back both spaces. Taylor is quick to note that there are no hard feelings. “[Ventura Harbor] has been good to us,” she says. “For 10 years they gave us an incredible deal. But as the economy improved, they needed market rate from their tenants. And they made us a very good deal for a smaller space in there.”
Losing the considerable real estate afforded by both galleries was a hit, but BAA benefited from the experience. “What we learned from that old space we’re using here [at the Buenaventura Gallery downtown] and in the new space.”
One of those lessons learned was the value of the personal touch. Having artists in the gallery drew people in, and they were more likely to purchase as a result. “Customers like the stories behind the art work,” Taylor notes. She sees G2 as supporting the artists “who want to sell, who want to concentrate more on marketing.” G2, which occupies the space formerly held by Harbor Wind and Kite, is also in an area with better foot traffic. The loss of square footage was a hit, but G2 enjoys some tangible advantages.
“We certainly have many more visitors coming in,” Wu confirms, “and from so many different places! The advantage is not only having more floor traffic, but the opportunity to display our work and discuss it with our visitors. No, we do not have as much space as we did before. However, we have worked it out so that each artist is given adequate facilities to make their specific work shown and to complement their neighbors.”
While G2 has been open since June, the artists are getting ready for their official grand opening this weekend. This all-day “Celebration of the Arts” will include a treasure hunt (with a raffle for the winners), Hawaiian dancers, a flute performance by co-op member Laura Walter and art demonstrations. Wu will also sign copies of her children’s book, A Busy Day on Cherry Lane.
Wu notes that a portion of the profits from G2 will go to BAA to help fund scholarships for local college students. “Our main purpose is to bring art to the forefront of our children. Get them interested when they are young because it can open up a whole new experience for them.”
And as for the new gallery itself, the joy of making and sharing art with others is a reward all its own. “We want our gallery to be a success, not only for us, the participants, but for the public as well,” Wu says. “And, it’s a lot of fun!”
The Harbor Village Gallery & Gifts Grand Opening and Celebration of the Arts takes place on Saturday, Aug. 20, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. at 1559 Spinnaker Drive, suite 106, in Ventura Harbor. For more information call 644-2750 or visit www.buenaventuragallery.org.