2016 was marked by significant developments in the county’s art and culture scene. Institutions closed, locations changed, local favorites hung up their hats while those that remained are keeping the creative spark alive in new and interesting ways. It’s been a tumultuous time, but perhaps from the chaos fresh perspective and inspiration will emerge.
The year started with a new poet laureate, Phil Taggart, the Askew editor and advocate for the homeless and the mentally ill who has kept the local poetry scene lively with readings, spoken word performances and other events that celebrate poetry and literature. MB Hanrahan was named the ArtWalk 2016 Artist of Distinction. She and ArtWalk’s 2016 Global Artist of Distinction Rolando Sigüenza (who hails from Oaxaca) worked together to design and install a new mural on Ventura’s Westside. (This was the first year, by the way, that ArtWalk occurred in October rather than over the summer.) Michael O’Kelly has made tremendous progress on the Ventura Historic Mural he is creating to commemorate the city of Ventura’s 150th anniversary (which took place in 2016). The design is complete, ceramic tiles are underway, and O’Kelly recently started a half-scale oil painting version. The 500-square-foot mural will eventually be installed on a wall in front of the Ventura Mission, so stay tuned!
All Shook Up
The Brooks Institute dominated headlines throughout the year. The excitement generated in February by a proposed move to Downtown Ventura was unprecedented, as many hoped it would be the shot in the arm needed to revitalize and reinvigorate a lagging economy. Properties slated for the photography school’s occupancy included the fourth floor of the Nonprofit Sustainability Center behind City Hall, forcing Focus on the Masters, the Ventura County Ballet and other tenants to relocate to the third floor. It all came to naught, however: Brooks announced its pending closure in August, closing for good on October 31 after over 70 years of operation.
Museums countywide experienced trials and tribulations as well. The Museum of Ventura County closed in September in the wake of financial struggles and a revolving door of executive directors since 2012. It’s not a permanent situation: Staff are in the middle of a complete renovation and restructuring, to be unveiled in January. Despite these difficulties, MVC was the site of some fantastic exhibits this year, notably Ventura @ 150: Celebrating the City of Good Fortune and the Smithsonian’s I Want the Wide American Earth: An Asian Pacific American Story.
The Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks, which closed its doors at the end of October, reopened for business in November with new hours and a much smaller staff. To cut costs and build up revenue, all paid staff — including executive director Alfred Mazza and curator Graywolf — have been let go. Board members and volunteers will tend the museum during school tours and on Saturdays, the one day of the week when the museum is open to the public. Currently the museum is seeking to grow its volunteer base, and may open again on Sundays in 2017.
The picture in Santa Paula has been rosier. The Santa Paula Art Museum is expanding, thanks to the donation of a 6,000-square-foot building, conveniently located right next door. The expansion allows for a new education center, as well as the storage of several pieces of art owned by the city but currently being held at the California Oil Museum. Why move the art? Because the Oil Museum is being transferred from city operation to the recently formed nonprofit California Oil Museum Foundation, which should improve promotion and fundraising efforts.
Local theater likewise experienced ups and downs in 2016. Cabrillo Music Theatre and Ojai Youth Entertainment Studio both appeared to be in dire straits at one point, but managed to get back on their feet, thanks to a scaled-down season and expanded board (Cabrillo) and a new location at Ojai Valley Community Church (OYES). New companies Cool Britannia and Opera by the Glass have infused the county with a fresh approach to theater. VC will miss the uber-edgy Flying H, which closed up shop in August, but owners Cynthia Killion and Taylor Kasch remain involved in local stage productions. Ventura Improv is on the hunt for new digs, leaving its Downtown Ventura location in mid-January.
Lights, Camera, Action
The Ventura Film Society is still on hiatus, but Lorenzo DeStefano has been busier than ever, shopping Hearing is Believing, his documentary on blind musician Rachel Flowers, to film festivals throughout the country. Ojai musician Rain Perry got in the film game this year as well, completing her own documentary The Shopkeeper: A Documentary About Mark Hallman and the Congress House. Filmgoers had the opportunity to enjoy quality independent productions through the Wild and Scenic and Ojai Film Festivals.
A number of new books on Ventura County history were published in 2016, including Mexican American Baseball in Ventura County, Ghosts of Ventura County’s Heritage Valley and Oxnard Sugar Beets: Ventura County’s Lost Cash Crop. Author Zoe Murdock of Ojai came out with a new novel, Man in the Mirror, and Ventura native Bill Lascher published Eve of a Hundred Midnights to critical acclaim.
In 2016 Ventura County said goodbye to two giants in the local art world. Artist and educator Linda Elder died in July following a battle with brain cancer. Philanthropist Sandra Laby lost her battle with pancreatic cancer in September. Their impact on the county’s art and culture was significant, and they will be sorely missed.