Ojai’s Libbey Park is a picturesque but finite space.
More than 20 years ago, painters, potters and musicians (and patrons of each) crowded together among the oaks when Art in the Park, the Ojai Music Festival and a Ventura County Potters Guild show took place the same weekend in June at the downtown park.
“We used to get this flood of people flying through to the band shell in a rush for the music festival — it was crazy,” said Bonnie Caruk, an Ojai resident and painter who has been participating in Art in the Park for two decades.
“Now it’s purely art-focused, so it’s much friendlier,” Caruk said.
Ojai’s Art in the Park is celebrating its 40th anniversary this Memorial Day weekend. (The show eventually moved from June to give the various art festivals more space.) The juried art show has been held every year since 1977, rain or shine, but mostly shine, with a few windstorms.
“It’s a wonderful community feeling,” Caruk said. “It’s lovely when I sell stuff, but I always bring an extra lawn chair because I know I’ll be sitting and visiting with fellow artists or people who come every year. It feels so much like home.”
The Ojai Art Center organizes the festival, which has grown to include food, music and an exhibition for teens. Performers this year include singer-songwriter Jade Hendrix and the Hamsa Bollywood dance group.
Teri Mettala, who has worked at the Ojai Art Center for 37 years, became its director in the late 1980s. She wasn’t around for Art in the Park’s genesis, and couldn’t find any historical records about the show’s first few years, but did know that an Ojai artist named Richard Stein created the event so local artists could show and sell their work.
Now, about 20 percent of the nearly 90 Art in the Park artists are from Ojai, and the rest from other parts of California and the U.S., Mettala said. She claimed that a majority of the artists come back every year, and some demonstrate their craft at the festival.
According to Mettala, artists get to keep all their proceeds, which was not always the case. “The deed for Libbey Park once said no one could make a profit there,” she said. “So we had to get their receipts, take out the tax, keep a percentage, then mail individual checks to all the artists.”
Ira Meyer, an award-winning nature, travel and wildlife photographer, lives in Oxnard and has shown his work at Art in the Park for about seven years.
He spends nearly two months each year in Antarctica taking photos, then sells his work the remainder of the year.
“Attending art shows is my livelihood,” Meyer said. Before coming to Art in the Park, he spent Memorial Day weekend at a show in Morro Bay. But when sales dropped, and Meyer heard other artists speak well of Ojai, he decided to try Art in the Park.
Art of all kinds is available: paintings, photography, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry and more. Mettala said the quality of work at Art in the Park makes it a stand-out art show in the county. More than $1,000 in prizes includes $500 for Best of Show.
“Some street festivals have art that’s not juried, so anyone who wants a booth can have it,” Mettala said. “For us, each year a committee looks at the art carefully, even booth set-up, and handpicks the artists.”
Some artists arrive early in the morning to create elaborate booth settings with tablecloths and glass display cases. Caruk, however, said she uses lattice-work walls to hang her art, then adds a card table and a few chairs.
“I keep it simple — just let the art speak for itself,” she said. “What more do you need? A little shade, and a chair for a visitor.”
Art in the Park will take place May 27-28 at Libbey Park, 210 S. Signal St., Ojai. For more information, visit www.ojaiartcenter.org/art-in-the-park.html.