The Museum of Ventura County is feeling the love. It is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the time when nearly 100,000 activists, artists, musicians and writers converged in San Francisco and sparked a revolution, with exhibits and events that highlight the influence that 1967 (and the flower-power era that followed) had on Ventura County.
Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out is a “community-based pop-up exhibit” of authentic artifacts belonging to Ventura County residents. Iconic clothes, posters, photographs, books, album covers and more reflect what the Summer of Love was like, Ventura-style. One of the most popular parts of the exhibit is a series of cubbies curated by Ventura locals. Memorabilia, photos, essays and other artifacts depict the era from a personal point of view. Each cubby is steeped in nostalgia and filled with emotion, ranging from free love to righteous anger.
Down the hall, and fast-fowarded a couple of decades, is Coping Mechanism: Skateboarding in Ventura County. Curator and local skateboarder and artist Christopher Thor McMakin calls the exhibit his “love letter to Ventura County.” McMakin explains that skateboarding’s “heart is centered in imagination and creativity.” Included are photos of local legends skateboarding at iconic spots across the county, as well as videos, art and other artifacts that tell a love story born on the rails.
Juxtaposed to all the good vibrations are two exhibits that shed light on the dark side. One is Suddenly That Summer: Charles Manson and the Crime of the Century. On display are photographs and newspaper accounts surrounding the 1969 murders of actress Sharon Tate and six other people by the Manson “family.” It points out the family’s ties to Ventura County and shows the stark contrast between the beauty of Sharon Tate, shown in a 1967 photo by local photographer Neal Barr, and the sinister nature of the crime.
Sharing the same gallery with Suddenly That Summer are some other Really Awful People. That would be a special display of historical figures created by George Stuart. This collection of archvillians includes Jack the Ripper, cleverly paired with an unusual (as well as highly dignified and well-known) suspect who some believe was Jack the Ripper’s true identity. There are also Hitler, Vlad the Impaler and a surprise.
One final show, not part of the Summer of Love exhibits but still on display, features the imaginative works of Michael Pearce. “The Secret Paintings” opened on June 2 and includes his “monumental four-part work . . . themed for the summer solstice.” The associate art professor at California Lutheran University takes his influences from many places, from Harry Potter to the Holy Bible, to create works that “embrace magic and romance” and evoke “grand adventures.”
The works by Pearce and Stuart are definitely worth checking out, but the museum’s major presentations revolve around the Summer of Love. In addition to the three exhibits, it is offering a series of special events: “Bringing the Heat,” a talk by drummer Fito de la Parra (Aug. 10); Born Into This, a documentary about Charles Bukowski (Aug. 17); and a live performance by the Grateful Dead tribute band Cubensis (Aug. 26).
This look back at the Summer of Love occurs at a time when the Museum of Ventura County faces an uncertain future. It recently received $125,000 from the city to keep its doors open for a few more months, and a request for $125,000 from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors was also approved on the afternoon of Tuesday, July 25. Both the city and county, however, expect the museum to show that it can eventually be self-sustaining. Further, the county is demanding that the museum start cataloging its collection of 181,000 documents and artifacts, and work towards creating a $10 million endowment.
Really, the future of the museum rests in the public’s hands. “It’s important for the city and county to hear from people that the museum is important to them and that they value it,” says Jo Bowers, the museum’s director of finance.
The Summer of Love exhibits are on display through Aug. 27 at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., Ventura. For more information and a schedule of related events, call 653-0323 or visit venturamuseum.org.