History has proven that art and culture entwine. The extent of that impact may vary, however, as do the driving forces that encourage artistic efforts.
In Ventura County, the Ventura Artists’ Union (VAU) was vital to this effort for years. It was formed in 1993 by Joe Cardella. He is a 28-year Ventura County resident and artist who serves as director of ARTLIFE MOCA, a virtual gallery, and publisher emeritus of the highly regarded ARTLIFE, recognized as the longest continually published artists’ periodical of the 20th century.
Cardella first tried to establish a contemporary art museum. When that didn’t work out, he took a different approach. “I realized that it was time for artists to have some kind of collective bargaining power with the city and that is the main reason why I started the Artists’ Union,” Cardella recalled, “so that artists can be able to establish a presence in the community without being ignored.”
Eventually, a grant was awarded and a VAU gallery was instituted, at 330 S.
California St. in Ventura. But in 2012, the VAU was asked to evacuate, and it began to rely on availability of space at various galleries for its exhibitions. Without a permanent space, the challenges were notable and membership declined.
Five years later, the organization has re-emerged.
“I think that many of us on the board were internally conflicted between hope and worry. Our passion for the arts in Ventura, and in general, is without question. But we were also aware that the Ventura Artists’ Union cannot exist without the artists,” said Ińes Monguió, a practicing psychologist who is an established printmaker and a member of the VAU board.
The organization launched its “rebirth” in collaboration with Ventura’s Art City Gallery and Studios. There were about 23 artists who participated in an exhibition, appropriately called Re-Birth, which opened during Art Walk and closed on Nov. 12.
“What I hope will happen from the VAU reinvigorated, reinvented, is that it will grow itself to become a voice of artists to look for art opportunities to expose the community once again to artists’ personal energy, because I think Ventura is kind of lacking direction again,” said Paul Lindhard, a renowned sculptor, owner of Art City and president of VAU.
“The Ventura Artists’ Union wants to be a place for promoting and encouraging collaboration and cross-fertilizations of artist and media as a way to enrich the community,” Monguió said. “As more art venues are developed, there is less
opportunity to interact with each other in the collaborative manner that the Ventura Artists’ Union envisions.”
These opportunities will be available during the VAU’s four upcoming shows in 2018 at Art City. Three will be open to proposals from artists, and the events during the exhibits will aim to be expansive, including performance art, dance, demonstrations, poetry, lectures and more. The final show, the highly anticipated Art of the Book VII, will be held in September.
Although Lindhard is content with the turnout of Re-Birth and is hopeful that VAU membership will increase, he disclosed that the board is not yet as efficient as it once was. The VAU needs its artists as much as the artists need it.
“I just wouldn’t call it the age of volunteerism, and you sort of need that,” he explained. “The Artists’ Union board, for example, is a volunteer organization; we’re a 501(c)(3). Nobody can make any money, and the gallery itself can make money in a way that it can go into a scholarship fund or pay for expenses, publishing, et cetera.”
While he believes that the relationship between community and art is cyclical, he
is determined to do his part to develop Ventura’s art life. Lindhard recently finished Art City’s expansion into a gallery, which will allow accommodation for a broader range of work. The gallery’s grand opening took place on Nov. 19 with a new exhibit featuring paintings by Mike Tiné and sculptural works by Jo Anne Duby, Chris Provenzano and Greg Kailian.
“For me, art is a legacy thing. It’s what you leave. It’s what I leave. I don’t even have kids; it’s what I’m gonna leave behind for my life’s work,” he said. “So I’d like to see that it gets out there and that it has a positive effect on people’s lives. I live here, it’s my community, I’ve been here 30 years — so this is where I want to take my stand.”
Lindhard has enjoyed considerable influence within Southern California’s sculpture scene, but he and other Art City artists are also established in the global art community. Curator Sophia Kidd, for example, studied at Sichuan University, and she hopes to extend her reach for the benefit of other artists.
“I am already looking into the development of international artists residency programs with similar grassroots organizations in Southwest China,” Kidd said. “Art City is one of the oldest art collectives in the world, in a world that is less and less tolerant of regional grassroots organizations of any kind, much less arts organizations. What we do here is important not just as art, but as a small society which integrates into communities around it.”
Furthermore, Art City will launch its archival and young curators program. According to Kidd, the program is intended to help young people interact with artistic work and demonstrate that the understanding of art work is open and accessible to everyone.
The goal of the archival program is to create a repository of Art City art, history, installations and Art Citizen culture. It will include archival material about other movements in Ventura, particularly the West End, where Art City has played a major role. Ultimately, by becoming a resource for the entire community, the archival program aspires to benefit everyone.
Monguió expressed some concerns, which were echoed by her fellow artists. “I fear that Ventura County considers art and artists as irrelevant luxuries. In the seeking of financial solvency, the focus has turned to immediate moneymaking options, ignoring the documented benefits of long-term investment in the arts.”
For example, Cardella has long proposed a contemporary arts gallery, but to no avail. Apparently, the possibility of funding was mostly dependent on community interest. There is an argument that procuring interest and increasing awareness for the art world requires financial support.
“For a community, if it goes off the menu, if it becomes something that they don’t hear about at council meetings, see it happening at their schools, then it’s a ‘Did the tree fall in the forest?’ type of thing,” Lindhard said.
The artists bear some responsibility, too, not only to present their work but to make it known that they are there.
The revitalized VAU hopes to engage both local established and emerging artists, to support them and, in turn, support Ventura County. Art City’s gallery will provide opportunities for a wider range of artists, while its archival and young curators programs seek to make a difference in the present, for the future.
“The record of a culture and the way a culture is judged in future times is not by its financial status,” Cardella noted. “Not by numbers on paper, not by political activities. Cultures are judged by the art they leave behind.”
For more information on Art City, visit http://www.artcitystudios.com/. For more on the Ventura Artists’ Union, visit the organization on Facebook.