Whether it’s a restaurant providing free meals to fire victims and first responders, a church taking up a collection or a single individual offering up a truck to anyone in need, the Thomas Fire has shown that Ventura County cares. . . and will show up to help in the face of tragedy. The art community has followed suit, with individuals and institutions across the county providing a lifeline anyway they can.
Summer Camp (shopsummercamp.com) in Ojai offers home and vintage goods, including many made by local artists, as well as art shows, workshops and other cultural events. It’s also one of many local businesses offering a portion of proceeds to fire victims. Over the weekend, 20 percent of all sales went to relief efforts and those in need, while 100 percent of the profits from the sale of the store’s Ojai pennants (developed with the help of Oxford Pennant and Road Trip in Lake Arrowhead) are being donated to the Ventura County Community Foundation. The VCCF has created a Disaster Relief Fund, available on its website at vccf.org, for online donations.
The Porch Gallery (porchgalleryojai.com ) just opened its latest exhibit (featuring work by Anthony Craddock and Chris Maynard) this week, but owners Lisa Casoni and Heather Stobo are already getting to work on another show, opening in February, for the benefit of Ojai artists who have lost homes. These include musician/composer Ray Powers and perfumist Stacey Moss (of Moss Botanicals), both of whom lost residences and livelihoods in the fire. Casoni and Stobo also donated some of Porch Gallery’s Rock the Glass barware to a fundraiser to be held at The Gallery Montecito, owned by Ojai resident Bobbi Bennett. While there’s no lack of people in need during this time, Casoni notes that, as a gallery owner and Ojai resident, “Directing it to the artists feels really right.”
Focus on the Masters’ (www.focusonthemasters.com) founder and executive director Donna Granata also reached out to local artists, offering use of the organization’s extensive archives, which “contain a variety of evidence to support the artist value, including price sheets, exhibition records and photographs of the artist work,” Granata shared via a Facebook post. “Many of these files can be helpful in insurance claims where needed.”
The galleries at the Museum of Ventura County (venturamuseum.org) in Downtown Ventura are currently closed due to internal air quality issues. The pavilion, however, has been open free of charge to the public this week, with crafts (including ornament decorating), snacks and family-friendly movies. The museum hopes to resume regular operating hours starting Dec. 19, but will offer free admission throughout the holidays.
The Agriculture Museum, MVC’s “sister” site in Santa Paula, has proved to be a welcome respite, with space for children to play and free coffee and doughnuts.
Fresh produce (provided by a generous donor) is also available, while supplies last. Like MVC, admission is free through the holidays.
Camarillo was largely untouched by the fires, but Studio Channel Islands (studiochannelislands.org) has kept its friends and neighbors in other parts of the county in mind. The arts institution is offering several programs to help fire victims deal with the aftermath of Thomas.
Free temporary storage space for art and art supplies is available at the Blackboard Gallery for artists who have been displaced or are dealing with fire damage. Executive Director Peter Tyas says that around 8,000 square feet are available for paintings, sculptures, brushes, canvases and more — in a secure, smoke- and ash-free environment. SCI artist Mary-Gail King is offering free Paint Nights on Tuesdays at her studio, R1, complete with live music and food (bringing a dish to share, if possible, is encouraged). King provides all art supplies and a safe, clean, stress-free environment for expression and decompression. “The creative outlet is incredibly healing,” King says. Finally, Kristina Ebsen of Reid’s Gift is offering free art therapy for individuals with special needs every Thursday evening at Kindling Studios (www.kindlingstudios.org) until January.
Both King and Tyas know many artists — including local luminaries Gerd Koch and Carole Milton — affected by the fires, fueling a strong desire to help. Some “have lost their whole body of work . . . a lifetime of creativity,” Tyas says poignantly. “If we want to see what Gerd has produced over his lifetime, much of that work is gone.”
These are, no doubt, just a few of the inspiring stories of the community rallying around fire victims, and finding creative ways to make things just a little bit better. It’s been a difficult time in Ventura County of late. But as the saying goes, love in the air is thicker than smoke. Ventura County is strong . . . and we are always stronger together.