(Not) Too cool for school

Studio Channel Islands Art Center (SCIART) celebrated the opening of the new Blackboard Gallery earlier this month, finally bringing its gallery space and artists’ studios together for the first time. The museum-quality gallery, three times the size of the former space, will allow SCIART to exhibit more and larger works from regional artists, further solidifying its reputation as a cultural hub in the heart of Old Town Camarillo. “This might be the largest gallery space in the area,” says Executive Director Karin Geiger.

Measuring an impressive 3,000 square feet, the gallery features high ceilings, modern lighting and enough space to accommodate large installations and sizable works, while a series of movable walls (with built-in lights) let the gallery change up the format as needed. Arlene Mead, an artist-in-residence and chairwoman of the Standards Committee, is credited as the “visionary” who helped design the gallery’s professional look. The ceiling and top portion of the walls are covered with black fabric to make the space less expansive, and movable walls have been added. “They move about and break up the space,” she explains, “and also give us a fair amount of flexibility.” There’s also a stage, which “opens up the opportunity for music programs, readings, performances,” Geiger adds. A gift shop, stocked exclusively with items created by artist members, is also on site.

The Blackboard Gallery takes over the auditorium of the former Pleasant Valley Elementary School (which closed in the early 2000s), where it joins SCIART’s studios and workshops. The center was originally housed at California State University, Channel Islands, to encourage the development of a fine arts program.

“SCIART was established in part to make sure that the university would have an art department,” explains Geiger.

With 25 studio spaces and prominent artists-in-residence such as founding member Gerd Koch, Roxie Ray and Pat Richards Dodds, SCIART became a magnet for artists throughout Southern California. Maggie Kildee, a sculptor who was among the core group of people who helped found the center in 1997, recalls that “We invited everyone we knew in the art community. Around 300 or 400 people came.”

A retired Ventura County supervisor, Kildee has had a hand in the art center from day one: the co-founder has served as president, executive director and parliamentarian; currently she’s an artist-in-residence and board member. Her 16-plus years of dedication were recognized at a recent gala when she was presented with the first annual Medici Award, created to honor leadership and distinguished service to the community and to SCIART.

The center left CSUCI in 2009, when the school’s flourishing Fine Arts Department needed to expand. Kildee was instrumental in obtaining Pleasant Valley Elementary, at 2222 Ventura Blvd., for the studios, with a gallery across the street at 2221. It was always the hope that the gallery and studio spaces would eventually be rejoined. That finally happened in 2013, thanks to funding from the TOLD Corporation and local arts patron Bettina Chandler, who pledged support with a matching-funds campaign. “Within less than three months, we exceeded our goal!” exclaims Geiger. “The support from our community was unprecedented and demonstrated a great validation of our work as an art center for the community.”

A children’s art camp, an art immersion experience for adults, and open artists’ studios the first Saturday of every month are some of the numerous programs SCIART offers. But the caliber of the artists utilizing SCIART’s work studios combined with the prestige of the new Blackboard Gallery are what really distinguish SCIART as a premier regional art center.

“I think it’s going to be an important venue in the community,” Mead says. “We don’t have anything else like it.” Geiger agrees, adding, “Now we have the studios, the art education and the gallery. The three go together.”

Studio Channel Islands Art Center is located at 2222 Ventura Blvd. in Old Town Camarillo. For more information, visit www.studiochannelislands.org.