Posted by Spencer Koch | Posted in Entertainment Guide | Posted on 21-07-2011
Wright Library: closed.
Top Hat: gone.
ArtWalk: here and open for the business of creativity.
Several beloved cultural trappings have disappeared from Ventura in the past few years, or appeared to the disdain of some (public art sculpture at the Pacific View mall bus stop, anyone?), but one Ventura cultural icon isn’t going away: ArtWalk.
The city-funded ArtWalks, which began in 1994, were sliced from Ventura’s budget last year due to fiscal woes that have hit most municipalities. The ArtWalk wasn’t hacked off without remorse, however, and the potentially wounded (artists, art lovers, downtown businesses) have emerged unscathed, healthy and even happy.
The frequency of the popular downtown event has fluctuated from multiple times a year to twice a year to once a year to still once a year, but with added energy, thanks to a new organizing force: volunteers.
“It was important for us to own an event as an arts community,” said artist Michele Chapin, founder of Stoneworks Studio & Gallery. “Every entity around here is usually so busy just trying to float its own boat.”
“We’ve all come together,” said Ventura resident Marie Lakin, an ArtWalk organizer. Ventura is trying to promote itself as “California’s New Art City,” and “a lot of artists have chosen to live here,” Lakin said. “But that doesn’t mean that taxpayer funds have to pay for something like ArtWalk. The arts can do this.”
And they have.
- See this entire gallery at full size
On Saturday and Sunday, the inaugural Westside ArtWalk will take place in downtown Ventura. The self-guided tour of art galleries and studios has been scaled down somewhat, but still celebrates the creativity that’s always been swirling through the town of Two Trees, surf, sand and antique stores.
No one is “the bad guy” or arts-slashing Goliath in the story of how this weekend’s ArtWalk came together.
Volunteers took up the responsibility for ArtWalk at the encouragement of city employees who formerly organized the popular event and didn’t want to see it disappear.
What: Self-guided tour of nearly 20 art centers, galleries, studios and pop-up (temporary) galleries in downtown Ventura. Venues are Studio 1317, Bell Arts Factory, Tool Room Gallery, Vita Art Center, Art City, Stoneworks Studio & Gallery, Museum of Ventura County, Erle Stanley Gardner Building, Architexture Salon, Dogwood Studios, WAV, Fox Fine Jewelry, Arts on Main, Red Brick Gallery, VC Reporter, Ventura Visitors Center, Artists’ Union Gallery, Buenaventura Gallery and Pure Life & Home.
Where: Most sites are on Ventura Avenue and Main Street. Maps are available on the ArtWalk website, and at the Ventura Visitors Center and participating venues.
When: 1-9 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
Bowl Hop: Buy a handmade ceramic bowl for $25 and take it to participating restaurants to be filled with food samples; proceeds benefit FOOD Share. Purchase a bowl at the Ventura Visitors Center, 101 S. California St.; or Vita Art Center, 432 N. Ventura Ave.
Artist of Distinction Award: ArtWalk will honor artist-teacher Hiroko Yoshimoto; her work is on display at the Vita Art Center.
Party on: Two after-parties are planned. On Saturday, a reception to honor ArtWalk artists, 7 p.m. at the Museum of Ventura County, 100 E. Main St., will feature food, drinks, entertainment and a public art project in the courtyard. On Sunday, a party and art auction will take place 5-8 p.m. at the Erle Stanley Gardner Building, 494 E. Main St.; proceeds will go to Focus on the Masters. Admission is $15 ($10 for FOTM members). Also at the FOTM party, a drawing will take place to win a signed photograph by Horace Bristol from his Grapes of Wrath series “Tom Joad Chopping Wood”; tickets are $5, or three for $10.
Pedicab service: Bicycle cabs will be available to transport ArtWalkers to each location.
Denise Sindelar, community partnerships manager for the city, said that “as much as we wanted to continue to offer this program, in October we knew for sure we were not going to do it.”
So the city organized a series of four meetings at the WAV (Working Artists Ventura), City Hall and Bell Arts Factory from December through March to discuss how to transition ArtWalk to a community-coordinated event.
“At the beginning, there was no consensus on who would take the lead,” Sindelar said. After several meetings, however, Josh Addison, founder of the Bell Arts Factory — a former mattress factory on Ventura Avenue transformed into a community arts center in 2004 — volunteered to take the reins as chairman of the event.
He and other volunteer organizers added “Westside” to the name to distinguish it from the city ArtWalks, and because many of the participating venues are in the western part of downtown on Ventura Avenue.
Surprisingly, for a fledgling group, they haven’t run into too many pesky obstacles, including the dreaded but necessary evil: money. They’re running instead on a surge of volunteer will and donations of time, services and treasure from local businesses and organizations.
And instead of grumbling about the budget cuts, ArtWalk volunteers are enthusiastic about the opportunity to take control — and will probably continue organizing future ArtWalks, even if city coffers grow.
“I think it’s entirely healthy for ArtWalk to be organized by the creative community of Ventura,” Addison said. “If we care about it, we should do it.”
The Westside Artwalk’s budget is considerable smaller than the city’s was.
Sindelar said the city annually took in about $35,000 in sponsorship funds and participation fees for two ArtWalks, and paid a city staff person who was the primary coordinator for the event (among other tasks) $50,000-$60,000 per year.
Addison said the Westside ArtWalk budget is $10,000, and much of that is paying for marketing — advertising, poster printing, etc. The city donated about $3,500, Sindelar said, and a kickoff fundraiser and dinner in May at Mission Park and Jonathan’s at Peirano’s restaurant helped too.
Plus, the artists and galleries, businesses and other places that will host them are paying fees to participate: $15 for the artists and $200 for the venues.
The Westside ArtWalk will look a lot like … the previous ArtWalks, organizers said. But not exactly. Here are a few differences you’ll see this weekend:
Less but more
At the city-run events, ArtWalkers could visit nearly 200 sites, a mix of art studios and galleries along with restaurants and non-art retail businesses that became temporary galleries. Nearly 20 venues are participating in the Westside ArtWalk — most of them art-centered sites, including the Bell Arts Factory, WAV, Artists’ Union Gallery, Museum of Ventura County and Vita Art Center.
“There are fewer venues, but it’s more focused and concentrated, so people will have a more potent experience,” Addison said. “We’ve found it’s a better fit to have artists in their own spaces with their own work.”
Downtown retailers that will no longer be galleries for a day, luring in customers who come for the art and might find something else to buy, need not worry, Lakin said. “Businesses will still see the benefit of increased traffic.”
WAV artist Pete Ippel said moving the ArtWalk out of retail places “puts the emphasis on the social rather than business side of art. It puts the art in context, not out of context in businesses trying to sell things.”
‘Pop’ goes the gallery
Temporary or “pop-up” galleries will make their ArtWalk debut. “Before, we had the art up and down Main Street in existing galleries and businesses,” Lakin said. “Now, we’re also taking empty storefronts that aren’t rented and putting artists and art in them.”
Pop-up spots will include the Erle Stanley Gardner Building at Main and California streets, where a Focus on the Masters exhibit will feature “rare objects” from the FOTM archives, including artist portraits and original artwork. FOTM will also host a fundraising auction and after-party from 5-8 p.m. Sunday at the site. The list of people whose work will be auctioned is a who’s who of Ventura County’s finest fine artists, including Horace Bristol, Carlisle Cooper, Norman Kirk, Gerd Koch, John Nichols, Beatrice Wood and Hiroko Yoshimito.
The Bowl Hop is an ingenious ArtWalk concept in which everyone shares in the bounty: Just buy a handmade ceramic bowl at the ArtWalk (donated by an artist) for $25 and your payment will go to FOOD Share, then take the bowl and a punch card to a participating restaurant such as Tipps Thai, Zoey’s, Tutti’s Off Main or Taqueria Tapatitlan for food samples.
It’s called the ArtWalk, so of course you can stroll from place to place, but for people who aren’t fond of pedestrian transport, pedicabs — bikes that tow passengers — will be in service.
This difference is a little nebulous, because the city wasn’t exactly censoring art during its ArtWalks, but some artists think they will be allowed to be more daring with their work at the Westside ArtWalk.
“I’m convinced you’ll see style and creativity that you wouldn’t have had a chance to see here before,” said artist Grant Ensminger, whose work will be shown at the VC Reporter’s pop-up gallery. Previously, he said, the most “honest” art has “never really (been) invited to show; it’s always the photo of the dolphin breaching out of a wave or a shot of the pier or the Two Trees, which is important, but more creativity brews in Ventura than we really know.”
Everyone involved with the event praises the economic benefits of pulling visitors and county residents off Highway 101 to Main Street: Downtown retailers enjoy a two-day burst of customers. Local artists can make a living. Arts-related businesses boost their taxable income.
Lakin cited studies showing that “cultural tourists” (visitors who take in the art, music and theater scene) in Ventura “on average spend $80.55 per person per day, significantly higher than the average visitor, who spends $62.13.”
So art helps local capitalism flourish, but it of course does so much more that can’t be quantified in a spreadsheet.
Chapin, whose Stoneworks Studio on Ventura Avenue will be a top stop for ArtWalk action — with artists of all ages and skill levels, hands-on projects, live music and Chapin’s much-lauded home-baked cookies and brownies — has participated in the city’s ArtWalks since they began, and even before then, when less formal events like studio tours took place.
“It’s so important to have a visual component once a year that’s a celebration of what people create,” Chapin said. “That’s what ArtWalk’s always been.”
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