Posts tagged ‘change’

December 9, 2010

Future of ArtWalk: workshop yields as many questions as answers

“We are the music makers, we are the dreamers of dreams.”–Willy Wonka

Last night representatives from various sectors of Ventura’s visual art community gathered at the WAV to discuss the future of ArtWalk vis a vis the city’s shrinking financial and administrative contribution to the event.

Since its humble, organic emergence in Ventura more than a decade ago, ArtWalk has seen consistent growth as one of the city’s best-attended cultural events. But in the past year or so, a sour economy, changes in city leadership (and vision) and frankly, a stale model, have all contributed to the event’s current state of peril.

Last evening’s gathering was intentionally not held at City Hall for obvious reasons, or as Public and Visual Art Supervisor, Denise Sindelar noted, because it’s not conducive to “creativity and brainstorming.”  The discussion was led by PLACE president Chris Velasco, the brain behind the WAV project and a crack workshop/discussion coordinator, with various city leaders heading up smaller discussion groups. Though it played out a bit like a speed dating session, the cut-to-the-chase format did generate a lot of ideas, perhaps too many, which in the end left everyone sort of scratching their heads.

And… it revealed some subtle dynamics, perhaps even a division (at least in thought and purpose) between the OG, veteran Ventura artist contigent and the new school, WAV hipsters, perhaps not dissimilar to what’s surfacing within the boundaries of the WAV community itself, just more than one year since the first tenant moved in.

Giving the event an identity was the biggest conundrum of the night, inspired impassioned soliloquies and fevered cross talk punctuated the need for these kinds of dialogues.  As observed through this reporter/participant’s lens (so feel free to chime in and correct me), the new kids on the block, naturally coming from an entirely different cultural orientation by generational default, seemed to have a “more is more” perspective, envisioning the ArtWalk (or, insert flagship cultural event tag here) as a large scale festival/party  with lots of entertainment from all reaches of the arts, vendor booths, live music on every block, wine tasting, double decker buses, clowns and jugglers and a giant inflatable Picasso, Van Gogh and Dali, a la the Macy’s parade, floating over the city as local poets read city council minutes in ironic tones. (Kidding of course, but it could make for an interesting performance art piece). There was even mention of  a Pageant of the Masters type feature and the rave-style, Burning Man esque GLOW event in Santa Monica was briefly tossed into the fray. Sigh.

The city leadership types seemed keen on the idea of an ArtWeek  event perhaps showcasing different districts over two weekends, including the Harbor Village, midtown, downtown and the Westside with transportation offered and an educational element threaded throughout.

The old guard, and the group that I found myself in agreement with, held firm to the event’s original intent: a showcase for local visual artists with the prime function of valuing, discussing and PURCHASING art and celebrating the people who create it.  A natural biproduct of such an event is patronage of local restaurants and retailers, but it’s not the driving force. Most people agreed that the event needed to be fun, but to paraphrase renowned artist John White: viewing art and learning about art and owning art is friggin’ fun.

Ventura has had a tendency to copy good ideas from other cities. It may be the sincerest form of flattery but it’s not the best way to cultivate an identity. Let’s hope, as this discussion moves forward, and those who share a passion for art duke it out over the details, that we can birth something beautiful and fruitful. Maybe rather than trying to be everything to everyone, covering all the bases with this one event (pant, pant) and crouching to the level of the lowest common denominator, we can be the example, the tastemakers, the trendsetters, and create an event, that is entirely unique to Ventura, drawing from the deep pool of talent we are blessed with here. Let’s show ’em what we’re made of; the rest will follow. And if it doesn’t, we are stronger in identity, more unified as a community and brighter in spirit, anyway.

July 8, 2010

Goodwill, bad idea: isn’t it ironic?

The new Goodwill store opens in downtown Ventura on July 9.  (Yay! . . . Not.)  Located on the corner of Oak and Main where Nicholby’s was and should still be, I’d hope the irony of a “grand opening” of a thrift store in downtown Ventura is not lost on anyone who has followed the redevelopment of this district over the past decade.

I could be wrong, but if memory serves, there was a fairly focused vision for downtown Ventura that did not include thrift stores, or at least a preponderance of them. Yet, here we are, more than ten years into what has been a very successful effort to evolve downtown Ventura from a tumbleweed town to a cultural district, and the mother of all thrift stores is set to open. And not off the beaten path but in an extremely visible and desirable location in the heart of downtown.

To add insult to injury and ratchet up the irony factor, the retailer has partnered with the Artists Union to decorate its windows with art.  Not only is this a case of using art purely for the purposes of decoration (unless, it’s an intentional act of irony on the part of AU. A form of protest, unwittingly embraced by its subject), it’s a transparent attempt by the owners of the store (bless their hearts) to fit into the “new art city.”

I have nothing against thrift stores or Goodwill, but I do have a problem with our inability as a community, an extremely locals-loyal community, to help a struggling business stay afloat, especially when that business is such a key part of the culture of the area.

I don’t know the details surrounding Nicholby’s Antiques closure, but like most businesses struggling downtown,  it was likely a combination of dwindling sales and skyrocketing rent. The greed of property owners in this town will eventually bite them in the ass when people just stop trying to open businesses here and downtown Ventura is once again a ghost town.

There must be a way to encourage property owners to give struggling longtime businesses a break, and there must be a way for us to help the businesses stay open. Trueblood’s was forced to close yet the space then remained either empty or leased by junky thrift stores (Trueblood’s had huge amounts of character.) What was the point of that? Let’s not forget Bonnie’s, either. Rubicon Theater and Zoey’s are businesses critical to the culture and quality of downtown Ventura that are currently struggling… if we don’t help them, everyone hurts.

If we are to stay true to the identity we’ve been nurturing for so many years, we must take the actions that support our vision. We should be embarrassed that we traded Nicholby’s for a mega thrift store in the center of the cultural district. No amount of fine art in the windows will disguise the fact that, as a community, we screwed up.

June 3, 2010

The NEW new art city

Long ago in a galaxy far away, some people in that cool old building on Poli and California streets, decided it would be a good idea to give the city of Ventura an identity.  At the time, (pre-911, pre-economic disaster) cultural tourism was a fairly new concept and people governing the city were beginning to realize how dominant a force the arts were here.  Two plus two equaled California’s New Art City and a marketing plan/identity was born.

Not coincidentally, this came at a time of redevelopment downtown– the Laurel Theater (Rubicon Theatre Company), Ventura Music Festival, the Artists Union Gallery and the Century 10 movie theater, materialized during this period.  At the same time, historic preservation was being embraced as a crucial element of downtown Ventura’s cultural, and was folded into the cultural tourism plan.

All these years later, we have some amazing accomplishments to show for this change in direction: most notably: Bell Arts Factory/Vita Art Center, Working Artists Ventura (WAV), Ventura Film Society and the ongoing county museum expansion (which will partially unveiled on July 3).  Add to that a couple handfuls of art galleries and studios, festivals and a local music scene that if properly fertilized could yield big dollars and national recognition for Ventura, and it becomes difficult to understand why there  is so much empty commercial space downtown.

Clearly it’s time to reassess and reimagine.  We should be proud, we’ve accomplished much, but if we are to survive this economy and a changing market, we need to wise-up.

Recent changes within city government reflect both the need to reshape our vision and the willingness on the part of city officials to adapt. Eric Wallner, formerly the Cultural Affairs Manager for Ventura, is necessarily molting in order to respond, to this somewhat urgent need for a new phase. Wallner, along with others, will be turning his focus to the creation of jobs that will help sustain us culturally and economically. This means finding ways to court businesses that employ creatives and others.

This will undoubtedly be a big part of the discussion at the second annual economic summit “Partnering for Prosperity” to be held Saturday, June 12 at 8 p.m. Anyone interested in taking this city to the next level, artistically, culturally and economically, should consider attending.

April 15, 2010

Sound and vision, love and miracles

Chris Velasco by James Scolari

It’s shaping up to be another busy weekend in Ventura with the Spring Artwalk promising lots of  sweets for the senses. The turnout for VCReporter’s first local music issue party last weekend was tremendous.  It was smiles all around when six up and coming Ventura County bands performed for a capacity house of enthusiastic music fans–can’t wait to do it again next year. One of the bands from the party, Shades of Day, will be performing at ArtWalk at 1 p.m. Saturday on the promenade where C-Street meets the ocean. Last night, another performer, Dan Grimm, proposed to his girlfriend while performing at Green Art People.  Gratz!

A band that’s on our radar for next year’s bands to watch,  Shoddy Cons, whose hybrid of hip-hop, punk rock and funk is generating some buzz in these parts,  just announced they will perform at WAV‘s grand opening on Saturday at 10 p.m. Pick up this week’s VCR for a thought-provoking q & a with WAV’s visionary developer Chris Velasco (pictured).

In early Feb. during a First Friday ArtRide (cyclists dress up and gallery hop on wheels), Gwendolyn Alley‘s husband Marshall  broke his C2 vertebrae in a freak fall. Alley is a longtime fervent supporter of the arts in Ventura County. “Known as a “hangman’s break”,” she said, “It’s the kind of break where 95 percent of the people die instantly; for those who live, almost all have limited mobility.” Marshall, whose recovery thus far is amazing to say the least, will be at Bell Arts Factory during ArtWalk at about 4 p.m. to meet up with Alley and her cycling compadres for some well-deserved revelry.

Goodness knows we pay a lot to live in this fair city, but given the riches that surround us, I’d say, most days it’s worth it.  See ya at ArtWalk!

February 25, 2010

Out of the ashes of Hush Lounge — Zoey’s 2.0

If you don’t already know, Zoey’s Cafe and Loft (the location for last year’s VCReporter local music issue cover)  is relocating to the old Hush Lounge location in about a month (if everything goes as planned).

The move is indicative of the mutability of downtown Ventura’s business district, which seems to get increasingly fragile every week.  Though somewhat iconic, in its cozy corner of the El Jardin Courtyard, it was only a matter of time before Zoey’s outgrew its tight quarters. Lucky for owners Steve and Polly Hoganson,  the roomy environs of the former Hush became available, but it’s a bittersweet development that finds Zoey’s growth in the shadow of Hush’s demise.

Before finally closing a few months ago, Hush weathered a punishing storm of adversity which put it much too squarely on the radar of local police. The biggest issue,  allegedly was  noise, but its proximity to other music venues made that accusation somewhat suspect. The owner walked around with a decibel meter and claimed to be extremely conscientious about noise levels in the venue.

Given that this was the chief reason cited by city authorities for Hush’s problems, it didn’t quite add up when another music venue was given a chance to do business in that location.

But, the Hoganson’s said that their lease of the property is contingent upon an absolute NO DJ, NO DANCING policy.  Since Zoey’s live entertainment consists of low-key singer-songwriter performances, the chances of a throbbing bass line nudging neighboring hotel guests out of bed, is slim to none. Plus,  Zoey’s plans to turn off before midnight.

The room where bands will perform at the new location is not much bigger than the loft at Zoey’s now, but the biggest change, and key reason for the expansion, is the kitchen/restaurant. The venue’s chef, the Hoganson’s son, once worked under Chris Watson (Nona’s Courtyard Cafe, Bodee’s) and along with another Watson protege is cooking up an expanded comfort-driven menu for the new Zoey’s.

The Hoganson’s, who have been credited with fostering a tightly knit community of singer-songwriters while bringing in critically lauded Hotel Cafe acts, are planning for events to spill over into the nearby Mission Park and Figueroa plaza.

The last show at the current Zoey’s location on Main St. will be Grant Lee Buffalo on March 28. Stay tuned for more info on the new venue as it develops. Let’s help the Hoganson’s and other downtown live music venues make a go of it.

Support the live experience.

October 22, 2009

Moving beyond ArtWalk

Let me preface this post by saying that I’m a big fan of ArtWalk, I’ve been to nearly every one and I always have a great time. I also try to buy something original if I can and encourage others to follow suit. I will be in attendance this weekend for the Harvest ArtWalk. I will likely spend most of my time at Stoneworks Studio, Bell Arts and Artists Union (I’m dying to see the featured artist’s work).

That said, it might be time for a change.

I don’t mean this to negate anyone’s efforts or the value of this event to the city both economically and culturally. But, it seems that given the looming threat of funding cuts going forward, as well as the stasis the event has settled into over the years–perhaps due to it being a city funded/staffed event, perhaps a natural evolution, the passage of time–something fresh is in order.

I’m not suggesting a new take on ArtWalk, but a new arts event entirely. Something unique to the city would be ideal. As a cultural destination and an arts-centered community, a signature event would go a long way toward furthering Ventura’s brand and generating some fresh interest. I imagine that once complete, the WAV community will almost undoubtedly spawn something, if not get folded into whatever the larger arts community comes up with.

It would be extra cool if the event came to be in an organic way, not as a city-facilitated project but from the heart and soul of the city’s artists and arts supporters.

This has been the year of the event in Ventura. People continue to come out of the woodwork to launch events in our city. Some have succeeded, some have failed, some have been authentic in their desire to celebrate this wonderful place we live, others have been opportunistic in their approach.

ArtWalk took a while to gain momentum and it’s had a good, long run. Let’s create some space for something new. It’s time to come together and do what artists do in a natural, collective environment: play, imagine, create and birth something together that only we can.

September 3, 2009

E.P. Foster Day

E.P. Foster's once grand estate lies in shameful state of decay. Photo by Jake Sommer

E.P. Foster's once grand estate lies in shameful state of decay. Photo by Jake Sommer

Sunday Sept. 5,  is E.P. Foster Day. For those of you who don’t know who he was, Foster was one of Ventura’s pioneers, a generous man who donated huge amounts of land to the city for public use. The fairgrounds, beautiful Foster Park, Dennison Park, Camp Comfort and E.P. Foster Library as well as the trees at Hobo Jungle and other gifts countywide are just part of his legacy.

As  I reported in today’s VC Reporter, a new organization is forming with the intent to finally restore the house.

That we allowed the unofficially historic house to fall into such a state of disrepair does not reflect well on a city with such a rich past and a cultural tourism agenda. It’s also not surprising. We’ve already lost many of our great treasures due to ignorance and greed.

The Mayfair Theater, replaced by condos, it’s marquee left to rot in an abandoned motel parking lot. The Ban-Dar, hastily demolished in favor of a “mixed use” project that more than 6 years later has yet to materialize.

The list goes on. Let’s not add to it.

Visit the San Buenaventura Conservancy and to learn more.

June 11, 2009

Conspiracy theories and downtown Ventura’s nightlife

Violence, drinking problems, encounters with the “authorities.”

No, it’s not my teenage son—it’s the fear and loathing in downtown Ventura of late.  I heard tell that it’s all part of a plot by a certain developer to take over the city’s nightlife by sabotaging competing venues.  Actually, it was more like the paranoid fantasy of a bored musician . . .but since when is that not a valid source?

The skinny: fighting outside Hush Lounge, Ventura PD changing the rules on entertainment licenses, foot patrol cops on weekend nights and ABC coming down on at least two venues.

Those in favor of conspiracy theories are convinced that the timing—the live music scene in Ventura is thriving like never before—is suspicious and that someone must have it in for local music.

A more subdued and logical explanation is probably that as the numbers of people partying (drinking alcohol) downtown grows.. the odds of violence and general shenanigans occuring,  increases.

As these occurrences increase, so does response from people in authority. It’s only natural and in a sense it’s a good thing. It also means that in this economy, people are still spending money on entertainment, that people are creating music and interesting venues in which to hear it and that the plan to revitalize what was once a cruddy few blocks of trashy nothingness has actually become an appealing, lively cultural district.

Let’s be grateful and continue to support everyone who contributes to making this possible.


January 10, 2009

Calendars and resistance to change

From the time I was about 12 until my early -mid ’20s, every Sunday morning (whether morning was at 8 a.m or 3 p.m.) I would furiously flip through the delicious layers of the Los Angeles Times to find the Calendar section.

Back then it was all about music critics Robert Hilburn (loved and hated by many) and later Kristine McKenna. Despite his frequently annoying perspectives and overuse of adjectives, Hilburn was pretty much the final word on music in the greater Los Angeles area. Come to think of it, he’s probably one of the reasons I was attracted to journalism (along with Hunter Thompson and of course Lester Bangs, who yes, I am old enough to have read in Creem magazine).

My love affair with the Sunday Calendar endured through my adolescence, the punk years and the trying to be “normal” years, until with one bold editorial decision from the Times staff, everything changed.

What had previously been a pull-out, non-glossy, weekly magazine style section was replaced with a non-descript, unwieldy monster, the full length in inches of the rest of the paper.

It was a departure I couldn’t warm up to and after about 3 weeks of failed attempts, I gave up entirely.

On a recent Sunday morning, freshly pressed coffee in hand, I sat at my table and read the Los Angeles Times Calendar cover to cover, with my previous relish.  I was sated. 20 years later and I’m finally over the Calendar’s format change. It occurs to me what a creature of habit I am and I’m sure I’m not alone. I wonder if the Reporter has any such loyal readers who would be as ruffled by such a change?

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