Posts tagged ‘downtown ventura’

October 28, 2013

The List: No. 1.

The List is something new I’m playing with to show my appreciation for people, places or things in a given week, usually in Ventura County but not always.

brian parra

1. Brian Parra of Saturday Night Sound for his generosity, especially toward local youth attempting to play and promote music.


2. Kapeesh. Talent and integrity in equal measure and that measure is large. I’ve known about his lyrical and performance chops for a while, but this weekend I became privy to his character and it only made him more awesome. If you like hip-hop or you can appreciate a great entertainer, go see him. He will be at Bombay Bar on Friday, Nov. 1.


3. Zan Ferris. Zan is a yoga instructor, skateboarder, UFO expert and baker of delicious treats. She is a one of a kind who keeps it real in a culture that’s increasingly threatened by fakery. If you’re a fan of authenticity, intelligence, whimsy or moving your body for health and happiness, please take one of her classes. Ready, go!

ventura avenue

4. Ventura Avenue. Good people staying strong and being community under challenging conditions. I heart you.

marie shannon

5. Marie Shannon Confections. For a while now I have loved their pastries and loathed their service. But quite suddenly it seems, they have raised the bar on their service to match their gorgeous desserts. This is good news for downtown Ventura. Long live the mom and pop bakery.

September 18, 2013

Best Of Ventura County 2013

Here we go again.  A few of my personal choices.

Best Customer Service Moment
Jessica at United States Postal Service Downtown Ventura office

Dear Jessica,

Though we never met face to face I wanted you to know, hyperbole aside, that you single-handedly restored my  faith in humanity. Of all possible places to receive THE BEST customer service of the past decade, the post office would not have been in my top 100. Yet it happened. You were friendly, understanding and helpful. You took down my phone number and called me back (!). Best of all, you happily helped me solve my problem. I never got around to writing a thank you note, and for that I apologize.

Best Event I Didn’t Attend
A Flavor Trip Around The World

My colleague Michael Sullivan logged more than a few hours coordinating and facilitating this event to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society a cause very close to her heart, or more accurately, her blood.  The premise: Various ethnic restaurants from around the county set up table tents with samples of their specialties. There was also multicultural live music. I had every intention of attending but due to an evil heat wave, I was forced to stay in my cave with a spray bottle of chilled water. I do hope she reprises the event next year, and the sun behaves itself.


Best Progressive Idea That Didn’t Catch On
Connect Ventura

Josh Addison, founder of Bell Arts Factory, is one of those rare pioneering people who is not driven by self-interest; which makes it extra unfortunate when one of his projects doesn’t quite take off. Case in point: Connect Ventura, a co-working space he established in West Ventura. Co-working isn’t an entirely new idea but it might be a bit outside the cubicle for Ventuckians to embrace.  As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, the workers find themselves bereft of company. Being alone, while appealing to a degree, is not natural for humans and therefore not healthy. A co-working space provides a comfortable, quiet place to work in the company of others. Connect Ventura had everything the mobile businessperson could want: fast Internet, private space, conference rooms, common areas for networking, a kitchen and complimentary coffee. It’s possible that the fee for using the space was a bit high for many people, it certainly was for me, but its success could have ushered in a new era for Ventura. Rumor has it that Addison will give it another try, this time using the Bell Arts Space. Fingers crossed.

Best Overhyped Job Creator
The Collection at Riverpark

Oxnard finally has the shopping center it deserves. For all the hype, the public art, the fancy stores, the plush movie theater, the restaurants and the Whole Foods Market everyone is so ga ga for, it’s really just another uninspired generic way for hard working people to support the status quo at the expense of small business, the environment and originality. Meh.



Best Disaster
The Springs Fire

Brush fires in spring or Camarillo Springs are not the norm, but neither is fog in August. Weather patterns are changing (with or without your permission) and the Springs Fire had all the drama of a typical Southern California disaster with a price tag to match: $7.6 million. I remember this day well because I was trying to stay cool during a totally uncharacteristic May heat wave as I prepared for the VCReporter Local Music Issue Party that night.  I watched the fire’s progression live on television. As a 50-year resident of So Cal and witness to countless large brush fires, this was the fastest moving fire I’d ever seen. I mean, it made it all the way to the ocean in one day! It was also a huge victory for firefighters who managed to put it out with no loss of life or property and only a few minor injuries. There’s a reason everyone loves these guys.

Best Event Fail
The Parking Lot Summer Concert Series

After jumping through endless hoops to get City Council approval for a potentially lucrative (for himself and the city) summer concert series in the unused parking lot behind City Hall, exasperated fat cat Mark Hartley was forced to fold the whole idea. Poli Street residents were relieved; yuppies and hipster music fans, not so much.

Best Place to View Tweekers and Hot Construction Workers
Red Barn Liquor

Since moving to the Ventura Avenue area earlier this year I have spent a substantial amount of accumulated time at Red Barn Liquor. Whether I’m waiting in the car while my son fills our water bottles or running in for a quick candy fix, I have come to rely on three things there: the Russian owner calling me and every customer, male or female, “baby”; haggard old tweeker chicks on bicycles making deals out front; and hot, sweaty construction/oil field workers cruising in after work for a 12 pack and a taco. The people watching (read: eavesdropping) opportunities are phenomenal and one day I will park myself there to write a book. Bonus: across the street are a laundromat, party supply and Santeria shop.

February 19, 2012

Cultural tourism: a thing of the past?

Some years back, cultural tourism was the on-trend catch phrase du jour for bureaucrats seeking ways to draw consumers to their fair cities. Predictably, Ventura glommed on to it, if for a brief moment, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was right around the time the San Buenaventura Conservancy was born and there was some great energy swirling around historic preservation.

At a time when Ventura was seeking identifying factors in order to brand itself for tourists (the beaches and weather weren’t quite enough) it seemed to make perfect sense to spotlight our other great resource: history and architecture. Unfortunately, the city’s vision began to plummet in tandem with a failing economy and all that sort of went poof!

Since then the city has reorganized and begun seeking new, creative ways to get people excited about visiting Ventura and doing business here, but cultural tourism seems to have gone the way of most trends, despite being a solid foundation to build something lasting upon.

An article in the L.A. Times about a neat event in Palm Springs, a city which knows what it is and how to market itself, made me nostalgic not only for mid-century whimsy and practicality (a personal interest) but also for the days when the folks working for the city of Ventura had some heart and vigor.

September 22, 2011

Room for everyone

My sort of mantra for the last few years, mostly privately, has been, “There’s room for everyone.” I say this to myself when I’m being unnecessarily critical or dismissive of someone’s artistic ability, and I say it aloud when I sense a discussion is leaning in favor of exclusivity or elitism.

Case in point: Not long ago there was some discussion about who should live at the WAV and who should not. More than one artist suggested that only “important” artists, people with a recognized body of work who are constantly producing should be able to live within this experimental, affordable housing complex for creatives which the city partially financed.

I couldn’t help but recoil. Who defines importance? As far as I can remember, during the rigorous meetings that preceded ground breaking for the WAV, it was determined that the subjectivity of such things would make it nearly impossible to create criteria for application approval, therefore attitude trumped “talent”  when it came to deciding who would make the cut and who would not. A desire to live to some extent communally, to ride out the challenges of such a social live/work arrangement would be more important than an individual’s perceived talent.  In other words, regardless of your medium, your experience or your potential for bringing national attention to our fair city, you will be considered for this affordable housing project if your life’s work is arts-centered.  Whether your focus is installation, music, textiles, poetry, plein aire  or toothpick sculpture–there is room for you.  And not only at the WAV, but in this world.

Last night I was watching one of those hideous talent programs on television, and an old couple got on stage and sang a standard love song from the crooning era (the title escapes me), and despite their lack of technical ability it was beautiful.  It made me smile to know these two traveled who knows how far, and endured who knows how many evil eyes from Hollywood types, just to get on that stage and sing in public because they love singing. This made me feel as good as seeing Coldplay perform or listening to Marcia de la O read a poem or a piece of art I recently saw at Sylvia White Gallery.

There’s room for everyone–to express, to create, to discover.

I may find as much beauty in a fall leaf wafting past me or the graffiti in my alley as I do in a Kandinsky. I value my old Black Flag fliers drawn by Raymond Pettibon the same as the painting that hangs over my bed.  Anyone courageous enough to step on a stage, face a blank canvas, page or wall,  and then place the result on display, is praiseworthy and not any less relevant than those who perform in stadiums or whose work hangs in prestigious galleries.

Let’s remember in our fervor to champion localism or a certain aspect of the music scene or innovative projects like the WAV—there’s room for everyone!

March 16, 2011

The Guest List

Readers of VCReporter may or may not have noticed that we’ve launched a new column. In lieu of replacing Sounding the 805 music columnist Chris Mastrovito, we decided to invite local musicians to give us their two cents regarding Ventura County’s music scene.

This first person on the list was Dan Grimm, who wrote about the cultural richness of what many of us affectionately refer to as Ventucky. Nest up is Josh Hayes (Glass and Ashes, Lovebird) whose piece publishes on March 17.  Josh has much to say about the city of Ventura’s determination to brand itself on the backs of the arts as well as what’s really needed from everyone in order to foster a strong, cohesive, supportive and supported music scene here.

It seems the city (government, not general population) has realized that live music, not just visual art, is a big revenue source here (better late than never) and thus they’ve decided to create an event to draw attention to it. Ventura Music Week, slated for late April, will attempt to provide a boost to the local music scene and those whose livelihoods depend on it, by essentially letting people know that, uhhhh, there are lots of places to drink and hear great music in Ventura!!

Josh Hayes makes some salient points regarding this development as does Rain Perry who is next on the list: March 24.

If music is important to you or even if you’re just interested in it, please take some time to read this new column in VCReporter’s music section and take part in the ongoing conversation.



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 24, 2010

Crimes and misconceptions: covering arts and entertainment in VC

In the past week a few prickly issues have become lodged in my gmail, so I figured I would address them here, if for no other reason than to stop the itching.

1. Coverage, or how one gets a piece of VCR’s valuable real estate:

It’s rumored that in order to get ink in our publication, one must be an advertiser. This is, of course, false and anyone who actually reads on a regular basis would know it. Why people insist on perpetuating this nonsense is beyond me, and the irony is, our advertisers are frequently miffed about not getting editorial love. So if advertisers aren’t getting it, and no one else is getting it, then who the heck is getting it? Answer: people, places, occurrences, creations that are interesting,  fresh, relevant and in some way impacting the county’s cultural  evolution. It never hurts to drop us a line if you’ve caught wind of such, as we are not omnipresent or telepathic (contrary to popular opinion.)

2. Locals only policy:

We are the only publication in Ventura County (or anywhere for that matter) that gives exclusive priority to locals. I cannot emphasize enough how rare this is. From what I can tell, no one else in the U.S. does this, especially for music. We will not (as long as I’m arts editor) ever review a CD by an artist living outside Ventura County. The only time you will read about someone or something not produced within the geographical boundaries of this county,  is if they are exhibiting or touring here. Sorry Santa Barbara, sorry SLO, sorry L.A.–someone needs to champion the talent here and if that’s a crime, then I stand accused! (insert appropriate emoticon) That said, if you feel we’re overlooking anything or anyone, drop us a line.

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.

May 6, 2010

Good vibes at the WAV: jazz and film

Despite some reports that life at the Working Artists Ventura (WAV) community is reminiscent of Animal House, great things are happening there as its performance space is beginning to show signs of life and the project as a whole is pumping fresh blood into Downtown and Westside Ventura’s arts scene.

Tonight, Thursday May 6,  the WAV launches its first Thursdays series with live jazz featuring Nick Mancini, Bruce Lett, Karl Hunter and Davey Miller. 8 p.m. If the $15 admission seems a bit steep… remember it helps the WAV grow, which enables  many of our artist and musician friends to continue pursuing their respective disciplines, and, other than Davey Miller, the musicians performing this concert are world class. Vibes players, especially accomplished ones, are not in abundance, and Nick Mancini‘s got the chops.

The WAV community has also partnered with the Ventura Film Society for a monthly screening series to debut at 7 p.m. June 2 and first Wednesdays through the remainder of the year.  The first film is Touch the Sound about deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie.

Jazz and film seem like a perfect pairing with the Westside/WAV zeitgiest. Photographer and historian Stephan Schaefer recently published the “HERO” photo of the WAV pictured above. Pick up VCReporter for continuing updates and calendar information about the Gold Coast’s vast talent pool.

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