Posts tagged ‘economy’

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.

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.

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.

August 6, 2009

Closed Until Further Notice: Hush Lounge


As Chris Mastrovito mentioned in his most recent column, after 4 years in business, Hush has been shushed. Whether it’s a victim of what would appear to be a war on downtown Ventura’s nightlife–and specific sectors of such–remains to be seen.

Hush Lounge was an upscale nightclub with DJs, live music, and a restaurant. Dress code was enforced, noise levels were, according to the owner, kept in check via his ubiquitous decibel meter and unseemly types were turned away.

But a series of unfortunate events, the details of which vary depending who you ask, led to the city’s revocation of Hush’s entertainment license a few weeks ago which in turn led to an immediate and dramatic loss of revenue for the club.

There has been speculation regarding the city’s attitude toward Hush’s largely Latino clientèle, especially at a time when political posturing and jockeying for position, in what’s becoming a competitive climate, appears to be on the rise.

Rules are rules and if I was a betting woman I’d say many of downtown’s nightclubs have had issues with noise and alleged violence in recent months. Yet, oddly, they remain in business, their entertainment permits in tact.

I would think that taking action that could lead to the closure of a thriving business downtown, would be done only as a last resort in the most extreme cases. Where is our sense of community or dare I say compassion for the small business owner? I wonder who’s next . . . taking bets.

July 16, 2009


It seems that every week I receive one or two new requests from restaurants to be added into our After Dark section because they have live entertainment. This presents a conundrum similar to what I’ve experienced with gallery listings: restaurants with live music are like retail stores with art. The restaurant is not a nightclub, the retailer is not an art gallery.

Where does one draw the line?

At this point, if I added all the restaurants countywide that feature live music of some sort, I’d have to nearly double the section. Not only do I not have the room or resources, I have issues with restaurants jumping on the live music bandwagon—especially when I know most of them barely pay the bands.

Musicians have been earning the same crappy pay for ages,  yet they must be valuable since practically every restaurant, with or without adequate room, has someone performing.

Why can’t there be restaurants and nightclubs? Why does everyone have to try to be everything? The restaurants hurt the real venues by doing this plus they drive down the market for live music. It’s a lose lose. Besides, who really wants to hear a band while they’re trying to enjoy a meal and maybe talk to friends?

Maybe someone can enlighten me. In the meantime, I need to figure out a way to list every sing live music event or eliminate all restaurant listings entirely.

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May 14, 2009

Cal Music Fest: Will It Or Won’t It?

It’s just about 6 weeks before promoter and No Cover publisher Mark Rasmussen plans to fill downtown Ventura’s mission park and 18 venues with live music and a sweaty, beer-swilling audience of more than one thousand on July 4 weekend, in tandem with the street fair.

Ambitious? Just a little. I applaud anyone willing to champion music and our fine downtown to this degree, however, all signs are pointing to it ain’t gonna happen. Or at least, not the way Rasmussen is purporting.

Rasmussen told me yesterday that he already presold 900 tickets, yet the Web site is missing all the pertinent info/prompts for purchase. There is no confirmed lineup and the city permits are still tied up in the approval process. I don’t know about you, but I probably wouldn’t–especially in this economy–spend $40 for one pass to an event that has yet to announce a lineup.

Rasmussen claims he was Unwritten Law, but it’s not on their Myspace calender. Even if it was, Unwritten Law isn’t exactly gonna bring legions of festival goers on a weekend when there is so much more to do. Rasmussen also claims he’s got local bands 8Stops7 and Le Meu Le Purr locked in but word is Le Meu will be on a summer long hiatus and that when they were contacted about the event they were asked to sell tickets. They declined.

Bombay Bar & Grill told someone from VCReporter that they will NOT take part in the event, yet being one of the likeliest participating venues, one wonders who exactly are these 18 venues he told me he has on board. The Ventura Theatre says they’re not one of them.

Rather than a who’s who in local music, the California Music Fest is beginning to seem like a “who’s not.”  The deeper I look, the muddier the picture gets and the Web site is like a Where’s Waldo of red flags and warning signs.

Then there’s the financial risk. I don’t how Rasmussen is getting funded, but there are zero sponsors listed on the Web site. The city told me that permits alone are estimated to cost him between $6,000 and $8,000. Add to that the cost of paying the bands on a holiday weekend and the whole thing begins to look implausible.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a music “festival” downtown. I’d love the Reporter to be involved in something like this. But . . . things are just not adding up.

Stay tuned . . .

April 23, 2009

Buying into the New Art City: Take my challenge


In my article today about the business of ArtWalk, I quoted Focus on the Masters‘ Donna Granata regarding the importance of not only attending ArtWalk but also purchasing art.

While the city of Ventura has long been a destination for its diverse ecology, clean air and gorgeous landscape, about a decade ago, as the need to redevelop our historic downtown came into focus, we rather auspiciously began exploring cultural tourism as an economic driver.cover_s1

Today, we are the “New Art City,” not to be confused with the old Art City which remains closed to the public for “code violations” or something. The New Art City is a place where artists live (but can barely afford to do so) and work and create alongside everyone else. There are no numbers to support it, but I’d venture to guess the New Art City has a fairly dense population of creative types compared to other cities of its size. The majority of them live in the downtown cultural district/Avenue area.

Having a city full of artists and a city council that embraces them means we are surrounded by art (though there could certainly be more and better) and the arts. It also means that if we are to lean on the artists for our branding identity, it’s crucial that we support them in the only way that really matters: buy their work.

Many people don’t even consider art and objects d’art to be within wallet’s reach but barring large scale works, original art can be surprisingly affordable.

In Ventura and surrounding cities, we’re blessed to have a multitude of visual artists creating the full spectrum of possibilities. From breezy Plein Aire paintings, to handmade jewelry, small sculpture and contemporary multimedia works, there literally (and i don’t use that word liberally) is something for everyone.

I commit to buying at least one piece of art (and I owe a crapload of money for parking tickets at the moment) at this weekend’s ArtWalk to show in the best way I can, my support of the arts community and the city’s arts-driven business strategies. I will post a pic and blurb on Sunday or Monday.

When you buy something at ArtWalk, send me a pic and a sentence or two about it, and I’ll post it here or on the VCReporter Web site and you will be entered to win a $25 certificate to My Florist Cafe. Do it!

April 2, 2009

Ventura arts and inclusivity

It’s been an emotional few weeks in Ventura’s arts scene with discussion of substantial cuts to the city’s arts budget on everyone’s lips. Many of the city’s most prominent arts figures stormed the podium at the last two city council meetings to dissuade the council from nixing a handful of “public art” projects and cutting nearly 46 percent from the overall arts budget.

In the midst of his impassioned plea, Joe Cardella (Art Life Magazine)–whom I have great respect for, made reference to the “New Bar City” he feels downtown Ventura is in danger of becoming, vs. the “New Art City” we are attempting to become.

While perhaps we don’t want to trade our identity as an arts-driven community for one of a bar scene, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater: within that “bar scene” is a vibrant music culture. For the first time in more than a decade, live music in Ventura is not only being made, it’s being attended in almost record numbers.

I heard a lot of talk about the arts being an economic engine for the city and I would venture to guess a fair amount of revenue is generated via alcohol and food sales from venues that are thriving because of the musicians who perform there (for ridiculously outdated wages).

I know artists of all forms of expression to be an inclusive people and I would caution our visual artists to take care when making statements about the “bar scene” that inadvertently show disrespect to a key component of this city’s cultural landscape.

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