Ventura County's Support-Local Program

Small Town – Big Art

Ventura’s artscene is gratifyingly diverse and prove that all types or art are valuable to a city’s culture and identity, no matter its size.

CSUCI Art Gallery in the Earle Stanley Gardner building

If there were such a thing as visual alliteration, it would be descriptive of the kind of experience you’d expect from a “small town’s” artscene. It’s a vexing notion–the too familiar opinion that a small town’s approach to art is naive or lacking an edge. In Ventura, the artscene is gratifyingly diverse, in both genre and concept, triumphantly proving that all types or art are valuable to a city’s culture and identity, no matter its size.

Naturally, It is undoubtedly necessary that during these times of budget-cuts and lack of funding, we not only recognize the importance and value of a community with strong stylistic diversity, but we embrace the context in which art can be experienced. There’s no question that art improves the quality of our lives. Whether it’s a traditional painting of a landscape in a coffee house, or an avant-garde abstract mixed-media installation in an industrial artist’s studio, versatility is the key here. Ventura offers such visual versatility that is seldom seen in “small” beach towns; the kitschy souvenir shop does not represent our town; rather, it adds a touch of whimsy to the well-established artistic ethic that trademarks Ventura.

An enticing contrast of creative approaches is perceptible throughout the city: the CSUCI gallery in the old historic Earle Stanley Gardner building: Old World architecture meets cutting-edge, contemporary, housing academic works of students’ and faculty in mixed media, appropriation, collage, and hyper-realism.  Along with its sleek vault–now a James Bond-esque exhibiting space, it carries a raw sophistication of some of the swankiest art galleries in L.A. In contrast, spaces like the Ventura Government Center, consistently present a satisfyingly strong body of work. Last year, the exhibit, “Art of Craft” focused mainly on “craft”, traditionally considered “low art”. In this show, the exquisite creations, not only rejected the antiquated notion of high art and low art, but exemplified the fact that all art enhances our experience, and that the intended location is no longer limited to traditional gallery spaces.

Current exhibits seem to initiate a new merging of the traditional and the contemporary as the city introduces a much needed cultural ethnic diversity in the arts. Spaces like Vita Art Center and Under the Sun Gallery (both at the Bell Arts Factory) emphasize Latino and Hispanic art; Vita’s Tool Room hosts cutting-edge, contemporary displays that showcase the art of emerging and established artists. A variety of art is blossoming in newly adopted spaces: Art hubs throughout the city are earning reputable names for their artists; places such as the WAV, the Bell Arts Factory, Front street galleries and studios, the Green Art People- are becoming centralized ‘go-to’ spaces offering an array of styles, categories, sizes, media and content. Retail spaces and restaurants are consistently contributing to the artscene of this town by effectively featuring artists in what isn’t considered a traditional exhibiting space. Places like PURE and Fusion Home, successfully integrate local art in their stores resulting in a seamless merging of retail and fine art.

We are seeing a transition and a timely acceptance of a broader means of visual expression and of context. If indeed this economy is hurting the arts, now is the perfect time to expand those methods by which art can be accessible to the public and break away from limitations of high and low art. Taking advantage of the abundance of skill and talent in this city and supporting the versatility of a small town’s method of presenting art–all kinds of art–will be the sustainable manner of enjoying a big cultural scene in a small town. There is no reason why aesthetics and visual challenge cannot co-exist effectively.  Ventura’s artscene successfully epitomizes this merging by encompassing an artistic miscellany for an apposite eclectic audience. We must be receptive to the amazing opportunities that a small town’s creative variety presents to us–evidently the most apt alternative to expedite a competitive artscene – or bear the dullness of visual redundancy.

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