News in art and culture from around Ventura County | Art & Culture

Grapes are typically harvested in the fall, but the local arts scene has continued to bear fruit this winter. Fresh starts, retirements, state funding, a new art and culture manager and other developments have kept the cultural grapevine abuzz all season.

New direction for Porch Girls

In a Jan. 4 email, Porch Gallery Ojai residents and owners Lisa Casoni and Heather Stobo announced that the gallery space they have operated for 10 years will soon be home to other endeavors. While they were vague on the details, the last exhibition — Russell Crotty’s Nocturnes: Refrains from the Backcountry — wrapped up over the summer, and the owners noted that they were making a “personal and professional pivot.”

No news just yet on the next chapter for Casoni and Stobo, but they expressed tremendous gratitude to the community that has supported them, and the opportunity they had to showcase high-quality art in a beautiful location.

“Our love and commitment to this community will not change. We plan to remain here and pursue other businesses we have started,” Stobo said in the email. “There will be more announcements to come. For now, Lisa and I just want to say ‘thank you.’”

The Store at Porch Gallery continues to be active, with a variety of artist-created items available for purchase at 

Poppies under new ownership

Poppies Art and Gifts in Ojai is celebrating the New Year with new owners. Founder Paige Williamson, who opened the shop in 2019, retired at the end of 2022. Landscape designer and jewelry maker Allie Hanson, who has shown her work at Poppies since it opened, and husband Daniel Garza, a musician, resumed ownership in December.

In addition to jewelry, Poppies offers art, photography, ceramics, gifts and more — all created by local artists and makers. Its Second Sunday Art Market and workshops have made it a creative presence in Ojai’s downtown shopping area.

“Being a part of the artist family at Poppies for the last four years has been such an enriching experience,” Hanson and Garza shared via email, “and we are honored and privileged to continue the intention of Peggie Williamson to hold a space for local artists to thrive!”

Regarding her retirement, Williamson said she is looking forward to “just being an artist and spending more time with my family and friends.”

Granata to pass FOTM baton

Donna Granata, executive director of Focus on the Masters, has long been the steward of Ventura County’s artistic legacy. But now, after 28 years, she is preparing to take a step back, and usher in the next generation. In late 2022, it was announced that Chelsea Cody would serve as Granata’s apprentice.

Cody is an MFA graduate of the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, with a background in journalism, political theory and gender studies. She joined FOTM in 2022 as a program assistant for the Learning to See art education program. More recently, she has been working closely with Granata as the archive founder begins to transition “behind the scenes,” as Granata explained in a Dec. 21, 2022 email newsletter. 

“It’s hard to let go of something one deeply loves. But I realize for FOTM to flourish and truly reach the goals we all know are in our future, I must pass the torch to the next generation to bring FOTM to its full potential,” Granata continued. “This decision was difficult. But my own attention has been consumed by the health and wellbeing of my own family.”

Granata’s departure is not immediate, and she will spend much of 2023 lending Cody and other FOTM staff and volunteers her knowledge and expertise to make the transition as smooth as possible. She has full confidence that her successor will flourish in her upcoming role.

“[Cody] is the ideal candidate to bring FOTM’s next chapter to fruition,” Granata said.

Burns retires from Rubicon

The curtain has closed on a 25-year chapter of the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura: Karyl Lynn Burns retired from the company in November, after 25 years. Burns co-founded the Rubicon with husband James O’Neil in 1998, and for many years served as the producing artistic director. Under their leadership, the company staged more than 160 productions, including over 20 world premieres, and earned numerous awards. In addition, the Rubicon produced festivals, special events, a concert series and educational programming for youth.

“It’s been a long and beautiful run and Jim [O’Neil] and I will forever be grateful to those we’ve met during our 25 years in Ventura who have taught us the meaning of community and showed us what can happen when dedicated and passionate people come together in pursuit of common goals,” Burns said in a press release. “We are looking forward to beginning a new chapter, and to spending more time with each other and our families.”

Burns passes the torch to longtime friends, collaborators and frequent Rubicon actors and directors Beverly and Kirby Ward. The first production to be staged under their leadership will be The Realistic Joneses, opening Jan. 25.

Best of Show for Mullin

The 1951 Delahaye 235 Roadster from Oxnard’s Mullin Automotive Museum was the recipient of the Best of Show Award at the conclusion of the annual Las Vegas Concours d’Elegance at the Wynn Las Vegas on Oct. 30, 2022. Billed as Delahaye’s last luxury car, the 235 featured a coach-built, post-war sports car body on a modernized Type 135 MS chassis with a 3.5L motor based on the design that made the brand a world beater in pre-war Grand Prix racing.

The 2022 Concours d’Elegance welcomed 230 cars from 15 classes, and nearly 3,000 people throughout its three-day gathering of automotive excellence.

MVC catalogs historical civil engineering collection

The Museum of Ventura County recently received a $95,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives, which it is currently using to catalog the Robert Martin and Associates Collection, acquired in 2013. Martin and Associates was one of the longest serving civil engineering firms in Ventura County, and includes records created by renowned engineers such as J.B. Waud, Milton Ramelli, Robert Martin, Bill Hale and Ed Campbell. These include engineering and architectural drawings, maps and planning files for residential, commercial and government buildings from the 1920s to 2013. 

With the help of the grant, the museum will be able to catalog 431 cubic feet of materials and digitize at least 1,000 items, including oversized maps and civil engineering plans. The grant will also be used to offer paid internships.

“The Robert Martin and Associates Collection represents 89 years of civil engineering in Ventura County,” said MVC Research Library and Archives Director Deya Terrafranca. “The collection tells the story of the county’s built environment over time . . . This collection can be used by environmentalists, architectural historians, social scientists, private citizens, any number of people looking into how our county has been developed over the last century.” 

Yoshitomi named Ventura County arts manager

David Yoshitomi of Oxnard has been named the new Arts and Culture Manager for Ventura County. Through community engagement, Yoshitomi will support strategic planning and coordination with local agencies and organizations to plan and develop an arts and culture strategy for the county, with the goal of promoting artist support, public art initiatives, grants and countywide events.

Prior to being named arts manager, Yoshitomi was responsible for the development of the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center and Simi’s first municipal arts grant program. He has served as interim executive director and board chair for the Bell Arts Factory and received the 2017 Arts Leader award from the Ventura County Arts Council.

“Ventura County is home to so many cultural traditions and a rich creative heritage,” Yoshitomi stated in a press release. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with the artists, cultural workers, and other community members and organizations in developing a shared vision for the creative economy in the County.” 

VCAC, OPAC receive grants from California Arts Council

In September, the state of California awarded a $4.75 million grant to several arts councils along the Central Coast as part of the California Creative Corps program. The Ventura County Arts Council (VCAC) is one of six arts organizations that will benefit from the grant. The Santa Barbara County Office of Arts and Culture will administer the funds, which will be distributed by Sept. 30, 2024.

The California Creative Corps was developed by the California Arts Council (CAC) and the state legislature to support pandemic recovery and the environmental, civic and social engagement of the most impacted communities in California. Through the program, artists will use visual, performing and traditional art forms for media, outreach and engagement campaigns designed to increase public health awareness related to COVID-19, water and energy conservation, climate mitigation, emergency preparedness, social justice, community engagement and more. 

“The California Creative Corps aims to support the most vulnerable, underserved areas and people,” said Craig Rosen, VCAC’s interim executive director, via press release. “We are excited that this grant enables us to offer to local artists an opportunity to apply for significant funds over two years, and about the positive impact their projects will have on Ventura County communities.”

The Oxnard Performing Arts Center was also the recipient of CAC grant money. In November, it was awarded $152,000, which will be used to support three arts initiatives. Artists in the Schools will bring esteemed visual artists to Oxnard Union High Schools for 10-week residencies. Nardcore Academy will teach youth and young adults the basics of putting on a quality concert. The third program will enable students in grades 6-12 to enjoy two seasons of multilingual dance and music performances, residencies and engagement opportunities by professional touring artists. The first offering will be in March 2023 and feature Afro-Colombian group Kombilesa Mi.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to grow OPAC’s programming and community connections,” OPAC Executive Director Carolyn Merino Mullin stated in a press release. “We’re excited to work more closely with local schools, engage students, provide meaningful employment to working artists, and strengthen our field through creative career exploration.”

DeStefano novel wins American Fiction Award

Ventura-based filmmaker, director and author Lorenzo DeStefano has been awarded a prestigious American Fiction Award by online publication American Book Fest. DeStefano’s debut novel, House Boy, received the award in the “Multicultural Fiction” category. Published in June 2022 by Atmosphere Press, the urban thriller based on a true story concerns the caste system and modern slavery as experienced by a young Indian man living in North London.

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