This last month has been a doozy in Ventura County, with an epic inferno raging and almost no community untouched. Against this smoky backdrop, we take a look back at the art and culture items that made an impact in 2017.

Museums in the News
The Museum of Ventura County made headlines once again in 2017, kicking off the New Year with a bang when it reopened after a four-month closure and some renovations. The museum isn’t out of the weeds yet, but funding secured from the county and the city, to the tune of $250,000, is a positive start. A brand-new board was elected in October.

The California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks also received some funding, with $200,000 in donations coming in during the fall. But plans for an expansion are currently on hold after the City Council voted against renewing CMATO’s exclusive property rights agreement.

The Santa Paula Art Museum began renovating a second building (to be called the Cole Creativity Center) in October. The Channel Islands Maritime Museum has introduced an Artist in Residence program, hosting Shannon Celia for the month of October. The next one will be in April 2018. And in Ojai, a three-year-long saga came to an end in November when Ojai Playhouse owner Khaled Al-Awar reached a $3.85 million settlement agreement with Golden State Water Company, which will pay Al-Anwar for damages incurred to the theater when a water-main line broke in 2014.

Artistic Developments
2017 was a year for anniversaries, as Santa Paula Theater Center (100 years), the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum (75 years of the U.S. Naval Construction Battalions) and Ojai’s Art in the Park (40 years) all celebrated decades of history, art and culture.

Oxnard entered the Guinness World Records books in April when artist Antonio Acosta broke the record for longest painting marathon, clocking in at 68 hours of consecutive painting (beating the previous world record of 60 hours) at Corner Pocket Billiards.

Art lovers will miss Ojai’s Gallery 525, which closed in July. But the revival of the Ventura Artists’ Union is cause for rejoicing. The “new” VAU coincides with the expansion of Art City, which debuted its new gallery space during Ventura’s ArtWalk. Art City founder Paul Lindhard received a Mayor’s Arts Award for Arts Patron in November.

The Museum of Ventura County celebrated the Summer of Love with a 1967-inspired exhibit, while Four Friends Gallery and CMATO gave women photographers their due with Femmes Photo Fest. In September and October, the Getty Center’s arts initiative Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA inspired a commemoration of Latino and Latin American art across the county, as galleries and museums from Camarillo to Ventura offered a variety of exhibits celebrating artists from near and far — including Maribel Hernandez of Bell Arts Factory, who was featured as Ventura ArtWalk’s Artist of Distinction.

Shamsia Hassani

International artists feted by Ventura County in 2017 included Oaxacan weaver Porfirio Gutiérrez, who had a residency at the Carnegie Art Museum, and Afghan graffiti artist Shamsia Hassani, named ArtWalk’s Global Artist of Distinction. SoCal’s own “Neon Queen,” Lisa Schulte, showed works of glowing beauty at the Porch Gallery in September.

Media Matters
The Ventura Harbor Comedy Club and owner Randy Lubas made it to the silver screen in September, when Die Laughing by Bob Golub premiered in select theaters. Local audiences were able to see the crime thriller during the Ventura Comedy Festival in October. Ojai filmmaker Ryan A. Nichols is currently shopping his first feature film, the supernatural thriller Loved Ones, to film festivals around the nation.

Ojai’s answer to Prairie Home Companion debuted in 2017 with the Townies Podcast. Featuring stories, songs and other entertaining bits from students in Kim Maxwell’s writing and performance classes, it can be downloaded from iTunes. Also available online is The BakeOut, a television show dedicated to informing viewers about the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

Stage Notes
Curtain Call Youth Theatre got a permanent home with the opening of Playhouse 101 in Agoura, which also features new and original works, karaoke and comedy improv. And speaking of comedy . . . the Giggles comedy show debuted at Santa Paula’s Glen Tavern Inn in the spring. Cabrillo Music Theatre changed its name to 5 Star Theatricals, while the Rubicon Theatre Company’s stellar year — which included the phenomenal The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith, an off-Broadway hit — ended on a rough note, with the Thomas Fire causing extensive smoke damage and resulting in the cancellation of the first week of performances of A Christmas Carol. Here’s hoping the footlights are brighter for the professional theater company in 2018.

In Memoriam
Ventura County lost some of its brightest stars this year. Poet Jackson Wheeler, a Mid-Coast Literary Treasure and founder of the Arcade Poetry Series, passed away in June, while Nordhoff High School teacher and Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival director John C. Slade was in a fatal car crash in July. CMATO founder and board director Michael Yee died in October. We mourn their passing, but celebrate the many contributions of these artists, educators and arts advocates.

Indeed, we should celebrate all the cultural richness that makes Ventura County so special. From first-class theater to exceptional art to provocative filmmaking to institutions that host renowned artists from across the globe, we have much to be proud of here. The New Year is a good time to look through the haze of the Thomas Fire toward a brighter future on the horizon.