“Let’s do it for the Avenue,” says Maribel Hernandez, general manager of Bell Arts Factory. Hernandez is translating the meaning and sentiment of Va Por La Avenida, a new bilingual community event series that “celebrates the residents, artists and businesses that make up Ventura Avenue.” Hosted by Bell Arts Factory and the Westside Community Development Corporation, the free eight-event series will be held over the next two years. The first theme is Ofrenda, which kicks off on Oct. 19 at noon.

Just in time to prepare for Diá de los Muertos, Ofrenda (“offering”) is inspired by the traditional Mexican displays created to honor loved ones who have passed away. Rooted in the love of

Artist Patty Keller wears a La Catrina mask, an enduring symbol of Día de los Muertos. Photo courtesy of Maribel Hernandez

community, Va Por La Avenida is where a deep respect for the past meets a sense of hope and excitement for the future. 

The festivities begin at Kellogg Park with free art classes and music and dance performances by Danza Mexícayotl de Ventura and Ballet Folklórico. Local artists Trio Yolipan will begin a performance in the park then take their show “on the road,” as they stroll and serenade their way down the Avenue, where businesses will hold a variety of creative events.  

A central focal point of the day will be Bell Arts Factory, which will host lessons in making masks and flowers, paper dolls, and silk screening. Teatro de las Américas will perform a skit and Conjunto Herrera will play traditional Mexican music. Local artists will display their works, while “unoffical resident DJs” Ideal Collective spin “electro-cumbia grooves.” 

Over at Restore Ventura, passersby can see artist Sergio Martinez at work as he paints a mural of Frida Kahlo. Also at Restore Ventura, artist Patty Keller will show how to make air-dry clay skulls. While the washing machines agitate, participants can relax with an art class at Olas Lavandería. The bakers of Panaderia Herrera will share the secrets of making traditional sugar skulls. And things are bound to get spooky on a ghost ride, hosted by The Bike Hub. 

A papier-mâché Alebrije mask created in the Spanish Art program at Bell Arts Factory. Photo courtesy of Maribel Hernandez

Tracy Hudak of the Westside Community Development Corporation explains that Va Por La Avenida “is a platform for businesses and artists to build and create experiences.” It’s all about making connections. Va Por La Avenida follows in a long line of community events like Avenida Days, ArtWalk and First Fridays. Avenida Days are just a memory, but the hope is that Va Por La Avenida will foster the same sense of community spirit and involvement. “We are kind of building on that and adding in a creative art experience.” And while the popular ArtWalk and First Fridays fall on the shoulders of the artists, Va Por La Avenida brings businesses into the act. It makes perfect sense, Hudak adds, “We know our local businesses are creative enterprises, too.” Artists and businesses are invited to submit applications to participate in future Va Por La Avenida events; details can be found at www.vaporlaavenida.com.

Va Por La Avenida was inspired by Va Por La Roma, another community project far away, but close at heart. Va Por La Roma was initiated after the devastating 2017 earthquake to help rebuild the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City.

Thanks to a Creative California Communities grant through the California Arts Council and a Cultural Affairs grant funded by the City of Ventura, Va Por La Avenida is fully funded for two years. The next Va Por La Avenida theme will be Posados on Dec. 21. The year 2020 promises Primavera/Spring in March; Movimiento/Movement in July; Independencia/Independence in

Six-year-old Carlos Ponce creating his Alebrije, or folk art sculpture, for the Va Por La Avenida fiesta. Photo courtesy of Maribel Hernandez

September and Posados again in December. In 2021, the Va Por La Avenida’s themes will be Mujeras/Women in March and another Posados in December. 

The hope is that Va Por La Avenida will go on long after that. The goal is simple. “We want families to come and enjoy and create,” says Hernandez. She adds that the event will continue to take shape. “We’ll go with the flow,” she adds. What is certain, as the organizers say, is that it is “connected to the vibe of the neighborhood — creative, cultural, innovative and sometimes quirky.” 

Sounds like a perfect day. So go. Do it for the Avenue!

Va Por La Avenida takes place on Saturday, Oct. 19, starting at noon at Kellogg Park on the corner of Kellogg Street and Ventura Avenue in Ventura. For more information and a full schedule of events, visit www.vaporlaavenida.com or bellartsfactory.org

Note: online correction made on 10/18/19 to list Westside Community Development Corporation.