PICTURED: Take a virtual tour of Collectors Choice at Studio Channel Islands’ Blackboard Gallery.  

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

Museums and galleries — like every other non-essential institution or business — are closed for the time being. But make no mistake: Artists are still making art, musicians are still playing songs and creative professionals across the spectrum are finding ways to engage the community, albeit from a distance. More and more, our electronic devices have become lifelines to the outside world — as tools for work and education, ways to connect with friends and loved ones, vectors for entertainment and also as a way to experience art. From classes to virtual tours to streaming concerts and more, here are what some Ventura County art institutions are doing to keep the creative spirit alive. 

Studio Channel Islands

“Overgrown” by Austin Reynolds, online now at Studio Channel Islands.

For some weeks now, Peter Tyas, executive director of Studio Channel Islands (SCI), has been concerned about the effect that social isolation would have on so many people. When the coronavirus first started showing up in Ventura County, he had hoped to keep the organization’s Blackboard Gallery open. That changed on March 19, when Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered all California residents to shelter in place and all non-essential businesses and organizations to close. Luckily, SCI was already in the process of building programming that could be enjoyed from the comfort of one’s home.

“We want to be safe and allow people to connect and grow their creativity,” Tyas said by phone with the VCReporter. His goal was to help people realize that while they might be physically and socially isolated, they were not “emotionally isolated.” 

“There are tools that the cultural sector has tried — and they work,” he continued.

He reiterated that message later on Facebook, with a post stating, “Studio Channel Islands has a role to play over the coming weeks to inspire our community, to share ideas and to continue to provide creative experiences that enrich, educate and entertain.”

To that end, the SCI website is showcasing artists offering “live” lessons online from their studios, past and current art exhibitions at the Blackboard Gallery and an arts education program for children. 

Art shows online for your viewing pleasure right now: Collectors Choice, Gallery Virgins (new and emerging artists), Richard Barnett’s 100 Portraits, Illuminated (art incorporating neon lights), Magical Realism (fantastic elements in realistic depictions), Karrie Ross’ Light and Space Through Time, The Next Big Thing 2019 and The Illusionists. Loss just opened April 4, and it’s an exhibit that Tyas says will be particularly relevant in the weeks and months to come — not just in the sense of losing people we know and care about, but with regards to diminished comfort, connection and security. 

Feeling the creative urge? Joe Cibere is offering an online watercolor course geared towards adults, while kids can look to Bijian Fan to learn art and math through origami, and Joe Adams offers up a lesson in drawing a tree. More content is in the works as well.

Providing an educational diversion is valuable indeed, but Tyas sees SCI’s online programming as fulfilling a more vital mission in these trying times:

“We believe that our program will give our community a chance to connect with activities that reduce stress . . . aid in communication of complex emotions and . . . allow for communities to support one another.”

Museum fo Ventura County

Denise Sindelar, deputy director of the Museum of Ventura County, said that in light of the restrictions imposed due to concerns over COVID-19, “We have to be flexible and fluid.”

The museum has tried to do just that, launching a variety of programming, including virtual learning resources for children. Lessons on the monarch butterfly and victory gardens are just two examples currently available, with educational videos and links to other resources. There are also quizzes for adults and older children in English and Spanish (one on the Spanish flu is up now), historical articles and more. Those who sign up for the museum’s e-newsletter will have other content — virtual tours, games, articles and even classes — delivered right to their inboxes. 

“Our plan is to bring our region’s history directly to you,” said Elena Brokaw, Barbara Barnard Smith Executive Director, via email. “We will share stories that will shed light on what we are going through right now.”

Another enterprise the museum is very excited about is its Family History Project. 

“The idea is that we have all probably said at some point that we [need] to sit down with our family members, especially our elders, and record our family stories,” said Deya Terrafranca, research library and archives director.

To assist in the process, Terrafranca and other museum staff have put together a series of instructions, organized into six separate steps, to make gathering these stories easier. Step One involves speaking with and recording elders — FaceTime is perfect for this — Step Two focuses on gathering photos and Step Three includes recommendations for research. Subsequent steps will be sent out via email and posted on the museum’s website as they become available. 

Terrafranca noted that this program isn’t being rolled out for the sake of the museum, but for community members (although participants are welcome to share if they so choose). 

“With social distancing, it seems even more important right now to connect with those who are isolated,” Terrafranca said. “We think it’s the perfect opportunity to create connection with people and gather family stories.”

Focus on the Masters

The local art appreciation and documentation organization has had to postpone its popular Artist Spotlight series for the time being, but with a vast archive that includes oral histories, taped interviews, photos and more, it has a wealth of arts content to share on its website, YouTube channel and Instagram. 

Available for your viewing pleasure right now: Artist Spotlight interviews with Lynn Creighton, Astrid Presten, Joanne Julian and Janet Neuwalder . . . just to name a few.

Art-loving kids (and art-loving parents looking for quality educational content for youngsters at home until the following school year) can take advantage of the Learning to See — Explore, Discover Create! lesson plans and videos available on Focus on the

Weavings made by Cabrillo Middle School students participating in a Learning to See lesson on Porfirio Gutierrez. An online project based on his work is currently available at the FOTM website. Photo courtesy of FOTM

Masters’ (FOTM) website. 

Learning to See Youth Outreach Program Coordinator Aimee French has had her hands full these past months, with a team of five instructors, several art class “residencies” in Ventura County schools and other endeavors. 

“Now that I am not scrambling to get all of that off the ground, I am developing some new things for our website that I have been thinking about for years, but just didn’t have the time to implement!” French exclaims with excitement. “Our plan is to offer an online extension of existing Learning To See lessons, shooting for one per week. The lessons would not be what we teach in the classroom, but related and expanded, user-friendly ideas.”

One lesson, for example, might include a profile of an artist documented by FOTM, an art project based on that artist’s work, and related links. In keeping with the “staying safe at home” mandate, projects utilize materials readily available in most households, with step-by-step instructions and helpful pictures. 

The first of these Explore, Discover, Create! programs focuses on Zapotec weaver Porfirio Gutierrez, with instructions for weaving a potholder or bowl using recycled materials, such as cut-up fabric (from an old t-shirt, for example), paper plates, aluminum foil, yarn and cereal boxes. There’s also a fun chart with other out-of-the-box alternatives kids might use. 

Keep an eye on the FOTM website, as French intends to add more lessons in the coming weeks.

Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts

The Upper Ojai arts center is jumping on the virtual tour bandwagon, although a lack of funding and time has hampered efforts.

“Our approach is to move ahead with iPhone footage and simple video editing programs,” explained Director Kevin Wallace. “If it feels like we are sharing the arts from the trenches of a pandemic, then so be it.”

Take a virtual tour of Patricia Keller’s Lost City at Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts.

The center is known for hosting concerts as well, and while these have been canceled, Wallace said that, “We are also asking individuals who were set to come and perform at the center or present workshops to put together short videos that we can share.”

Other online programming, usually shared via social media, includes “snippets” from workshops, historical photos and videos featuring Beatrice Wood herself.

“We have also shot countless images and hours of footage over the years of our workshops, performances, etc.,” Wallace continued, “that we will now have the time to assemble and share. . . . [I]t will take time to establish a program for regularly sharing virtual experiences, but that is exactly what we will be doing.”

Vita Art Center

VITAmins art supply box from Vita Art Center.

The Downtown Ventura gallery has Zoomed into the new normal by maintaining its robust art class schedule for children and adults online. Participants will now receive instruction in ceramics, oil painting, drawing and more via the video communication service Zoom. For some classes, a materials list is provided, while for others, the art center has put together VITAmins art supply boxes. 




Camerata Pacifica

Photo courtesy of Camerata Pacifica

For your listening pleasure, Camerata Pacifica is posting weekly broadcasts of previous chamber music concerts. “Concerts at Home” are offered every Sunday (10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on YouTube Live, 11:30 a.m. on Facebook Live) and feature such artists as Ani Aznavoorian, Kristen Lee, Paul Huang and others.

Ventura Harbor Village

Get up close and personal with the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary through the Channel Islands Live webcam. Photo by Bill Kendig

A variety of live streams offered by businesses and organizations headquartered at Ventura Harbor provide less artsy, but still entertaining, experiences. Enjoy sunsets over the water, the nesting and breeding behavior of bald eagles, the marine diversity of an underwater kelp forest and more. A concert series will be offered every Sunday at 1 p.m. via Facebook Live starting on April 12, and Ventura Harbor Comedy Club presents comedy, live music and even cooking demonstrations nightly, also via Facebook Live. There’s something for everyone at Ventura Harbor — and now it’s all readily available online.

More art online

California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks
Like many institutions, CMATO is making its current show, Empathy: Beneath the Surface, available to view online. But Senior Curator Lynn Farrand hopes visitors will avail themselves of all kinds of arts-related resources at our fingertips on the Internet — the Guggenheim in New York, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, The Getty in Los Angeles, etc.

Channel Islands Maritime Museum
Located in the Channel Islands Harbor, this museum will host the Oxnard Union High School District Art Exhibit. It continues that tradition with an online gallery featuring this year’s collection of paintings, drawings, photography, and 3D art by students from Channel Islands, Condor, Oxnard and Rio Mesa high schools. The show runs through April 30, and viewers can cast their votes online for People’s Choice through April 15.

Mullin Automotive Museum
www.mullinautomotivemuseum.com, @mullinmuseum
The famed institution in Oxnard, home to more than 140 vehicles, art and artifacts that pay homage to French automotive design from the late 1800s to the 1950s, is now offering virtual tours every Tuesday at 10 a.m. via Instagram Live. A narrator will provide background and stories on the pieces showcased during the tour, making it a surprisingly interesting experience — even if you’re not a major car enthusiast.

Ojai Institute
This initiative of the Carolyn Glasoe Bailey Foundation has beefed up its online presence, with online exhibitions (Cole M. James is currently featured), short videos and podcast interviews. Many works are available for purchase with free shipping.

Porch Gallery Ojai
High-quality photos of Shana Mabari’s Constellatio : Planeta : Stella are currently viewable on the gallery’s website. In addition, 10 percent of sales will be donated to Help of Ojai or one of several resources (there’s a handy list on the gallery’s website) that assist artists during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Agoura Hills gallery aims to support both artists and those on the frontlines in the fight against the pandemic. It is currently offering discounts up to 50 percent for purchases made through its website. In addition, proceeds will be donated to COVID-19 first responders.

Ventura Artists’ Union
The local artist collective has created an online exhibition for these times. Cells: Art in Isolation features the work of artists sheltering (and creating) at home and envisioning a post-pandemic future. The show is viewable April 14-May 15.

Art persists”

In the words of CMATO Senior Curator Lynn Farrand, “Even in our times of social distancing, art persists.” Amidst fear, uncertainty and forced isolation, art in all its myriad forms is there to offer us hope, joy, comfort and understanding, as well as a welcome diversion or an opportunity to learn. We are fortunate to live in a community with numerous cultural institutions and creative minds who have wasted no time in providing online access to these intellectual riches. While we honor the doctors and nurses who continue to protect our physical health, let us also acknowledge the contributions of artists and musicians who do so much to bolster our mental and emotional well being. 

“Our community needs the arts more than ever,” Farrand wisely stated. “COVID-19 may keep us apart, but art’s ability to connect us is what will ultimately prevail.” 

Galleries, museums and individuals continue to roll out online content. Be sure to check the websites and social media pages of arts institutions and artists to find out the latest offerings.

For more information on resources available to artists, please see “Creativity in the time of COVID-19” in this week’s Art & Culture section.