Clockwise from top left: Vision 2020 Ventura County; photo by Jonathan Dixon taken at the VC Blackout; Gerd Koch courtesy of Donna Granata; La Bohéme: The Hipsters (photo by Martha Benedict); Sam Mindel, “Class of 2020.”
by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer
It’s true that COVID-19 impacted artists just as it did so many others. Livelihoods and opportunities were lost, the performing arts season ended early, and the closure of schools, universities, museums and galleries put a damper on exhibitions as well as in-studio teaching.
The creative spirit, however, endured, and the variety of stories in our Art+Culture section attest to that.
The Before Times
The year began as it so often does, with new seasons, new shows and some new endeavors. Sylvia White opened her new gallery, realART, in Agoura Hills; ARTSpace Black Box Theater opened in a converted room at Simi Elementary School and the Murphy Auto Museum held its official grand opening in its new location. H Gallery and Studios got a new curator (Ute Culemann-Ritke) and Ventura College got a new statue (“Stepping Out” by Michael O’Kelly, honoring late philanthropist Miriam Schwab). We reviewed shows at The Elite in Oxnard, Ojai Art Center Theater and Santa Paula Theater Center, and contemplated art exhibits Women on the Rise at Vita Art Center and Huelga! Photographs from the Frontlines by Jorge Corralejo at the Museum of Ventura County.
Reading, watching and listening pleasure
With the pandemic shutting down indoor venues, we turned our attentions to the things that could be enjoyed at home. Longtime VCReporter contributor Alicia Doyle published her first book, Fighting Chance, and we featured a whole slew of local authors with great books for summer reading. New podcasts Luminary Sounds, Hyperlocal Camarillo, Considering Some Things and Night Demon Heavy Metal Podcast joined the likes of The Kim Pagano Show and The Townies to bring listeners interesting stories, music, history and more.
Both the Ojai Film Festival and the Oxnard Film Society harnessed modern technology to take quality cinema out of the multiplex and put it on home computers and devices, and cinephiles needing even more entertainment could enjoy the 2020 Wild and Scenic Film Festival, streamed live for the first time in October. We reviewed a number of television series, movies and documentaries that we could enjoy via Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and other streaming services.
Logging on and driving in
Galleries and museums wasted no time in offering as much online content as possible. From old exhibits brought back for virtual enjoyment to new exhibits that allowed artists to explore the tempest of emotions brought on by the pandemic to lectures, classes, puzzles and games, the creative community found numerous ways to keep the public engaged and inspired, even at a distance.
Before long, theater companies did the same. We saw productions developed using Zoom as both muse and medium (sometimes to hilarious effect), plays released on YouTube, pre-recorded and assembled videos, and other approaches that gave actors the chance to flex their theatrical muscles while giving audiences something to enjoy from home.
People were able to take in live entertainment once outdoor stages were built at the Ventura County Fairgrounds, the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center and other locales. The revival of the drive-in experience was a boon for performers, who gave the public opera, comedy, musicals, light shows and even trick-or-treating from the safety of their cars.
Art and activism
Over the summer, Ventura County joined the rest of the nation in protesting racism and police brutality with a series of Black Lives Matter events. This also sparked a reconsideration of our colonial history, leading to the eventual removal of the Father Junipero Serra statue that had stood in front of Ventura City Hall for decades. 2020 also marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote.
In light of all this, numerous individuals and arts organizations recognized the need for greater diversity in their offerings. The work of photographer Jonathan Dixon, Ventura County Poetry Project’s “Dear America” series, the read-a-thon of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Black Reconstruction in America and the suffragette-inspired virtual events organized by Vision 2020 Ventura County were just a few of the endeavors that came out of this call to action.
Ventura County said goodbye to two giants in 2020. One-time concert promoter and longtime retailer Jim Salzer, owner of beloved music and gift shop Salzer’s Music, passed away in March at the age of 78 due to complications from a fall. Abstract expressionist and art teacher Gerd Koch, 91, succumbed to septic shock due to pneumonia on June 26, following months of ill health. Both leave a tremendous legacy behind, and will be remembered with equally tremendous love, respect and admiration.
In retrospect, 2020 will be considered a year that tested us — physically, emotionally, financially. The world may have shut down, but the need to express our frustrations, fears and hopes, and share them with others, did not. We’ve relied on our artists more than ever these last several months, and in their own fierce, undaunted creativity we can take solace, courage and inspiration.