PICTURED: Art City could lose its longtime home. Photo by Alex Wilson

by Alex Wilson

Renowned stone artist Paul Lindhard faces an uncertain future as he walks past fellow sculptors using power tools to realize their visions of what lies beneath the colorful rocks.

Since founding Art City in an industrial area of West Ventura in 1985, Lindhard has inspired countless works of art, and nurtured the careers of young artists. It’s a collective art studio where Lindhard provides carving materials for large-scale artworks, as well as an atmosphere that encourages collaboration and creativity. 

Art City is also an economic driver for the local artistic economy, with patrons traveling from far away to see and buy the artwork, Lindhard said.

“I’m already kind of a destination for a lot of people. I hear hundreds of times a month how much people love to come here. And they bring their family and friends and come from out of town.”

Paul Lindhard views historic neighborhood photo Photo by Alex Wilson

Lindhard’s own hand is visible in numerous monumental artworks across Ventura. Projects he’s worked on include the veteran’s memorial at Cemetery Memorial Park, the stone staircase leading to the city’s iconic hillside cross, and the “Welcome to Ventura” sign on the western end of Main Street.

While the rock sculptures will last far longer than any humans who created them, the future of Art City currently lacks such solid ground.

The one-acre lot at 197 Dubbers Street that Lindhard has been leasing for nearly 40 years has been sold for $1.75 million, property owner John Berriman said. All the artwork, supplies and equipment need to be gone by the time the lease ends in August. The property is currently in escrow, which is set to close Sept. 10.

Lindhard said he’s concerned about where the artists renting space from him will go. Some who came to Ventura to work at Art City might have to relocate.

“They moved here for this engine and probably wouldn’t stay here because it’s such an expensive town,” he explained. 

 A “unique artist enclave”

JoAnne Duby in her outdoor studio. Photo by Alex Wilson

JoAnne Duby spent a recent sunny day in her outdoor studio putting the final touches on an onyx sculpture. Duby also uses her studio as a classroom to teach aspiring artists. She’s been working at Art City since 1988.

“The energy here is so fabulous,” she said. “Rock carving is usually a very isolated thing. The fact is we make dust, and there’s a lot of places you can’t do that. We’re kind of nestled here in the best place in the world with the best weather for a stone carver. It’s a magical place to work.” 

Donna Granata is founder and executive director of Focus on the Masters, an arts archive and library that’s been compiling primary source material from local artists, including Lindhard, since 1994.

“Art City is truly one of the most unique artist enclaves, frankly, in California if not the United States,” Granata said. “[Lindhard] took an empty lot and turned it into an awe-inspiring experience. Anyone who has a creative bent, and anyone who appreciates art, as soon as you walk on the grounds, you’re immediately stimulated by the beauty of the stone, seeing all the artists working in the open air, them being so accessible.”

Granata said people come from all over the world to visit Art City, noting that, “The consequences of losing it will affect a lot of people in the stone carving world, and I would say also our community reputation as an art destination. We can’t lose these institutions because it is our culture.”

New Art City?

Lindhard is exploring options for the future of Art City.

Even though he never owned the land that Art City sits on, Lindhard does own two other properties nearby, including one right next door that formerly housed a car dismantling business and covers about half an acre. That property belonged to his best friend who recently passed away and left it to Lindhard in his will. Lindhard also owns another property near the corner of Main and Peking streets that’s currently used to store stone, he said.

But according to Lindhard, moving the operation is a daunting job that could cost over $100,000.

“I’m hoping the goodwill that I have cast into the community at large, with this crisis mode having arrived, will elevate the interest to sustain us,” Lindhard said.

Property owner Berriman is sympathetic to Lindhard’s plight. “He could certainly relocate Art City. He obviously would not have room for many of the artists that are currently on my property.”

Berriman also said that the property is currently zoned for industrial use, and that the new owners are developers from the Los Angeles area. He does not know what they want to do with the property in the future. But he is hopeful Art City will have a viable future even after the business has to leave its current location.

“I regret any hardships I’m placing on Paul, but if there’s ever a time for Paul to reinvent Art City and downsize the operation into something that he can successfully manage, I think this is the time,” Berriman said.

Art City Studios, 197 Dubbers St., Ventura, 805-648-1690, www.artcitystudios.com