PICTURED: CMATO will close it’s gallery at The Oaks shopping center. Photo by Jacob Erbes

by Alex Wilson

The California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks was nearly ready to open its doors in a new location at The Oaks mall in 2018 when the community was rocked by the mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill and the destructive Woolsey Fire that followed just days later.

Board member Nancy Chappell said they opened the doors early and improvised to create art that helped the community reflect and heal.

Exhibition at CMATO. Photo submitted

“The people who showed up wound up participating in a community art project where they expressed their feelings about the tragedies on prayer flags,” she recalled. “And those flags were strung out throughout the museum, as really our first collaborative community art project in that space.”

But now the final curtain is falling on the museum that operated for nearly a decade in two locations. Museum officials sent out an email to supporters last month telling them CMATO endured severe revenue losses as a result of the pandemic, and will close its doors June 19. 

The museum managed to reopen online in April of 2020 and in-person last spring, but Chappell said it was impossible to regain the momentum they built up prior to COVID and cover their $250,000 annual operating budget. “The pandemic really set us back in terms of our ability to connect with our supporters and raise funds to continue building the museum’s financial base.”

The museum was originally located in a former Taco Bell building near what was then called the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, but museum officials said that location turned out to be too small for their ambitious goals.

Chappell said the move to the mall was unconventional and had detractors, but it also provided certain advantages such as a steady stream of foot traffic.

“At the mall location, we were able to attract lots of people who might not otherwise visit a museum, and that’s part of our mission to make art accessible to all,” she explained, noting that the museum also offered free admission.

Senior visitors to the museum. Photo submitted

Chappell lamented that people will be missing out on something important at a time when art’s healing properties, she believes, are more needed than ever before.

“It’s a very stressful time in so many ways, with war and the economy and disease and politics. There’s just this low-level stressful vibe throughout society, and art is a release from that,” she said. “It allows us to free our minds and free our souls, and just take a break and let our imaginations go. And so for me, that’s the sad thing. That we won’t be able to continue to provide that opportunity.”

 The pending closure is a loss for volunteer Mark Thomopoulos, who studied art in college, worked at art galleries and did some painting of his own. He said it’s a shame that an affluent area like Thousand Oaks couldn’t support an institution like CMATO.

“It’s a sad thing. I was really looking forward to being a member and part of the museum community for a long time. It was a substantial highlight of my week,” Thomopoulos said. “It really awakened a lot of creativity in me, and it’s just a shame.”

California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks, The Oaks Mall, 350 W. Hillcrest Dr., Second Level, Thousand Oaks, 805-405-5240, cmato.org