On a Quest to Spruce Up Ojai's Art Center

Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

The Ojai Art Center enters its 60th year as the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza launches its first, offering us a study in contrasts. The east county complex is an arts center with a swagger--all multimillion-dollar concrete and blond, grand and show-offy, a place for the taffeta and tuxedo crowd.

The Ojai Art Center, on the other hand, is small, genteel, if a bit shabby, and rural--more a burlap and Birkenstocks place, asking for thousands, not millions, to spruce itself up and be more of a presence in its community.

All of which is fine, assuming that it's in a community that endorses it.

Ojai is a small town that casts a long shadow. While many artists and actors have national reputations, they strive to be invisible at home--locally, they hide their light under a bushel, while bouncing a strobe over the hill in the direction of New York or Los Angeles.

Ojai is also a place known for contemplation and repose, not fund raising, where some people are so deep in thought that they seem to live on the blurry edge between meditation and coma. People from more bustling metropolises might point out that there is a difference between being laid-back and laid out.

It could be argued that too much serenity is not such a good thing when you need to raise some money, that in Ojai it is countercultural to get excited about local boosterism, even if it's for an arts center.

"Everything is a cause here," said free-lance writer Leo Smith, who wrote this week's Centerpiece story on the Little Art Center That Might. "Everyone seems to be trying to raise money for something--to fight the Doppler radar tower or Weldon Canyon, or keep the libraries open. It almost seems that a nonprofit organization like the Ojai Art Center needs a professional fund-raiser to raise money for a renovation project like this."

Of course, then they would have to have enough money to pay for both the fund-raiser and the renovation.

"The irony is that for a community project of this type, the amount of money needed is quite modest--between $130,000 and $170,000. And the money is out there," Smith said.

"In fact, the fund is being built up slowly through memorial donations. But it is slow going. What is really needed is a major six-figure donation, which in a community as rich as Ojai could come from a single donor."

According to Smith, the Catch-22 is this: To raise a new roof, the Art Center has to raise its profile, but the board believes that the profile can't be raised without the renovation.

"People know about the center outside of the community," Smith said. "It is perhaps more popular among tourists than it is among residents."

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