Culture as Vision, Culture as Economic Engine

Edward Robings is executive director of the Ventura County Museum of History & Art and chairman of the Ventura County Cultural Tourism Federation

"America's cultural organizations and the travel and tourism industry are forging an effective partnership that contributes substantially to the growth of our economy. The breadth, scope and vitality of this collaboration--and, above all, its potential for future expansion--are not as well understood, or capitalized upon, as they should be."

--From "Exploring America Through Its Culture," a report commissioned by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities

Cultural tourism is a currently hot national movement but it's a cause that I have been advocating for 40 years.

Eleanor Roosevelt reported in her nationally syndicated column, "My Day," for March 31, 1960:

" . . . I spoke for the Harbor Junior College, one of seven junior colleges in the Los Angeles city area. We dined with the young director of the college, Mr. Wendell Black, and Mrs. Black and Mr. Edward Robings, chairman of the Forum Committee. Mr. Robings told me that they were trying to bring to the community greater knowledge of the world by having movies, music and lectures, in fact anything that would make the rest of the world seem more real in their community."

I am as passionate today about promoting cultural activities as I was when I talked with Mrs. Roosevelt. In Ventura County, an exciting alliance is now putting new emphasis on working together to better present our cultural offerings to local residents as well as visitors.


For the past nine years, I have been privileged to spend almost all of my time providing and promoting history, culture and tourism as the executive director of the Ventura County Museum of History & Art.

Attracting tourists to the museum and to the community is very important. It is equally important for the cultural activities provided for tourists to benefit local residents as well. The museum exhibits, lectures, musical programs, fine films, historical society meetings and the restoration and maintenance of heritage sites provide a better quality of life for tourists and residents alike.

Taking an unusual approach for Ventura County, representatives from throughout the county have been working together for more than a year to promote cultural tourism through the Ventura County Cultural Tourism Federation.

Our efforts have centered on informing visitors of opportunities for personal enrichment by showcasing the arts, heritage and special character of Ventura County. Our objective is to develop a regional approach to attracting visitors and keeping them in the county longer when they visit for any reason.

Even the executive directors of Ventura's Visitors & Convention Bureau and Oxnard's Tourism Bureau have worked together with the support of their boards of directors as members of this federation. Joining them have been representatives of the tourism industry, cultural organizations and local governments. The key words have been "cooperation," "collaboration" and "regional."


The development of the local federation can be traced directly from a national movement initiated at a White House conference on travel and tourism held in October 1995 and brought to the West Coast by the Far West Region Cultural Tourism Leadership Forum in Los Angeles in March 1997, which I attended.

The Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County, under the direction of Bob Cooper, provided strong support by sponsoring a retreat, which resulted in an action plan, providing the principal funding for a Ventura County visitor survey and marketing plan, and facilitating a symposium on cultural tourism.

The Cultural Tourism Symposium will be held Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the proposed Cal State Channel Islands campus off Lewis Road in Camarillo. The public is invited and admission is free.

It will feature a presentation by Kathleen Brown of LORD Cultural Resources Planning & Management Inc., an international consultant specializing in museums, culture and heritage. Brown believes that as tourist audiences become increasingly important to the livelihood of heritage and cultural attractions--and to their communities--understanding tourism trends and how to maximize the opportunities this market presents are critical.

There already are cultural tourism success stories in Ventura County. Santa Paula and Fillmore have collaborated on the promotion of Heritage Valley with the Fillmore & Western Railway, the Union Oil Museum and other efforts. Ventura's annual Chamber Music Festival has enjoyed four artistically and financially successful seasons. Oxnard's recent Salsa Festival is an example of the popular special events provided there.


The Ventura County Museum of History & Art will give heritage tourism a boost with an exhibit, a publication and activities relating to Rancho Camulos in late September. Descriptions of the San Buenaventura Mission and 17 museums in the county can be found under "A Driving Tour of the Museums of Ventura County" on the Web at

We need to build on these successes. Cultural organizations require your participation and support. All of the businesses that constitute the hospitality industry should join in supporting cultural tourism.

We all have something to gain.

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