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Costs, Reduced Demand Forcing Art Group to Close Ventura Gallery

April 13, 1989|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

After 35 years in downtown Ventura, the Buenaventura Art Assn. is shutting its Main Street gallery, a victim of rising costs and lowered demand for its art, members say.

The decision to close the gallery--an artists' cooperative that displays the work of its 125 members--came Tuesday evening at a special meeting to discuss financial problems.

Some members said they found the closure especially frustrating because the association stands to inherit $400,000 from a deceased founding member if it can locate a permanent home in downtown Ventura. Although the woman, Clophine Dooley, died more than two years ago, internal bickering, a paucity of appropriate sites downtown and the high cost of renovating brick buildings and meeting building codes have so far kept the association from finding a home and claiming its legacy.

No Deadline

The will calls for the money to revert to the Ventura County Museum of History and Art if a gallery site cannot be found, although it does not stipulate a deadline for that decision. But meanwhile, time drags on and monthly rent and operations bills continue to mount.

"It became painfully obvious that we couldn't continue the way we were going," said Paul Owen, the association's president. He added that the Buenaventura Art Assn. "is a viable organization and will continue to be so."

For now, the association will continue to show a small percentage of its artwork at three sites: the Helen Wright Gallery at Ventura College, the East Wing Gallery at Ventura City Hall and the Santa Clara branch of the U.S. Post Office. And it will step up its search for a permanent site.

But members expressed sorrow that they will lose their main showcase May 1, when an alternative record store called "12 Inches of Fun" is expected to move in and replace the impressionistic seascapes, garden scenes and womb-shaped, smoothly polished stone sculptures with records by the Clash, psychedelic Grateful Dead T-shirts and a grand opening party that will feature "go-go dancers in the windows," according to record store owner Peter Weal.

"After 35 years being here, these doors should not close," said Deborist Burke, gallery director. "There's history here. It's a place that's offered the art community a site for its art."

Sonia Chala, who was gallery director of the Buenaventura Art Assn. from October, 1987, to July, 1988, and is arts program administrator for the Ventura County Community Foundation, called the gallery a "very important county organization."

"They represent some artists of really fine quality. . . . This is one of the few opportunities for them to exhibit in the county," Chala said.

Plan to Regroup

Burke, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said the association plans to use the coming months to regroup, increase fund-raising efforts and form a new housing committee to nominate potential sites for a new gallery.

In the interim, the association will continue to fund an art scholarship for Ventura College students and operate the "Galloping Gallery" program, in which Burke visits schools each week to show students original paintings and sculptures.

"We're really going to make an effort to find a new home in the coming months," Burke said. "Expect a 'phoenix on the rise' story.' "

The Buenaventura Art Assn. was founded in 1954 by a local women's club. It was called the Ventura Creative Arts Club, a nonprofit cooperative started by artists, for artists, to promote and showcase their work.

Dooley, an elementary school principal, was elected its second president in 1955. Under her direction, the association blossomed and soon began holding annual arts and crafts fairs.

Many Activities

It also started a tradition of annual arts competitions with $500 prizes, held workshops and educational seminars, and offered local artists a forum for their work by renting paintings to libraries, post offices and businesses.

The gallery operated from temporary facilities at the Foster Library on Main Street, a bungalow on Santa Clara Street and since 1970 at its location at 576 E. Main St.

In October, 1986, Dooley died, leaving her estate of about $400,000, much of it antique jewelry, to the organization to which she had given so much of her life. The only stipulation was that the money be used to purchase a downtown building.

Although members have proposed numerous sites--including Victorian homes and the brick masonry Peirano building, a city-owned historic building on Main Street built in 1877--they have not been able to reach a consensus and, meanwhile, property values have escalated.

But members remained hopeful at Tuesday's meeting, as did the estate's executor and former next-door neighbor, Kim Froedge.

"Clophine always liked the old part of town. It's just a matter of watching for properties that become available."

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