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Council OKs Panel to Study Proposed Art Museum

Culture: Eleven-member committee will examine facility's size and location. Some are pushing for a Civic Arts Plaza site; critics call that area too congested.


THOUSAND OAKS — City leaders decided Tuesday to study the creation of an art museum here, one that supporters said could establish a cultural hub in east Ventura County.

The City Council unanimously agreed to form an 11-member committee to study the possible location and size of the museum. Councilwoman Linda Parks spurred that report earlier this year when she said she hoped land would be set aside for a museum before development takes all of the available space.

But a site near the Civic Arts Plaza, promoted by Parks, is opposed by some arts activists, who said the area has too much congestion and that other places would benefit more from a museum.

The city has two public performing arts theaters at the plaza and has approved plans for a science museum on its east side. Parks suggested that the art museum be built in the same area, possibly on the first floor of one of the office buildings planned for the east-side commercial development. But her plan is not embraced by all supporters of a museum.

"There's no possibility it can work," said Jane Brooks, chair of the city Arts Commission. A museum "could revitalize other areas of the city, provided we make the right choice on a location."

While Thousand Oaks has several art galleries, it has no permanent museum, noted Tom Mitze, the city's theaters director. Galleries, including one in the lobby of the Fred Kavli Theatre in the arts plaza and the Thousand Oaks Community Gallery, display works that are on tour or from local artists, but they don't own collections.

The county has only two art museums, the Ventura County Museum of History and Art in Ventura and the Carnegie Art Museum in Oxnard.

A community art museum would probably consist of several galleries that would host traveling shows and cultivate its own collections. The Ventura County museum, for example, maintains a year-round exhibit on the history of the county that includes more than 100,000 items, said Executive Director Tim Schiffer.

"Building support to keep an organization like this running is a big undertaking," he said.

But it's an effort that would pay off in east Ventura County, Mitze said.

"There's tremendous interest in visual arts in this community, and the demographics of Thousand Oaks support both visual and performing arts," he said.

Also, the desire for a museum is nothing new. Maria Dessornes, president of the nonprofit Conejo Valley Art Museum, has been trying since the early 1990s to find a permanent home for the small museum, housed in a Janss Mall storefront from 1978 to 1983.

The five or six pieces the group owns remain in storage while Dessornes faces steadily increasing rents, driven by a booming economy. An attempt last year to buy the Hillcrest North building from the city failed because officials said they preferred to lease it, for up to $74,000 a month.

Dessornes said she hopes to be involved in the committee and any creation of an art museum in the Conejo Valley.

"I don't see why they would have to reinvent the wheel, when you have the Conejo Valley Arts Museum raising funds," she said.

Most council members said they backed creating a committee, even if they weren't sure how far they were willing to go in terms of public funding.

"Overall, I'd have to question the size and scope, and what it will take to satisfy the need," said Councilman Dan Del Campo, adding that recent surveys show residents would rather have parks and ball fields before an art museum.

Mayor Dennis Gillette said he also supports places to display art in the community and agreed the city could do more.

"The question is, what, if any, is the appropriate role of the city in this?" he said.

Councilman Andy Fox also supports the committee, which he proposed in May when Parks mentioned creating the art museum. Arts experts, Fox said, should study the issue and recommend answers to the council.

The committee should start meeting within the next two months, Mitze said.

Options range from a city-sponsored museum on public land to one that is privately funded, and the committee will work to hash out the pros and cons.

"There will be a wide variety of opinions, so getting a consensus could be time-consuming," Mitze said.

Brooks, who has long pushed for an art museum in Thousand Oaks and works to secure art shows at the Fred Kavli Theatre, said it could be years before anything happens.

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