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Ventura County

New Campus Seen as Springboard for the Arts

Culture: Leaders in county seek a broad curriculum at Cal State Channel Islands with strong ties to involve the community.


Leaders of Ventura County's cultural community are lining up behind proposals to create a strong arts curriculum at the emerging Cal State Channel Islands campus, while calling on university officials to help develop arts activities countywide.

Cultural leaders want a broad-based arts curriculum at the Camarillo campus, offering everything from film programs to courses in dance, theater and music.

But they say they also want the university to take a leading role outside the academic arena, becoming a chief advocate for the arts while teaming with community groups to improve access to programs and facilities.

"There is a tremendous amount they can do for the entire community in terms of bolstering the arts," said Ventura resident Jordan Laby, who along with his wife, Sandra, launched the San Buenaventura Foundation for the Arts.

"Most of the cities in our county have a desire to do more," he added. "We need both the leadership and the push that can come from a major institution."

The Labys and others active in a resurgent local arts scene say they believe Cal State Channel Islands already is off to a good start.

The university, under development at the former Camarillo State Hospital site, has become home to the Channel Islands Ballet and Studio Channel Islands Art Center, which hosts exhibits and provides studio space for local artists.

And former Channel Islands President Handel Evans, who served on the board of directors of the Ventura County Arts Council, named the arts one of the core areas on which the university would build its academic plan.

Current President Richard Rush is now zeroing in on that target.

His first move was to make Cal State Northridge arts professor Jack Reilly a member of the new university's founding faculty, tapping his experience as a nationally renowned painter and pioneer in the area of video and digital art and animation.

The faculty is laying the groundwork for the curriculum that will be offered when the campus opens in the fall, Rush said.

Once that foundation is in place, he said, he expects the arts to be one of the areas faculty members take a closer look at.

"There is tremendous grass-roots interest in the region for arts programs," said Rush, a longtime arts booster, who as president of Minnesota State University at Mankato spearheaded a fund-raising drive for a $3-million performing arts center.

"I have a personal interest in developing art programs," he said. "But I also believe that a significant university should offer those kinds of opportunities for students and for the community."

Already, Reilly has crafted the curriculum for a bachelor's degree in fine arts. The course work initially will focus on interdisciplinary studies in the visual arts. For example, he will team with the developing English department to offer a course in art history that delves into literature and the Renaissance.

Emphasis on New Technologies

There also will be an emphasis on the new technologies available in the arts, so that someone who comes to learn about painting with oils will also learn how to paint using the computer, he said.

In coming years, as more money and faculty members become available, the arts curriculum will evolve to include music, theater, film and other programs.

"I think this university is going to create a focal point and add some academic firepower to the arts in this community," Reilly said.

"There's been tremendous growth in the county and it's ripe for culture, no question about it," he said. "We hope to provide a major part of that and become a leader."

There could be some stumbling blocks along the way, however.

The campus lacks major arts-related facilities, such as a performing arts center, and any move to build such a facility most likely would necessitate a community-supported fund-raising campaign.

Rush said it's also critical that the new campus try to carve a niche with its arts curriculum, steering clear of programs readily available at Ventura County's community colleges or other Southern California universities.

If the Channel Islands faculty wanted to pursue a film program, for example, it would be important not to duplicate programs such as those created at the award-winning film school at Cal State Northridge or those offered by perennial film powerhouses such as USC and UCLA.

"Certainly we want to provide opportunities for students to grow and develop their talents," he said. "But we would want to find a niche to which we could contribute."

There is no shortage of suggestions.

Arts Management Studies Urged

Margaret Travers, executive director of the Ventura County Arts Council, said she would like to see the university develop an arts management curriculum, boosting the business know-how of people like her who administer arts programs.

She also would like to see an arts curriculum rooted in several disciplines, from the visual arts to the performing arts, she said.

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