Monday, November 22, 2010

The Arts Is An Anchor For Our Entire Creative Economy

Last Thursday, it was my pleasure to preside over the Sixth Annual Mayor’s Arts Awards. It was a great event – an overflow crowd at new Smith Event Pavilion at the Museum of Ventura County. It was a wonderful opportunity to honor people making an important contribution to the arts in Ventura – and also to reflect on the role the arts are playing in building the long-term prosperity of Ventura.

And it was also a great opportunity for me to issue a challenge to you and everybody else in the community:

I am committed to buying at least one piece of local art as a gift during this Holiday season. Will you join me?

And I am committed to buying at least one piece of local art in 2011. Will you join me in that to?

If your answer is yes, email me at We’re putting together a Facebook page where those who answer the challenge can show images of the art they buy and discuss how they have met this challenge.

First, a nod to the award winners. They were: Helen Yunker, Arts Patron; Jack Halbert, Artist in the Community; Sylvia White, Creative Entrepreneur ; Margaret Travers, Arts Leader; Bob Moskowitz, Arts Educator; Chris Jay, Emerging Artist. Congratulations – you all do a great job, and you were all gracious, caring, and often very funny in accepting your awards!

Just as important to me, in the depths of this persistent recession, is to reflect upon the role the arts have played – and will play – in promoting our two most important goals: enduring prosperity and a high quality of life.

At the Mayor’s Arts Awards, I gave a special shout-out to Greg Carson and Todd Collart, who were mayor and deputy mayor during the depths of the last recession, from 1991 to 1993. It was a time when Ventura was reeling from oil industry cutbacks and, as a community, we were uncertain to where our future would lie. Under Greg’s and Todd’s leadership, the city created the Cultural Affairs Commission, produced the first Cultural Plan, and – despite the bleak times – launched Ventura on the trajectory to become “California’s New Art City”.

Now it’s 20 years later and we are in another bleak time. The city has had to cut deeply into our arts and culture programs in order to balance the budget. And yet, the Mayor’s Arts Awards highlighted the important role that the arts and culture sector is playing – and will play – in laying the foundation for Ventura’s future prosperity.

For the first 10 or so years after the Cultural Plan was adopted, Ventura focused on building ArtWalk, encouraging more local performances and galleries, finding ways for arts patrons to support local art. This led to a lot of discussion about the economic significance of the arts = the direct and indirect spending that arts create here in Ventura.

That’s still important. But in the last few years, the arts have come to play a more wide-ranging role in the emerging “creative economy” all through the United States and here in Ventura as well. I believe we have to focus not so much on the arts as a discrete sector of the economy, but rather as a catalyst for a much broader economy.

The “creative economy” means lots of things, but one thing is for sure: It doesn’t mean just art. It also means fashion and design – and also all creative activities associated with innovation in lots of areas, whether that’s high-tech, biotech, web development, or anything else that involves creative and innovative activity. These businesses like to locate near each other – and near arts and culture activity.

Today, our economic development strategy revolves around our Ventura Ventures Technology Incubator downtown, which currently houses a dozen start-up businesses, most of whom are engaged in creating new types of business activity on the internet. When we talk to these entrepreneurs, they always say that being close to other creative people is important to them. That means not just artists but also restaurateurs, architects and designers, even surfers and others who express themselves in one way or another.

So make no mistake: Our future prosperity depends on our ability to grow these creative jobs and businesses here in Ventura. Plus, we’ll be more successful if we are able to use the creative arts to educate our kids and create a local workforce capable of working in these creative industries, broadly defined.

For generations, we in the United States have rewarded our kids for learning how to perform rote tasks. But that’s now what Ventura’s new economy is going to need. Blue-collar jobs requiring workers to perform routine functions – “left-brain” skills, if you will – have been going overseas for decades. Now white-collar routine jobs – technical support, accounting, even law – are going overseas as well. The American economy in the 21st Century depends on workers who can create, innovate, invent. Even factory managers place a premium on shop workers who are good problem-solvers and critical thinkers – the “right-brain” skills that emerge from training in the creative arts.

So the Mayor’s Arts Awards is not just a place to highlight our wonderful local artists. It’s a place to celebrate the foundation of Ventura’s future prosperity. We may not have a lot of city funds to provide for arts and culture right now, but everyone in Ventura has a lot of energy and know-how to link arts and culture to our emerging creative economy.

And everybody has at least a little money to buy local art. So remember – If you’re willing to take me up on my challenge, send me an email and we'll keep track of who's buying local art!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Let's Be One City At Thanksgiving

It's a well-established tradition for middle-class people on Thanksgiving morning to take a little time to help feed the homeless. This is an admirable habit, but it doesn't really break down the barriers between people -- the people with houses are doing the serving and the people without houses are doing the eating.

Here in Ventura, we have a different tradition, which we call "One City, One Meal". We all go down to the Knights of Columbus Hall on Figueroa Street and break bread together -- homeless and housed, poor and rich. The idea here is not for "us to help "them," but for everyone to get the idea that we are all friends and neighbors who live in the same city.

You can find out more about how you can participate in One City, One Meal by calling 648-4977. But to give you a flavor, I thouoght I'd re-post the blog I wrote after participating in One City, One Meal two years ago. It was titled "Help Means More Than Slopping Stuffing". Here it is:

The idea of Thanksgiving Day’s “One City, One Meal” event at the Knights of Columbus was wonderfully innovative: Instead of throngs of volunteers coming to feed the homeless, the idea was that everybody in town comes out to dine together. Yeah, lots of volunteers were still needed. But bonding and companionship, more than feeding people, was the goal.

So when we arrived at around 11, there were more than enough volunteers – and not a whole lot for us to do. My council colleague Neal Andrews, one of the godfathers of this event, told us to sit down and have a meal. We felt a little funny about this but we did it anyway. The result was a very meaningful Thanksgiving that helped me understand the “One City, One Meal” idea better.

I sat across from a guy named Denny, who appeared homeless or at least on the economic margins. At first we shared our meal in silence but after a while he struck up a conversation with me – and it was mostly about drag racing, which is his passion. We chatted for 10 or 15 minutes, after which he said, “I gotta go”. At the end of it, I knew more about drag racing than I ever thought possible. But I also realized that I had given Denny something that all the stuffing-slopping in the world couldn’t achieve – a real conversation, however brief, with a real person. So many of our homeless folks struggle with mental health and with healthy social interaction.

Meanwhile, my girlfriend Allison sat down next to a Spanish-speaking woman who was struggling to eat her meal while holding her grandson. Again for 10 or 15 minutes, Allison held the boy and played with him while the grandma ate hear meal in peace.

Neither of us did what we expected to do when we showed up. Yet by sharing the “One Meal” with the “One City,” we both were able to give and share far more than we anticipated.