Searching for a new model to fund the arts in Ventura County

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Ventura County has a storied history as the home of pioneering companies in the music and entertainment industries. Its hillsides and valleys have been the backdrop for movies and television shows. And it punches above its weight as a home for celebrities in the entertainment industry.

But very little of the personal wealth generated by individuals and companies that operate in the creative sphere has trickled down to the county’s cultural institutions. Which is why I sat down a few weeks ago with executives from the Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura and the New West Symphony, along with former State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, for a lunch at Zookers, a farm-to-table restaurant in Carpinteria.
As New West CEO Natalia Staneva explained, music and entertainment nonprofits have been devastated by the pandemic. They kept their staffs on as much as possible, but the inability to put on live shows and collect season ticket revenue has created long-term funding problems. It affects everything, especially the ability to introduce a new generation of kids. to the arts.

Staneva and Jackson described the small but influential network that’s sprung up with the idea of creating an arts relief fund for Ventura County. Their informal group includes Rubicon CEO Kara Lynn Burns; Elena Brokaw, who runs the Museum of Ventura County; and Vanessa Bechtel, head of the Ventura County Community Foundation.

One thing that really stood out was how different fundraising is in Ventura, where the go-to organizations are not the wealthy-Hollywood types who hang out in Ojai or Lake Sherwood, or executives at Drum Works, Blue Microphones or Guitar Center.

Instead it is agribusiness leaders, manufacturers, bankers, professional services firms, a few private foundations and a few tech firms that are the go-to. The digital rolodex for the folks who put the “arts” in STEM to make it “STEAM” is pretty thin.

Their argument is not just that arts organizations must be just as driven by the bottom line as corporations. They also recognize that the emotional fulfillment that comes with creating great art is just as important as the inner satisfaction that comes with building a successful enterprise.

“The fact is that business and arts organizations are driven by the same motivation: to make the world a better place,” they wrote in a draft version of the business/arts collaborative that they shared with me.
Their fledgling effort is called Ventura County Business Leaders for the Arts, and the Ventura County Community Foundation is likely to be the facilitator of accepting donations and making grants. Part of-the idea is to create a fund so that donors won’t have to pick one arts organization or music program over another.

There are many conversations and a lot of work to be done to stand up a relief fund for the arts in Ventura County. But if it advances the relationship between the county’s vibrant creative culture and its entertainment industry titans, let the conversation begin.

This story was originally published in the Pacific Coast Business Times by Henry Dubroff.

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