Ojai Artists Get Grants for Social Change

Ventura County Arts Council Uses Arts Live Fund for Enriching Community Through Art

If you didn’t notice, Southern California got a whole lot richer and not just in dollars. Three Ojai artists, Richard Amend, Dianne Bennett and Teal Rowe, are busy producing “goods and services” after receiving grants from the Arts Live program of the Ventura County Arts Council. That’s economic jargon for what happens when you give committed artists a chance to make social change through art.

Their grant projects awarded in June are producing well beyond the $12,769 they won. The art projects they and their nonprofit partners created, benefit the ill and elderly, at-risk-youth, and threatened wildlife.

Richard Amend

Amend, an accomplished painter, wrote his grant for continuing “Operation Picasso,” an art program at the Ojai Valley Community Hospital. The grant is paying for a program that brightens the lives of patients spending weeks, sometimes years, being cared for there.

Patterned after the art program at U.C.L.A. Hospital’s Tiverton House, the Ojai program arranged for patrons to purchase works, which along with additional pieces donated by artists, were hung in hospital rooms and hallways. Amend is using his funds to rejuvenate and document what one of the original program founders, Barbara Hirsch, called this “very sweet project.”

“All work is accessible, all the labels are at wheel chair level, and the content is soothing,” said Amend, whose work has been profiled in ‘Focus on the Masters.’ According to Amend, the work is hung with special safety hardware and its framing sealed, maintaining a sanitary and dust-free environment.

Amend is excited about adding “an additional interactive element.”

“I’m thinking of getting in touch with all the local artists in the collection,” said Amend, “bringing them for events to talk or give a demonstration, and culminate those events with a mini-art festival for the patients. We’re trying to make it into something living and active.”

He already has the space picked out, the continuing care center’s courtyard.

“It’s great that art is hanging on the walls,” said Amend, “but I’d like to move it to the next step, into involvement.”

Teal Rowe's art class

Teal Rowe, a well-known glass artist partnered with Oxnard community activist Armando Lopez, is providing art classes for “at-risk” youth at Oxnard’s Downtown Center for the Arts. Her students, who have been cited for graffiti, use their class participation, service credits, and restitution to fulfill the terms of their probation.

Rowe will produce their student show, “Off the Wall, Out of the Frame,” at the Center, 329 North 5th St., from 5-7:00 p.m. on September 11.

Rowe, who got involved with “at-risk” youth by answering an ad, says, “I love it. Their art work is awesome. It’s so rewarding.”

She has been teaching art classes, for the Ventura Arts Council through Providence High School at Juvenile Hall, since last September. She wrote the grant because it was so discouraging to see the same kids coming back through the juvenile court system.

The class which started June 4 is two hours per class and two classes a week.

Rowe feels the program is “really giving them life lessons” and that tagging is often “socially motivated behavior that has become anti-social.”

She hopes her classes teach them to “express their individuality in a socially acceptable way” and possibly even make a living in the art field.

Rowe’s teaching style “mirrors their creativity and the good they are capable of.”

She said sometimes it is not easy to win their trust.

“At first they may think I’m lying to them, when I tell them about a design concept they used in their work,” said Rowe. “But eventually they listen”

The hardest thing about the grant for Rowe has been “accessing its success.”

“How do you measure art?” said Rowe. “I had this one kid who kept painting tornadoes and then he disappeared.”

He came back but refused to draw. So they just talked during class. One day he just picked up a brush and made what Rowe saw as a volcano. Rowe remarked that he used to paint tornadoes and then asked him what he thought that was all about.

“He was so touched that I had remembered who he was, and what he had done,” said Rowe. “We made an instant connection.”

That is success to Rowe.

“I’m doing this so maybe those kids will want to stay on the outside and do their work,” said Rowe, practical as well as idealistic. “They can’t have paintbrushes in their rooms at Juvenile Hall.”

Dianne Bennett

Mixed Media artist painter Dianne Bennett partnered with the Ojai Land Conservancy and Ormond Beach Wetlands Preserve (Los Padres chapter of the Sierra Club), to raise awareness and educate the public about the environment through the arts.

“This was a series that I had already begun creating,” said Bennett, referring to her current work, color filled graphic depictions of wildlife in their environment, calling attention to disappearing and endangered habitats.

“This project grew out of my experience growing up in the San Fernando Valley,” said Bennett, who explained she saw her wild undeveloped surroundings gradually disappear. “When I moved to Ojai, I’d drive past what is now Besant Meadow Preserve and hope it would never be developed.”

Encouraged by its preservation, she started her series of retablos with the hope of eventually having a show to benefit the preservation of open space.

Retablos are a Latin American tradition of religious icons painted on metal whose purpose is to promote faith and belief”. “The idea behind my retablos, what I hold sacred,” said Bennett, “is nature, wildlife, and preserving it. I started with birds because they are wildlife in our midst. I see them as witnesses to our insanity.”

Tricolor blackbird, by Dianne Bennett

Bennett’s background as an editorial illustrator, prepared her for her current work.

“I had a very graphic style that informs the iconic symbols that I now use in my mixed media art, almost like hieroglyphics, a visual poem or puzzle that I can’t express any other way,” said Bennett

Bennett’s grant allows her the time to complete more retablos of endangered species, prints of which will be sold online, benefitting her two preservation-based nonprofit partners. Her grant project included the development of a website, beforeoureyes.com.

“The website is up but it is still under development,’ said Bennett. “It will eventually be an educational tool to teach people about the importance of preserving open space and the species that rely on them.”

Three programs that produce encouragement for the ill, positive channeling for at-risk youth, and gather support for endangered wildlife, that’s a lot for $12,769 in today’s economy.

The Ventura County Arts Council, is a nonprofit public benefit corporation committed to supporting and strengthening the arts.

To find out more about these individual artists go to ojaistudioartists.org.


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