The Arts in Ojai
Education, music and the arts were important to early Ojai settlers. The first school opened in 1869 in the east end of the valley. A brick schoolhouse, now the Lavender Inn, was completed in the town center in 1876. Sherman Day Thacher opened a private school for boys in 1889 (now co-ed). Now there are eight public schools and ten private schools in Ojai (elementary through high school). In 1893, the first public library opened, and the The Ojai newspaper began publishing in 1891. The Ojai is the predecessor of today's Ojai Valley News. The Ojai Band came together in 1894 and there has been a community band on and off since. Today, a community band plays in the Libbey Park bandstand during the summer.
Music, dance, theater, arts and crafts flourished in Ojai after WWI. The artistic community became enthusiastic when Dr. Charles T. Butler proposed raising funds to build an art center in 1936. Finally completed in 1939, the Ojai Center for the Arts (the Ojai Art Center) on South Montgomery Street is as vibrant today as it was then, offering the community a center that fulfills Butler’s vision perfectly. The Ojai Art Center is the oldest multi-purpose, non-profit art center in California.
Ojai is still bursting with art, music, dance, and theater. In addition to the Ojai Music Festival, other more recent annual events include: the Ojai Poetry Festival, Ojai Film Festival, Ojai Playwrights Conference, Ojai Storytelling Festival, and Ojai World Music Festival. There are two theater venues and a movie theater that also shows independent and foreign films through the Ojai Film Society on Sunday afternoons. Local youth programs include, the Ojai Youth Symphony and the Ojai Performing Arts Theater Academy (OPATA).
The City of Ojai nurtures its artists who come from all over the world. There are about 175 Ojai artists registered with the city and more than a dozen art galleries. Three annual events promote art and artists including: Art in the Park, the Summer Art Stroll, and the Ojai Studio Artists Tour. Local art is displayed in Ojai City Hall. About sixty Ojai artists belong to a non-profit group called the Ojai Studio Artists. The group organizes the very successful Studio Artists Tour every fall raising funds for scholarships, capital improvements to the Ojai Art Center and other projects. It provides an avenue for artists to connect and form a supportive community.
A volunteer Ojai Arts Commission was formed to work with city officials in preserving and promoting art. In addition, the city passed an ordinance in 2003 creating the City of Ojai Public Art Program, which requires new private and public developments to contribute 2% of the building valuation up to one million dollars and 1% after one million for a public art element to be included in developments. As an alternative to artwork on site the developer may contribute to the Public Art Fund. The purpose of this program is to enrich the cultural life of the City of Ojai. Since then developers have stepped up to the plate with beautiful major art works and fountains appearing on the local scene. Developers and architects are putting amazing detail into their building designs. This ordinance has already had a significant impact on the amount of public art now on display in Ojai.