Thursday, October 18, 2007

History Of Ojai Day Goes Back 90 Years

Libbey’s philanthropy honored with first Ojai Day in 1917, was revived in 1991

By Linda Harmon
Ojai Day was created in 1917 as a public thank-you to one of Ojai’s more famous benefactors, Edward Libbey. The event began with a flourish but soon withered away, according to former Nordhoff teacher Craig Walker who led a small group that reincarnated the event in 1991.
Today the Ojai Day web site proclaims its main focus, “To feature the work of local artists” and provide “an opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Ojai.”
According to Walker, the 1991 celebration was organized by The Friends of the Arcade, a volunteer group banded together to raise funds to retrofit the Arcade for earthquake safety and maintain the landmark. The group included, among others, David Bury, Joan Kemper, Dale Hanson and Walker. After successfully completing the retrofit, they decided to celebrate the community’s thank-you to itself.
The group hired Jody James, an ex-student of Walker’s, to organize this revived Ojai Day.
“I started at the very beginning,” said James. “I was working in the special events office in Ventura putting on the street fairs. Craig had this idea and came down to pick our brains. Since I had had Craig as a teacher in high school and lived in Ojai, I agreed to help put his idea into action. It was a blast and Craig began a great event.”
The displays and the participants were far fewer than today, but Walker considered it a success and the Ojai Day tradition was reborn.
Later, in 1993, the city took over the event and began organizing it through the Recreation Department under Carol Belser. James stayed on, and, along with Belser, enlarged the scope of the event to include hayrides, car shows, bed races, multiple musical and dance performances, a Chumash village, a teen area, a wellness area and more. James still organizes the event, held on the third Saturday of each October.
One of the day’s main attractions is the yearly street mandala, painted the Friday evening before Ojai Day at the intersection of Ojai Avenue and Signal Street. A traditional mandala celebrates the fleeting reality of existence representing a journey inward. Ojai’s first street mandala was painted by local artists Larry Heitz, Tony Gilliam, Steve Bartolemeo and Lisa Sauvageau. Each year it is re-painted in a different incarnation and removed at Ojai Day’s end. During the day the mandala provides one of seven stages where local bands and the popular Aztec dancers perform.
Another tradition is the Ojai artists’ banners. The 55 banners were designed, painted, and signed by local artists symbolizing what Ojai means to them. Each banner was traditionally sponsored by a local business to help pay for the expense of the day and hung in the Arcade arches. That has changed this year with the Historic Preservation Commission ending the practice in the Arcade.
“A lot of the businesses would request a particular artist,” said James. “In the past we’ve always sold out the banners. This is the first year we were not allowed to hang them with sponsors’ names in the Arcade, but we did hang them on Matilija Street. We were disappointed with the decision, but things evolve.”
A large part of the day’s success can be attributed to a laid-back but embracing management style that has kept the tradition alive despite tough budget cuts to its already modest budget. James says the event is a continued success because of its volunteers with their longstanding expertise and support, as well as the newcomers who provide fresh insights and renewed energy.
Each year brings something new to the celebration. This year there will be an organic market representing agriculture, which is an important part of Ojai, both past and present. Also expect Libbey Park to be filled with a larger presence of environmental groups. In tune with the popularity of Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore and the founding of the local Ojai Valley Green Coalition, Ojai Day will be capped off with a joint benefit for the Green Coalition and the Ojai Film Society. They will be showing the environmental film, “The 11Th Hour” with Leonardo DiCaprio, at 5 p.m. at the Ojai Playhouse; suggested donation is $10.
“It has been an amazing journey,” concludes James. “The event is never the same, it grows and changes with the community. I just try and keep up with it and do my best to keep in mind the mission that Craig started with.”


Anonymous said...

Great to read about community heritage! Speaking of life quality, if you did take in the Eleventh Hour movie Saturday after Ojai Day you saw a production as compelling as Gore's "An
Inconvenient Truth" with more of an urgent message. The interdependent web of life we all rely on has reached it's threshhold from contamination, witnessed by the number of super storm systems we are seeing and
increasingly helpless to react to, like the fires. With all the eco- friendly design for living features
Ojai has-bike and walking trails, open space and managed growth, it lends itself to becoming a model
sustainable community to demonstrate alternatives to
traffic, pollution and exponential growth. Ojai day and many of the outdoor programs downtown emphasizing pedestrian friendly design are not only always hugely
popular but demonstrate sustainable community values
alive and working well.

Anonymous said...

Wow let me get my boots and snow shovel for this bs fest
so the bumper to bumper traffic from 5:30am to well 12:30am is, the "model for a sustainable community"
I was thinking ant hill but OK.
i don't have a full body boot w/snorkel to get into gore/11Th hour
Other than to say it is very cold for a global warming.
Btw it is not for the ultra rich to first be ceo's of major polluters and create a problem, then blame us and charge us and say we did it with our jets and small business's.
That btw never get off the ground mean while record highs for big oil big surprise!
supply and demand or captive market!!!
Good grief do you know the water that lands on your roof top when it rains is not your water,
"water shed protection act"
Soon the air in your house will not be yours!!
Carbon tax The green scam!!!