History of the Arts Council of the Conejo Valley

By Penny Macdonald

Did you know that the ACCV was started in 1967 during what the late Dr. Richard Adams termed “the Golden Age of Community Involvement.”?

The city of Thousand Oaks had been incorporated in 1964 and the new city was teeming with all sorts of ideas and plans, one of which was to form some sort of an arts group that would include those groups that were then present in the valley and those that were to come.

Three years later, starting in January of 1967, many meetings were held to talk about the possibility of creating an arts council of the City of Thousand Oaks. The people meeting felt it was very important that ALL the arts be represented. All amateurs and interested volunteers were invited to attend. The first meeting was held at Dr. Adams home and future meetings continued to meet there until 1972.  Attorney Charles Cohen, who was soon to become Mayor of T.O., helped draw up the legal papers.

The Arts Council of the Conejo Valley was chartered in 1967 and incorporated in 1969 thereby making it the OLDEST, ORIGINAL ARTS REPRESENATIVE GROUP IN THE CITY OF THOUSAND OAKS.

After the By-Laws and volunteer positions were filled in 1967, the first order of business for the ACCV was to put out a Community Arts Calendar which the Council distributed to more then 300 Conejo Residents. Next, the ACCV presented the first Conejo Festival of the Arts, the forerunner of today’s Concerts in the Parks.

A lot of things have changed in the past forty years since the ACCV was chartered in 1967, but the Arts Council has stayed true to the founding member’s original mission statement.

“The purpose of the ARTS COUNCIL OF THE CONEJO VALLEY is to sponsor and encourage the cultural and educational activities in the  CONEJO VALLEY and surrounding areas. The Council undertakes services and develops programs to encourage interest, participation and  excellence in forms of the creative and performing arts by all citizens in the area. We REPRESENT and encourage ALL the Arts and all those who   are interested in the Arts here in the Conejo Valley.

We also work with other Arts Councils throughout the County of Ventura and the State of California.

We invite you to join the Arts Council of the Conejo Valley. If you are already a member then we invite you to become more informed about this special Arts Council that has represented you for the past forty years.


1977 – 2007

One of the first questions often asked by a new member to the Arts Council of the Conejo’s Board of Directors is why is the Arts Council so closely aligned with the Conejo Recreation and Parks Department.

To answer this question it is necessary to understand the past thirty years of history that exists between the ACCV and CRPD. Obviously this is something that most current members do not know thus the need for this background material.

In 1977 the Arts Council of the Conejo had been in residence for two years at the old Janss Home on Greenmeadow Drive in Thousand Oaks. The city had acquired the home as part of a vote on a bond issue. The ACCV had asked the City of Thousand Oaks for rental of the house at a dollar a year for a Cultural Center for the Arts and as the location of the Arts Council of the Conejo Valley. The city agreed and a lease was signed in 1974 and the Council moved in 1975.  The ACCV soon found that it had to raise funds to help maintain the building and to pay for the various utilities and other miscellaneous expenses that were required at that time.

The ACCV found itself spending more and more time trying to find the funds for the Cultural Center. They started a gift shop, asked for donations, held fundraisers and pursued all the avenues they could find to bring in income. All of the member groups were expected to help. One of the annual fundraising events was a design house and the old Janss House was selected as the first one. Each member organization was expected to volunteer time to act as a docent and sell as many tickets as possible. Some of the member groups did not want to take part in the fundraising and by 1978 it was apparent that this particular fundraiser was losing participation. Plans were being discussed by the Council to look for other ways of securing funds.

After the North Ranch 1979 Design house closed, another event took place that altered the ACCV forever. The ACCV Design House Director died tragically.   Her car was set on fire with many ACCV records in the trunk. The shock was hard on the members of the Arts Council and many of the prospective officers for the coming term found themselves unable to serve.

In 1979 CRPD had been a member of the Arts Council for a year officially but had been involved with the Council since 1968. The CRPD representative and board member served as second vice president for programs. He volunteered to take on the presidency for the coming term. A board was put together from the various member groups and the Arts Council struggled to get through a difficult year

At the same time that the ACCV was regrouping the Conejo Recreation and Parks District was exploring a possible new area of development. The Conejo Valley was a strong sport centered, family orientated area. Children were exposed to sports from the time they were tots. They grew up to enjoy all sorts of sports as well as becoming enthusiastic sports fans. The many parks and park programs played an important part in the sports scene. CRPD was now looking at the arts. Some of the CRPD staff was questioning the idea of creating a cultural area or unit that could provide the same exposure to the arts as the sport unit did for the various sport activities. One of these people at CRPD was now the president of the ACCV which was a non-profit group that could sponsor programs that the CRPD was interested in presenting.

At the start, the president discussed the idea of creating an alliance between the two groups to help each other with the various programs that the ACCV was working on. One of the big areas at that time was live theater for children. Another was music in the parks. The relationship was very casual. It was done, as they say, “with just a handshake.” In 1982 as additional programs were developed and more office work was needed at the Janss House it became apparent that some sort of a formal agreement was necessary between the two groups. The Janss House was fast becoming the official home of the ACCV.

At the same time an older proposal for a three way partnership between the City of T.O, CRPD and ACCV was developed into a written Coalition. The Coalition clearly explained the responsibilities of each of the coalition members. The major areas were: the City of T.O. was responsible for the Janss House, Conejo Recreation and Parks District was responsible for staffing the Janss House Office, handling the Cooperative Programs and staffing for ACCV events as well as CRPD and the Arts Council of the Conejo Valley was responsible for using the center for the community on a year round basis, providing  information on arts related programming on a monthly basis, providing art exhibits, designer showcases and providing meeting places for local art groups and artists in residence.

In 1979 Proposition 13 had been passed by the California voters.  This created another change in ACCV and CRPD cooperative programming. “Prop. 13” resulted in many of the art and music programs being eliminated from the school curriculum. The Council worked with the Conejo Valley Unified School District and the Conejo Recreation and Parks District to create ways to continue school music programs. The result was the instrumental music program which continues to this day. In 1983 the “After School Enrichment Program” was developed by ACCV and CRPD and it ran for over ten years.

The Coalition Agreement that existed between the ACCV, CRPD and the City of Thousand Oaks was really history making. It was apparently the first coalition of its kind to be written in the United States between a city, a parks department and an arts organization. It had generated a lot of interest from various groups throughout the years and it was still working after twenty-two years. In January of 2002 a new Coalition was signed between just the ACCV and the CRPD as the move to the Hillcrest Center no longer required the City of T.O. to act as renter of the Janss House to the Arts Council. The CRPD was leasing the buildings for their District’s headquarters. The Hillcrest Center for the Arts was among those buildings and the Arts Council’s office was in the Hillcrest Center.

The Coalition agreement in 1980 made it possible for the Arts council to concentrate on the Arts in the Conejo Valley instead of focusing on fundraising for building maintenance. One of those important areas was the part the ACCV played in the development of the Civic Arts Plaza. For the next fourteen years the Arts Council worked diligently to keep the art community informed and educated about a cultural center. On October 16, 1994, the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza opened. Because of the many efforts of the Arts Council during all those years, it was only natural that the Council became part of the Board of Governors when it started.

The Coalition Agreement with CRPD has allowed the ACCV to expand in many directions. The Arts Council and its member groups were instrumental in preserving the 1931 Janss Home from the wrecking ball and having it designated as a County and later a City Landmark thereby preserving a vital link to the areas past. The Young Artists Ensemble with the ACCV’s help has grown from its start in 1980 to the incredible group that it is today. The Community Gallery opened with the support of the ACCV and it member groups as well as the Art Scene television program and the expansion of the Art Scene Magazine. However the one of the most important expansion for the Council may have been the move to the Hillcrest Center and all of the many benefits that came with that move.

In 2000, discussions began between the City of Thousand Oaks and the CRPD about the feasibility of the old civic center at 403 Hillcrest Drive becoming the headquarters for the District Office. The Park District would lease the old center from the City.  At the same time the City of Thousand Oaks had just finished a comprehensive financial review of bringing the now newly named Edwin Janss Jr., Arts Council Center up to ADA standards. The final cost to do so was prohibitive as far as the city budget was concerned.

The idea was advanced by the City and CRPD that the Arts Council would also move to 403 Hillcrest Drive. The ACCV had been at the Janss Home since 1975, twenty-five years and it was their “home”. In 2000 the Coalition agreement had been working for twenty years and the many programs, both CRPD cooperative and ACCV sponsored were running smoothly. The Arts Council was assured that they would have dedicated areas for their office, their cultural programs both cooperative and Council sponsored and that they would have signage. The dedicated areas also included a display area for the visual arts and a black box theater. The ACCV appointed a liaison to work with the City and CRPD on the transition from the land marked Janss House to the land marked Old Civic Center

The Arts Council of the Conejo Valley moved into the then called 403 Hillcrest Center in the fall of 2002. A new CRPD – ACCV Coalition now without the City of T.O. had been signed that January which covered the new location. The new sign for the ACCV Office was installed before the opening as well as the entrance sign at Hillcrest and McCloud Drive. The ACCV was invited to hang an art show for the opening celebration which covered the complete length of the now Galleria walls. Originally the only area the ACCV was going to work with was the area in the theater area. After the first show the ACCV was asked to handle all of the wall space and the Galleria came into being.  The Art Scene magazine also received support from CRPD allowing it to reach a larger audience then before.

The synergism that has existed between The ACCV and CRPD for these past twenty-seven years starting in 1973 when the Arts Council received $1417 from CRPD for the First Annual Pageant of the Oaks held at Conejo Valley Community Center and Borchard Park is unique and rare. It has made it possible for the ACCV to become what it is today with its many programs, scholarships, and leadership for the over forty member groups. Without it the ACCV might be no more then just a nice arts organization struggling to survive and meeting out of member’s homes while CRPD would not have a Cultural Unit with theater and visual art but just be a good Parks and Rec group with a lot of sports programs.  We both have benefited from this relationship.

It is important for the Arts Council Board to know this history and to take it into consideration as it meets today to look at future goals. There is a saying, perhaps a bit trite, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” which is very applicable to the ACCV and CRPD relationship. If the ACCV is considering changing its relationship with the Park District it might want to consider what it will need to replace. Our current office is a dedicated space for us coming from the 2000 move to the 403 Center. The Galleria allows the ACCV to do amazing things as well as the black box theater. The Cultural Unit office supports and helps the ACCV on a daily basis and the access at no cost to the meeting rooms is irreplaceable. At the same time the ACCV and the CRPD are completely different groups. We are free to follow what we feel is most important for the many  people that we serve but we need to recognize what we do gain from our synergistic relationship.

The Arts Council of the Conejo Valley can have the best of both worlds if it will understand and learn from its history, honor and involve its member groups, represent and lead in a positive way for city art support of the arts while at the same time it understands and also works with the special relationship it has and has had benefited from for over twenty-seven years with the Conejo Recreation and Park District.

Penny Macdonald, ACCV Historian – November 9, 2007

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