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Buenaventura Art Association, originally the Ventura Arts and Crafts Association, formed in April 1954 after San Buenaventura Women’s Club President Olivia Hathaway wrote to Ventura officials about the need for such a group and offered her organization’s help in starting it.

The goal was to promote interest in crafts, fine arts and performing arts for the benefit of schoolchildren, adults and professional and amateur artists. That included arranging art classes and organizing exhibits and an annual Ventura arts festival.  The club’s cultural endeavors initially included drama, dance, literature, minerals and rocks, and science as well as painting, sculpture, ceramics, photography and weaving.

Representatives of most of these disciplines attended the group’s inaugural meeting in April 1954. Thor Olson, Ventura Recreation Department director, approved the concept and the club’s use of city facilities.

A formal meeting was held a month later at the Pierpont Inn to set the association’s structure, leadership and goals, and to start work on bylaws and articles of incorporation. The new group also applied for tax-exempt status from the state, but not federal exemption.

The first general meeting on Sept. 24, 1954, was in the American Legion clubhouse at Santa Clara and Palm streets. Ninety people attended. Burton F. Henderson was elected the group’s first president and Clophine Dooley was vice president.
Seventy-six people paid dues to join that year, 60 as charter members ($5 initially, then $3 a year thereafter). General memberships were $3 a year, students $1, and a life membership cost $100.

In subsequent years, other art clubs such as the Ventura County Camera Club, Oxnard Camera Club and Ventura Stereo Club merged with the Arts and Crafts Association. (More recently, BAA welcomed members of the Gold Coast Watercolor Society in 2009.)

In the beginning, meetings were held at the Pierpont Inn and the Elks Club. Shows and competitions were in banks and libraries. The Arts and Crafts Association was invited in April 1960 to exhibit at the E.P. Foster Library. The following year, Dooley appointed a committee of artists to find a building where artists could work, study and exhibit their art.

By the late 1960s, interest was centered on more on visual arts, crafts, sculpture and photography and less on performing arts, literature and dance. In 1968, the organization changed its name to Buenaventura Art Association, revised its articles of incorporation, and applied for federal tax-exempt status. After about two years, BAA received a 501(c)(3) exemption based on its education programs, exhibition of art for the community and encouragement of art appreciation.

The group at first found rented space in a bungalow at 1134 Santa Clara St. and moved in 1970 to 576 E. Main St., where it operated until 1989, when it was forced to close because of declining sales and increased expenses.
Dooley, who died in October 1986, bequeathed more than $400,000 to acquire a permanent home for BAA in downtown Ventura, with the condition that if the association did not use the funds, they would go to the Museum of Ventura County. With closure of the rented gallery, the now homeless association was given a lifeline.

In a long and difficult search for a suitable home, BAA committee members considered dozens of downtown buildings before finding one. In December 1989, BAA purchased a former real estate office at 700 E. Santa Clara St. that now houses the downtown gallery and its offices as well as a small adjacent restaurant. The 1,800-square-foot structure, built as a medical office building, required months of renovation and remodeling before opening in September 1990.

In 2004, the association opened a second gallery and artisan store in Ventura Harbor Village. In 2013, BAA added three rental studio spaces there, giving harbor visitors the chance to watch the creative process.