An interview with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni
By Demitri Corbin
Saturday, November 9, 2013
It’s 5 p.m. Saturday evening and I’ve slipped out of an Ojai Film Festival screening at the Playhouse to meet with Heather Stobo and Lisa Casoni, the proprietors of Porch Gallery at 310 E. Matilija Street.
I arrive to find a frenzy of activity! Lisa is darting between the gallery and the makeshift auditorium outside the Modern Folk Living shop where a distinguished panel of critics, curators and artists are in discussion before a large crowd. In the gallery I find Heather Stobo and, after determining that Lisa will not be available anytime soon, we decide to begin our interview without her, as Heather is not one of the organizers of the OAF, we can discuss the Porch Gallery.
We find our way to the back office and the piano bench of a baby grand. Lisa and Heather are newlyweds, having married just a few weeks before this opening.
DC: First, congratulations and congratulations.
HS: Thank you.
DC: Now, let’s start with the gallery. I’ve been out of touch, so give me the gist – is this the opening? Is this the official opening?
HS: The official launch was a month and a half ago with MB Boissonnault, an L.A. artists, who’s landscapes are beautiful, haunting, and emotionally charged. It was a partnership with Wallspace L.A., Valda Lake’s gallery in Los Angeles. We wanted to start with something that was comfortable, yet different. We’ll have rotating shows approximately every six weeks.
DC: What’s next?
HS: Well, we’ve been overwhelmed with putting on the festival and getting married, so right now December is up in the air. But the first week in January we’ll have the work of Alexandra Cantle. She does text pieces about dyslexia. It’s very conceptual. We want present contemporary art about serious matters. We want to present something conceptual and thought provoking, not just pretty pictures.
DC: This show and what you’re saying brings to mind the Nathan Larramendy Gallery that really made an impression on the community.
HS: Yes, Nathan has been brought up to us before. He was before our time, before Lisa and I had moved here. We have gallery partners in L.A. But we’re not trying to be an L.A. gallery. We’d like to do events…pop-ups, musical events.
There’s something that’s nice about this place. There’s something peaceful about the place – that’s warm and cozy and comfortable – not a sterile art gallery. It’s a house. We have a fireplace to hang art over. You can see what it’s going to look like in your house.
As she says this a string of guests come walking through asking where the restroom is.
HS: (pointing) Right through there.
DC: And you get to tell everyone where the restrooms are.
HS: I do want to say that we couldn’t have done any of this without Carl Thelander. He’s the owner of the building and a true arts patron. He’s been so supportive of the whole thing and all he asks is to be invited to the parties!
DC: I do want to ask you about the other galleries that are opening up – which I love –
HS: Yes, I do, too! I figure the more the better. There are different tastes out there, so the more, the better. Better for Ojai.
DC: Wonderful! I think that’s good – look, just in time.
We rise to see that the gallery is now completely full and Heather dives into hosting mode. I make my way through the crowd and down the street to Phillip and Gary’s weenie roast (don’t laugh), resolved to return later for my interview with Lisa.
It’s now close to 9 p.m. and the Porch reception is still going strong. The baby grand now sits in a darkened room but the gallery, front lawn and porch are still teaming with guests who travel back and forth to the wine bar and the Jolly Oyster food truck parked in the driveway between the gallery and OYES. I flag down Lisa amongst the crowd and we make our way to the piano bench and begin our conversation. Lisa is exuberant from the success of the evening.
DC: How did the Ojai Art Festival come to be?
LC: I’m the marketing director of 49pm with Chris Ritke. We partnered with his wife Uta Ritke to create the Ojai Art Festival.
DC: Are they from Ojai?
LC: Yes, it’s an Ojai-based company. We were challenged by our business advisor to do something B-HAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal. So we thought how do we put on something in a community that is already arts-centric. We went around to all the organizations that are already putting on festivals and I approached Jamie Fleming and we talked about how to uplift the arts conversation, and we decided to do the festival as part of the Ojai Film Festival. It worked out and we were fortunate to put on the Ojai Art festival with the OFF. Through our company, 49pm, we provide software tools to artists and arts organizations called Entrythingy, and artists around the country used our software to enter their artwork into our show.
DC: Tell me more about Chris and Uta.
LC: Chris is the creator of 49pm and Uta is a graphic designer. I do sales and marketing. Uta has done the branding for the festival, she created the logo that you see all around town. We worked 100s of hours to get stores, shops, and local businesses involved. We have wonderful artists showing. In addition, we included five featured installations that are all around downtown Ojai including a garbage tower at The MOB Shop built by Greg Prinz, one of the owners, a piece made entirely out of cardboard by Josh Short that’s in front of Modern Folk Living, a sculptural piece made entirely out of pieces collected out of trash containers from dumpsters all around Ojai by Joseph Umali Fernandez, an installation called Neighborhood Infusions where mulberries gathered in Ojai have been made into an infusion drink called Ojai Mullberry Rye and presented as a public participatory live installation by Fallen Fruit of Los Angeles, and a curated photographic installation by local Ojai photographer Enrico Natali.
At this point Heather enters the room, drink in hand.
HS: Demitri, if you want to know what is Lisa’s complete inspiration – it’s me!!
We all laugh.
DC: Let’s end it on that note! Thank you!
We leave the darkened room and return to the festivities.
The Ojai Art Festival is holding an international juried show of art from trash, discarded objects and materials. DISCARTED asked artists to work with trash, discarded objects and materials to raise questions and ideas, aesthetic and moral, about the life of the planet our wasteful society threatens.
The art will be shown in 50 shops, restaurants and galleries in Ojai from November 7 thru November 24, 2013. For more information visit porchgalleryojai.com or ojaiartfestival.com