The Museum of Ventura County, through its collections, exhibits, educational programs and publications, celebrates the history, art, and culture of Ventura County and the Channel Islands.
The Museum of Ventura County first opened in 1913 in the newly built Ventura County Courthouse (now Ventura City Hall). Soon known as the Pioneer Museum, its collections of artifacts and curios were the legacy of Dr. Cephas Bard, a Pennsylvania doctor who came to Ventura after the Civil War. A compassionate man with wide-ranging interests, Dr. Bard accepted historical objects in lieu of cash payment for his services. Priceless Chumash, Spanish and Mexican-American objects from his collection are on display in the galleries today.
The Museum evolved and transformed significantly over the next 100 years. It moved twice as it outgrew its homes. Its collections expanded to incorporate art, agricultural equipment, as well as memorabilia of all types, marking the passage of the eras in Ventura County. While the Museum initially focused on the City of Ventura, it grew to encompass and be the official repository of historical artifacts and documents for the entire County of Ventura, and all ten of its cities. The Research Library was created, and the Museum began to publish regular historical journals.
By 2012, the Museum occupied two buildings. The Ventura campus includes permanent and changing exhibit halls, a gallery dedicated to the George Stuart historical figures, a children’s garden, an historic courtyard, an events pavilion, and the Research Library. In Santa Paula, the Agriculture Museum, with three galleries and a garden, tells the story of one of Ventura County’s biggest industries.
How the Museum Fulfills Its Mission
Over 30,000 individuals per year enjoy the Museum’s exhibits, Research Library, tours, special programs, and events.
- Collections: The Fine Arts and Historical Artifacts collection includes more than 30,000 objects and works of art. The fine arts portion of the collection includes priceless works by renowned local artists such as John Nava, Jessie Arms Botke, Omar d’Leon, Horace Bristol and Beatrice Wood, and more than 200 extraordinary historical figures by Ojai artist and historian George Stuart. Artifacts relating to Ventura County’s early inhabitants, and to participation in local, national and global events such as the Spanish American War, World War II, and the Saint Francis Dam Disaster, chronicle the history of Ventura County to the present day.
- Research Library and Archives: A non-lending Research Library affiliated with the County Library holds over 170,000 items relating to our County’s history including maps, photographs, newspapers, books, periodicals, manuscripts, oral histories and video tapes, many of them rare and one-of-a-kind, articles of incorporation, and other county records. We draw from all of these holdings to create interpretive exhibitions that illuminate our County’s past, and the possible course of its future.
- Exhibits: Our changing and permanent exhibits interpret our local history and culture in order to preserve knowledge of and stimulate interest and appreciation for Ventura County. A number of these exhibits have traveled to other museums and institutions. The George Stuart Historical Figures®, on display in the Smith Gallery, are world famous for their lifelike and detailed portrayals of famous individuals throughout history.
- Children’s Programs: : Over 5,000 children are served each year thorough hands-on field trips to the Ventura and Agriculture Museums. The Museum also offers “Free First Sundays” every first Sunday of the month to encourage families and individuals to visit both museums.
- Community Events and Programs: The Museum sponsors and presents about 100 events each year, including lectures, gallery talks, films, concerts, receptions, gala events and more.
- Members: Over 1,000 businesses and individuals support the Museum and receive our quarterly Newsletter, the Ventura County Historical Society’s publication of The Journal of Ventura County History, exhibit announcements, special event invitations and other publications.
- Annual Budget: The Museum’s 2018/19 budget is approximately $2,000,000. About 10% of the funding to support the Museum comes from earned revenue (admissions, sales, rentals, etc.). The rest comes from a combination of government support, foundation support, endowment earnings, special events, and contributions from individuals and corporations. The City of Ventura and Ventura County have each made significant investments in the Museum, in order to ensure that the Museum is sustainable and able to appropriately steward its collections and serve the community. The Museum’s most recent audited financials can be found HERE.
- Endowment Funds: : Endowment funds are professionally managed and are overseen by a committee of Board and community members. The funds provide operating income for either restricted or general Museum activities, as dictated by the donor. These funds include a general operating endowment, the Agriculture Museum Fund, and the Bonita McFarland Trust for art exhibitions, purchases and education.
- Board of Directors: The board meets monthly and is comprised of up to 15 board members elected for three-year terms
- Staff and Volunteers: The Museum is operated by 11 full-time and 6 part-time professional staff members, and a cadre of over 40 active docents and volunteers who contribute over 15,000 hours of service annually.