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Funding crisis means the only public arts museum in the Conejo Valley will permanently close Sunday

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Lance Orozco
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The California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks (CMATO) has been located in The Oaks Mall in Thousand Oaks since 2018. A funding crisis means barring a miracle cash infusion, it will permanently close on Sunday.

California Museum of Art Thousands Oaks brought dozens of exhibitions to the region for free during its history.

It’s been bringing art, and culture to the Conejo Valley for close to a decade.

But, unless there’s a last minute miracle, the California Museum Of Art Thousand Oaks is going to open its doors to the public for the final time this Sunday.

"COVID obviously really halted our ability to fundraise with events," said Nancy Chappell, a longtime supporter of the art museum, and chair of its board. "We did get some help through the COVID relief programs and that allowed us to do some wonderful things coming out of the pandemic, but the fundraising on top of it, we had just lost so much momentum."

The museum history dates back to 2008, when some members of the community came together with the idea of creating an arts museum.

It was originally called the Regional Art Museum. In 2010, the name was changed to the California Museum of Art Thousand Oaks.

Supporters had ambitious plans to build a museum on city land next to the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. The museum used a former Taco Bell restaurant on Thousand Oaks Boulevard as a temporary home. By 2015, CMATO started doing exhibitions.

After it became clear that the idea of building a museum was fizzling financially, supporters came up with a creative idea, which was to take art to the people. In 2018, the museum rented 5,500 square feet of vacant store space in the Oaks Mall, converting it into multiple galleries.

In the last few years, the museum has had some of its biggest exhibitions in its history, with paintings, photographs, and art installations.

It takes about $250,000 a year to keep the museum operating, but with fundraising falling flat, it led to the decision to shut it down.

It would literally take a miracle, and a quick one at that to save it. They would need a $200,000 plus commitment in the next few days.

"There's only so far you can push it," said Chappell.

She said they were at a key juncture where they had to decide whether to commit to a new lease for another year. She says it’s sad, because there is no other public art museum of its type in the Conejo Valley.

"We have reached out to the City, and TO Arts," said Chappell. "They're very focused on the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, and making that the performing arts center."

The museum’s board chair says the situation really poses an important question for the Conejo Valley: Does the community care enough to the arts to support them?

"I think this is a good moment for our community to think about whether we want to have this here," said Chappell. "Or, do we want to rely on driving to LA, or Santa Barbara?"

CMATO will be open from 2-6 p.m. on Thursday. Then, for its final three days of operation on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it will be open from noon-6 p.m. Admission is free. It’s on the second level of the Oaks Mall, between Nordstrom and the women’s Macy’s store.