Art festival supported fire-flood victims

The Ventura Unified School District Office was the site of the Thomas Arts Festival, an art auction and benefit featuring music and performing arts created to assist those rebuilding their lives as a result of the Thomas fires and flood. The event took place on Saturday, February 17.

The event showcased the creative work of local and surrounding artists that raised funds. Featured was a family art space for parents, care givers and children to come together and create art. Live performances by musicians and other performing artists occurred throughout the afternoon.

Moorpark’s Greg Gillis-Smith is a construction project manager, a former space mechanism engineer for NASA, and an unsung hero of the Thomas Fire. Greg started a Facebook group called Thomas Fire Info. The Facebook group grew to nearly 22,000 members.

Dozens of artists, musicians, photographers and performers lost their homes, their studios or both to the fires and floods. Other artists wanted to help, and Gillis-Smith was inspired to create the Thomas Arts Festival as a way to bring communities together in support of the arts.

He said “Our community is filled with artists expressing many art forms, yet hundreds of neighbors suffered tremendous loss due to the recent fires and flood. Many of these people do not fit in the constructs of society because they focus on creativity and helping others and therefore may not qualify for traditional assistance. I wanted to share my most heart-felt appreciation for all those who helped produce the Thomas Arts Festival, those who donated art and money, and all those who attended. This event could not have happened without everyone’s support. The greatest impact, though, may be the relationships and community we are creating through the production of the event.”

Ariel Palmieri, a Ventura County resident, real estate agent, wife and mother of school-aged kids was instrumental in organizing and publicizing the event. She has a background in PR and wanted to use that experience to raise awareness about the event.

She stated “During the fire and its aftermath, I wanted to help my friends, neighbors and others who suffered losses of their homes. I used my presence on social media and connections with business owners to create an in-home free boutique with clothing and other items so people could immediately restock their wardrobes. When Greg decided to create an arts festival, I wanted to use that same energy that was inspired by helping make life a little easier for those who suffered losses to produce and promote the Festival.”

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