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February 25, 2014

Ontario, California: A Developing County Center of Art and Culture

Written by  Sharon A. Pittman
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Museum of History and Art, Ontario Museum of History and Art, Ontario Photo by Andy Woods

Among the features that promise to attract outsiders to San Bernardino County, as well as keep insiders intrigued, is its growing arts community. For instance, the City of Ontario, which since 2006 has boasted of its airport becoming international, and shown other new signs of becoming a noteworthy destination, is strongly committed to supporting arts projects, practitioners, and the overall artistic milieu.

In response to my inquiry regarding what plans that they have for implementing projects that demonstrate an interest in further developing the local arts community, council member Debra Dorst-Posada, who is a former San Bernardino County Museum Commissioner and current Museum of History and Art liaison, pointed out that “The City of Ontario has a long record of support for developing the local arts community through the activities of the Museum of History and Art, Ontario, as well as support for cultural groups operating in the community.” The City was instrumental in relocating the Chaffey Community Museum of Art to its site across the street from the Museum of History of Art. Dorst-Porada emphasized that their close proximity is “an excellent foundation to build on the synergy of these two cultural institutions.” She stated a goal of developing a community of live-work spaces where an arts community flourishes, including the full gamut of Art Walk activities, etc. that are characteristic of a downtown arts center.

Changes to the Ontario art scene include a new director of the Museum of History and Art. Executive Director John Worden has a visual arts background. After receiving an MFA degree in Photography in Rochester, New York, he became a visual arts curator at Pyramid Arts Center. Later, he served as the director of a rural arts council in Wayne County New York, where he worked on a major heritage tourism project. Before relocating to Riverside, California, Worden also worked for a planning consulting firm that specialized in public/private partnerships. In reference to his experiences as one who relocated from New York to the Inland Empire, John Worden stated, “I served as Executive Director at the Mission Inn Museum in Riverside for the last 16 years, and am especially proud of the exemplary educational and cultural programs provided there….I was attracted to the position here in Ontario by several key attributes: the Museum is devoted to art as well as history; Ontario’s audience is diverse; and along with the Museum’s high credibility and the track record of City Council support for cultural activities, I see great potential in reaching out and serving the community.”

Mayor Paul S. Leon is pleased that the museum has been “actively increasing its programming activities” and “reaching out to community audiences.” On Saturday, February 1st, I attended an event that was held to celebrate a combination of Chinese and Mexican heritage. According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, 2014 is “The Year of the Horse.” Also, “El Caballo”—“The Horse” is highly significant to Mexican folklore. Thus, the viewing of the traveling exhibit El Caballo: The Horse in Mexican Folk Art and Chinese New Year activities at the museum conveniently overlapped. El Caballo opened January 30th— the day after the New Year began, and will remain until March 10th of 2014.

According to the mayor, “The museum is also administering the City’s new request for proposals process for a public art mural project at Ontario Town Square – a plaza that will serve as another venue for cultural activities, being developed in historic downtown, near the Ontario City Library.” He said, “We are delighted to offer this opportunity for the selected artist to convey the identity and character of the Ontario Community.” The March 7th deadline for art submissions is nearing, and interested persons are urged to view the City website’s BidsOnline portal and/or contact the Purchasing Department at (909) 395-2012 for more information.

The arts community of the Inland Empire is being revitalized and bolstered to an unprecedented level through the support of various entities. An advantage of being a relatively unsung arts community is that local residents have the opportunity to be pioneers by becoming involved and helping to carve out the in-progress artistic landscape.

Sharon A. Pittman can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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