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Home / Life! / Entertainment / Ontario Museum’s annual Culture Fest celebrates Chicanx diaspora at block party

Ontario Museum’s annual Culture Fest celebrates Chicanx diaspora at block party

by May Ruiz
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In 2009, the various community groups in the City of Ontario’s recreation centers got together and created what they dubbed the performer showcase. What was a simple affair has become an annual celebration now known as Culture Fest and it returns on May 11 from noon to 4 p.m. with a block party presented by the Ontario Museum of History & Art.

Located at 225 S. Euclid Ave., the Ontario Museum of History & Art is uniquely housed in the former City Hall and is a historical landmark funded by the Works Progress Administration. Its mission is to preserve, interpret, and celebrate the history and cultural heritage of Ontario and the surrounding area. From developing exhibitions, to engaging visitors through educational experiences, and events that inspire creative action, it is an anchor to the growing downtown arts district. The museum recently achieved accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition accorded to the nation’s museums.

Photo courtesy of the Ontario Museum of History & Art

The free, family-friendly Culture Fest features the different cultural experiences that exist within Ontario’s diverse community. This year it will highlight the rich Chicanx diaspora. Participants will enjoy art installations, live music, a classic car show, hands-on art-making activities, food and beverages, live performances that express what it means to be Chicanx in the Inland Empire, and more.

By email, event coordinator Rebecca Ustrell talks about its fascinating history. “Culture Fest originated over 15 years ago as a showcase of community groups from the City of Ontario’s recreation centers and was called the performer showcase. It was held at the time of class registrations (before you could sign up online) so that community members could see the types of classes that they could sign up for. A few years back, it became a heritage event and was hosted by the library and Robert E. Ellingwood Model Colony History Room.”

“It’s gone through different iterations to serve the needs of the community at the time it was happening,” explains Ustrell. “Always with the aim of continuing to celebrate Ontario’s diversity, Culture Fest was created to serve as a platform to showcase the different cultural tradition of communities which reside in Ontario, California.”

Photo courtesy of the Ontario Museum of History & Art

As Culture Fest expanded, it moved to various venues to accommodate the audience which had likewise increased. Ustrell relates, “In 2019, the Community Life & Culture Agency hosted the event at Ontario Town Square, where the many cultural communities of Ontario were celebrated through an array of spectacular performances by local Ontario groups and schools including Tongan dance, taiko drumming, mariachi, folklorico, and interpretive dance. The event also hosted family arts and craft booths, and information booths from local communities such as MALO (Motivating Action Leadership Opportunity) highlighting the Tongan community and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.”

The pandemic upended life as we know it and the world went on lockdown. Culture Fest was not hosted in 2020 or 2021 and – as all institutions did – the City of Ontario focused on online arts and culture experiences to continue to engage with the city’s diverse community.

Photo courtesy of the Ontario Museum of History & Art

“In 2022, Culture Fest returned. This time taking place in the Downtown Ontario Arts District at the historic old City Hall which is now the Ontario Museum of History & Art,” explains Ustrell. “The staff at City of Ontario Community Life and Culture and the Ontario Museum of History & Art partnered to it to reinvigorate the spirit of celebrating cultural diversity. It featured The Southland Symphony Orchestra, Bob Baker Marionette Theater, MALO, artist vendors, and an assemblage workshop with Dr. Patricia Jessup-Woodlin. Occurring in tandem with the city-wide Ontario Art Walk, this event attracted a wider audience at its new venue, further solidifying the impact of community.”

According to Ustrell planning Culture Fest takes between six to nine months and taps into the needs of the community for the event’s theme. Their current programming is also significant factor when deciding what to focus. In the past, it showcased the different performing arts programs within the recreation department. Last year, the theme was water, inspired by the new permanent exhibit “Built on Water.”

Photo courtesy of the Ontario Museum of History & Art

Continues UstrelI, “In 2023, the Museum, Arts & Culture department at the City of Ontario doubled capacity and allowed for growth in the vision of Culture Fest. With the addition of a public art installation, Culture Fest’s impact on the local art scene grew tremendously. The event thematically focused on water, in celebration of the opening of the museum’s new permanent exhibition, ‘Built on Water: Ontario and Inland Southern California.’ Additionally, the festival featured public artist Luciana Abait’s large-scale immersive video projection installation, ‘The Glass Wall.’”

“Originally presented in 2022 as a part of LUMINEX 2.0 in downtown Los Angeles, the artwork draws attention to water as a resource, and the realities and metaphors involved in the struggle to control it,” Ustrell describes. “The video was projected onto the northwest façade of the museum. A roster of performers, varying from a Tongan performance by MALO and marionette puppetry, to a rendition of Handel’s ‘Water Dance’ by the Southland Symphony’s brass quintet, was featured. High school bands with the Southern California Percussion Ensemble closed out the evening.”

Design and Build your own Front Yard Plaza / Photo courtesy of the Ontario Museum of History & Art

“The 2024 Culture Fest will highlight the rich Chicanx diaspora which has called Ontario its home for generations,” discloses Ustrell. “Whilst inviting local entertainers, artists, and organizations to partner with us, we realized that the footprint of the event had to expand to house all of the exciting activations we had in mind. We opted to reserve an entire city block to host this year’s Culture Fest, resulting in the decision to add the tagline ‘Block Party’ to the title.”

“This year’s roster of activities and entertainment is exciting, and attendance is expected to double because of the attractions planned for the day. Guests are invited to explore a classic car show hosted by colorblindshotz while sounds are provided by Bitter End Gallery and DJ Lis Bomb. Experience art installations by Briar Rosa which celebrate childhood candy and snacks, such as Takis, iconic in the Chicanx community; Jacqueline Valenzuela will present a historical timeline of custom car culture; view a claymation animation by Anthony Chacon and a stacked CRT TV video installation by Al Espinugio; and a 4-foot low rider piñata created by The Piñata House will be on display,” Ustrell says further.

Classic Car Show / Photo courtesy of the Ontario Museum of History & Art

Financed entirely by the Department of Museum, Art & Culture’s operating budget, Culture Fest will also feature hands-on art-making activities like “Build Your Own Lowrider” with Jacqueline Valenzuela. “Growing Art Ontario” with Willis Salomon will contribute to a communal art installation celebrating a more art-ful community. “Build and Dream Your Front-Yard Plaza” with John Kamp and James Rojas will demonstrate how residents can make the ultimate Chicanx inspired front yard with found objects. Attendees can decorate themselves with original hand-carved stamp temporary tattoos with Grafica Nocturna and take glamour shots at the Old School Photobooth by Gilbert G Photography.

Collaborations with The Cheech Center include a Build Your Crown activities inspired by artist Eloy Torrez, and the Chaffey Community Museum of Art will hold a Piñata Bust Art Raffle. Both the Ontario Museum of History & Art and Chaffey Community Museum of Art, which are admission-free and open to the public, will remain open throughout the duration of the event.

Gilbert G Photography / Photo courtesy of the Ontario Museum of History & Art

“As an agency, Community Life & Culture’s consistent driving force is to uplift, highlight, and educate visitors on the cultural communities of Ontario and Greater Southern California. We work diligently to provide opportunities for artists and purveyors of culture to thrive by collaborating with these talented individuals. Culture Fest could not exist without that collaboration, and we are honored to engage with musicians, entertainers, and artists by providing them with paid opportunities, and afford unique arts and educational experiences for visitors,” concludes Ustrell.

While showcasing the Chicanx experience, the 2024 Culture Fest in Ontario also promises to be a spectacular event full of fun and thrills for the entire family. What could be a better way to spend a beautiful spring day in Southern California!            

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