Tanya Navarrete, marketing director at Four Rivers Cultural Center, hands out masks and care kits at the center during an event in April. Navarrete and Allison Simon, the program outreach coordinator for the center, want to build stronger ties with the community. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

ONTARIO – When Allison Simon saw the job advertisement for a program outreach coordinator at Four Rivers Cultural Center in June, two thoughts occurred to her almost simultaneously.

“I remember thinking, this sounds perfect. But it is in Oregon,” said Simon.

For her, then living in Ohio near Lake Erie, Oregon seemed a long way away.

“I thought, well, there is no chance I’ll get it, so I applied,” said Simon.

Two days later Simon received a call from Tanya Navarrete, the center’s marketing and development director.

“She asked me, ‘Did you mean to apply for this?’ I said, yes, I did,’” laughed Simon.

Simon interviewed with Navarrete over Zoom and then flew out to check on Ontario.

She said she was impressed with the area at once.

“It is beautiful in its own way,” said Simon.

Simon was hired soon after and started work at the cultural center in August.

Simon and Navarrete represent a continuing effort by the cultural center to engage the community across a range of platforms.

Both women see the cultural center as a key pillar to building a healthier community and engaging residents through the arts and other civic programs.

Navarrete, a former reporter for the Argus Observer, began at the cultural center in 2018.  An Ontario High School and Boise State University graduate, she said she was interested in working for the cultural center because she wanted to help her community.

“I think the best part about it is getting the pulse of the community and what the community needs are and doing that in many different ways through surveys or annual data reports and then brainstorming ways to be able tackle those needs,” said Navarrete.

Navarrete said Simon will play a crucial role as the center gears up to develop stronger links with Malheur County.

“She is basically my go-to person. We are working together to develop program ideas. Then she is the one, once we nail the details, that takes it and makes it happen,” said Navarrete.

A good example, said Navarrete, is the Halloween pop-up parades held in Vale, Nyssa and Ontario in late October.

A time-consuming process to plan, the three events proved to be a success, said Navarrete, and symbolized the overall mission of the cultural center.

“It is community cohesion and it ties into culture. We are helping to celebrate in the style of where we live,” said Navarrete.

Simon said the cultural center is an asset to the county.

“It is important for a lot of reasons. We do so much. We are a museum so as a community you can see your history here. This is a place to collect, nurture and share traditions,” said Simon.

Along with the museum, the cultural center includes a conference center, the Hikaru Mizu Japanese Garden, a community theater, and The Harno Gallery.

“The fun part is the programing, developing programing for the community that aligns with the mission of Four Rivers Cultural Center,” said Navarrete.

Those programs, said Navarrete, can be “anything under the sun.”

“Because our mission is so wide and hits so many different elements like art, history, education, culture and community,” said Navarrete.

Simon, who received her undergraduate degree in media culture and the arts from Kings College in New York City, said Covid has changed how the center advances its community programing.

“There are quite a few things we are involved in we were not involved in before,” said Simon.

For example, the center operates a food box program, delivers quarantine kits to those in isolation and helps Covid victims find temporary housing.

Those all items typically outside the cultural center’s focus but are now part of its mission, said Simon.

Simon said she wants to build on the existing base of programs and find a way to be successful despite Covid limits.

“I am just sort of taking over running the things the community knows and loves but trying to refresh it in a way to allow us to continue with the new Covid restrictions,” said Simon. 

Simon said now she is focused on the annual Holiday Bazaar slated for Saturday, Nov. 14, beginning at 10 a.m.

Simon said she also hopes to bring back Zumba and yoga classes.

“Those are two things that keep getting brought up,” said Simon.

Another program Simon said she is excited about is called “Share Your Heritage.”

“It is going to be an exhibit but the first part of it is to ask people to send in videos and photographs, whatever they are comfortable with sharing, about their heritage and how they relate to it today. The idea is we connect through our shared heritage,” said Simon.

Simon said the program is still being developed but she hopes to be able to roll it out soon.

Simon said she sees lots of possibilities with her new gig at the center but new horizons are nothing new to the Ohio native.

Besides New York City, Simon also lived in Ireland for a short time.

Now working on a master’s in museum studies through Johns Hopkins University, she admitted her journey west delivered some surprises.

“The landscape was really surprising to me. In New York it was going from having nature to cinderblocks and steel. In Ireland it was, I’ve never seen this color of green before. Here the palette is completely different. It is gold and brown,” said Simon.

She said another attribute to the West caught her attention.

“The sky. That’s the other thing. There is so much sky. It feels like wide open sky,” said Simon.

Then she paused.

“But I like that,” said Simon.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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