Cultural Center cancels youth theater camp, July activities

Noah Withers, of New Plymouth, takes center stage as he portrays his mischievous character, Rumpelstiltskin, in July of 2016. The rehearsal was part of the annual summer theater camp offered by Four Rivers Cultural Center in 2016. Officials made the decision to cancel the camp this year in light of the uptick of positive novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases.

ONTARIO — While plans were still shaping up late last week to get youth safely inside for an annual theater camp at Four Rivers Cultural Center and audience in place for two live showings, the major uptick of positive novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases threw a wrench in things.

“We programmed a bunch of stuff and now it’s all cancelled,” said Tanya Navarrete, marketing and development director in a phone interview on Tuesday.

The decision to cancel the annual Missoula Children’s Theater Camp, which would have had about 50 local youth participating was made Saturday. The day was spent notifying parents of youth who had signed up that there would be no camp this week or performances this weekend.

“With the increase in all of the COVID-19 cases, we didn’t want to risk it,” Navarrete said.

Executive Director Matt Stringer made the decision “so kids were safe.”

In addition, the Cultural Center had to cancel Zumba classes, summer ballet and the free summer movie planned for July.

Despite the cancellations the Cultural Center has a lot going on, Navarette says. This includes the rental of the rooms by the Malheur County Health Department which has set up its contact tracing unit there.

With so many bodies coming in and going out, it was a concern, she said.

“As a nonprofit, we can’t afford to keep our doors closed,” Navarrete explained. “We would rather remain open and remain safe rather than have someone contracting the virus here. That would mean shutting our doors again, and what it would mean to have to close our doors.”

The Cultural Center already has lost a huge chunk of money this year.

“Since we’ve had to close our doors, we’ve lost $200,000 if not more,” Navarrete said. “Because rentals is our top revenue and because we can’t really host a ton [of events]. Wedding have been canceled, meetings have been canceled and a lot of conventions have been canceled, too.”

A saving grace to this was a $20,000 WESTAF Cares grant that was awarded to the Cultural Center this week. There was a pretty large pool of applicants for the grant from the Western States Art Federation, Navarrete said, adding that it was “nice to have grant funds.”

The majority of the Cultural Center’s programming is free thanks in parts to various grants. Navarette says from what she understands a lot of granters are being more flexible with how and when to use existing grants at this time due to COVID-19.

“Matt had done a great job with Kathie Collins, a freelance grant writer,” she said. Collins was previously the executive director at Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery.

In addition, there have been some “very sporadic” visits to the museum, which, she reminds is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. And while it’s not a huge money generator for the Cultural Center, she encourages people who haven’t been to visit and learn about the story of the Four Rivers region and our people.

When asked how staff at the Cultural Center stays positive when having to cancel so many events, Navarette indicated it was by keeping the future in mind.

She said that staff is planning a brainstorming meeting next week to “sit down and put our heads together to see how to program for the remainder of the year with COVID in mind.”

The impetus of the brainstorming session will be connectivity.

“If our community can’t come to us because it’s not safe, how can we come to our community in a safe way to connect them during this time,” Navarette said.

While the meeting is just for staff, she says, they welcome community ideas.

“So if anybody has a super phenomenal idea they think FRCC can put together, then we welcome that. They can get ahold of Matt or me to share the idea with us.”

Navarette says she is “pretty excited” about some ideas she will be bringing to the table, but wasn’t read to share the logistics until all the details were worked out.

Ideas that are pitched will be mulled over with staff considering the following questions. Will it be safe? Will it be successful? And, is it even going to be possible?

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