133 N. Allegheny Street Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
By Serge Bielanko
On a recent wintery afternoon, I stomped the snow off of my boots and made my way into the Linn House, home to the Bellefonte Art Museum for Center County on N. Allegheny Street. Having lived in this area for five years now, I have to admit: I felt a little ashamed coming through those big old doors. How had it taken me this long to finally visit?! I mean, I love art; and I've got three young kids I want to expose to paintings and sculpture and culture; and I know darn well that special places like this can only ever exist in communities like ours if the people support them.
And yet here I was making my way into the museum for the very first time. I'd driven by probably two-hundred times. I'd always been told that it was a fantastic Bellefonte treasure. Heck, I'd even heard there was an actual Underground Railroad room inside, a tiny hidden space where escaped slaves from the South once hid on their long road to freedom. But life had gotten in the way. I'm always in a rush. I've got so much to do. Someday, I'll stop in...but not today, I'm afraid. You know what I'm saying.
That's how it goes with art though, huh? So many of us turn away from it in the name of more important things, of more pressing matters. And in doing so, against our better nature, we ever-so-slightly begin to lose touch with the vital, beautiful presence of art in our own lives. So when I ultimately entered into Bellefonte's very own amazing art space one day last week, I was feeling both excited and embarrassed.
Lucky for me though, I was met right away by the woman who has made it possible. Patrica House has had a long career helping art museums all over the United States succeed. So when she moved to Centre County over a decade ago from California to be closer to family it would almost seem as if she was destined to become the Executive Director of the Bellefonte Art Museum, wouldn't it?
Maybe, maybe not. Standing in the front hall of the museum, she tells me that her lifelong love of art is what brought her to this job.
"The first thing I noticed when I moved to Centre County was that there weren't really any places that brought art into the community." So she rolled up her sleeves and got involved. And the rest is history, as they say. With help of many people who shared her vision, House- who did indeed become Executive Director of the museum, has helped create a place we're all lucky to have in our midst. It's a space that features art from all walks of life: some created by artists who live right down the street, some from artists who live on the far side of the world.
So, since this year marks the 10th Anniversary of the Bellefonte Art Museum of Centre County, it's probably high time you finally get yourself down there for at least one of the many special events planned throughout 2018. The popular First Sunday events started by the museum have now gone town-wide with something for everyone of every age. An Imagination Celebration this summer welcomes kids and their families to have fun participating in a slew of arty projects together.
And upstairs at the top of the building? Well, let me just say this. The permanent exhibit called Underground Railroad: A Journey to Freedom isn't grand in size or anything. But it is simply breathtaking. So go. Go see some gorgeous art. And then head upstairs to a room that every single person in this county needs to see for themselves.
In the spirit of all this tenth year excitement, Bellefonte.com will be covering a lot more from our town's wonderful art museum across the weeks and months to come.
To kick it all off, some questions for Patricia House, herself.
1) This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County (BAMCC). Why do you think art still matters in this day and age of smart phones and YouTube?
Art matters more than ever! Smart phones aren’t the answer to inspiration and curiosity and knowledge- although they help. YouTube displays videos many with artistically creative style, art groups on Facebook too. The new technology are platforms to share and more art happens.
2) There are so many talented and respected artists and artisans in our area, many who have been (or will be) featured at some point in the museum. And yet public schools are being denied funding for arts programs nationwide more and more each year. How does BAMCC try to make sure that children are exposed to art, or even experience making it themselves?
Some public schools do better than others. The local systems seem to be able to support art teachers and interesting projects- but that is not enough. Schools often teach appreciation skills and techniques for making art but that is just a start. With this foundation children benefit from having the experience of seeing other artists and comparing styles and perspectives and hopefully do this with parents, friends and as families. Spending time in an artistic environment can be inspiring and motivating. It has been said that creativity leads to better scientists and study in all fields. It’s about looking and seeing more. Einstein said that art is intelligence having fun!
3) On a recent visit, I noticed you mentioned the museum's 'mission' quite a bit. And I really like that term, that single word for describing what this museum is all about. So tell us: what exactly is our hometown museum's mission?
The Bellefonte Art Museum's mission is to celebrate the human spirit through the arts and recognize the importance of art in our lives. We strive to share art from around the corner and around the world stimulating creative enrichment for individuals, families and artists alike.
4) The museum's First Sunday events have proven so wildly popular and successful that they've now become town-wide. That's kind of incredible. For folks who've never attended one, can you give us an idea of what these First Sundays at the museum are all about?
First Sundays are a time of gathering and connection. New shows open in all the galleries and the artists showing are on hand to meet visitors. Our volunteers provide delicious treats and starting this year, other businesses around Bellefonte are joining us in opening their doors to everyone. We usually get 200 to 300 guests coming through on a First Sunday.
5) In your own words: why should someone who has never visited the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County make 2018 the year they finally change all that?
Because the museum provides a stimulating experience for visitors. It’s a welcoming place recognizing the importance of families sharing the arts. There is always a variety of works of art, photography and jewelry to see. Plus if you wish, we're a great place for purchasing art and gifts. And of course a visit provides the opportunity to view the commemorative art installation in our ‘Secret Room’ used by enslaved Americans on the Underground Railroad before the Civil War.
This is the question that we all need to think about. For you, for your kids, and for your neighbors and their kids, too.
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