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Online efforts are helping to keep the arts alive in Centre County

by on June 01, 2020 2:46 PM

The Centre County arts community, like so many other local businesses and organizations, is using its abundance of creativity to adapt to the unprecedented circumstances brought about by the coronavirus shutdown.

“Art is a great healing tool,” says Lori Fisher, deputy director of the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County. “It’s great for us to continue to provide that tool for the community, and hopefully [art] will bring people some happiness or a smile on their face for the day, and that’s our goal and our mission.”

Here’s a look at how several local art organizations have been keeping the arts alive in the community during the COVID-19 outbreak, and what to expect going forward:

The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State

The Palmer Museum has provided virtual museum resources since it closed in March, offering online exhibitions, virtual tours, lecture recordings, and art-making demonstration videos. 

“While I would encourage everyone to take a look at all the various resources we’ve made available, I want to especially mention our virtual tour for African Brilliance, which was designed to support teachers and students during this period of remote learning,” says Brandi Breslin, museum educator. “It’s been posted and shared nationally, and we’ve been getting great feedback from teachers across the U.S. and even in Australia as they work it into their remote lesson plans.”

Moving forward, “We are continuing to plan online programs for the summer,” says Breslin. “We’ll also be offering a series of online gallery talks about the permanent collection and a series of videos for creative activities inspired by artwork in the collection.”

Down the road, online and virtual resources will continue to be available, even as the museum eventually reopens.

Erin Coe, museum director, says the Palmer has joined thousands of other museums that have entered the virtual arena “to keep our community engaged and informed.

“We are not alone,” says Coe. “Museums worldwide are part of this digital movement and have mobilized the use of the new hashtag #museumfromhome so audiences can experience the museum using social media to deliver content, including online exhibitions and other digital platforms, such as virtual talks and tours. Through these new digital offerings, the Palmer has demonstrated its resiliency during this challenging time. We are here for our audiences now more than ever. We hope our community finds comfort, inspiration, and some creative expression through our new online initiatives until we can gather again in the museum.”

Community members interested in interacting with the Palmer Museum while it’s temporarily closed can take part in the #PalmerChallenge, which charges people with recreating a favorite work of art from the museum’s collection using props from home to be shared on social media.

Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County

The Bellefonte Art Museum’s spring gallery was cut short, so the museum’s staff acted fast.

“What we did immediately was go through and videotape each of the galleries and create virtual tours, and we took those online,” says Fisher. “We posted them on our Facebook page and then linked them to our website, so people could still see the shows, who weren’t able to come in and view them before we closed.”

The museum also created interactive projects Fisher says “anyone can do.” They hosted a Lego Block Party for kids and adults to make and share Lego creations at home. The museum also hosted a “chalk party” to encourage children and families to get outside and create and share art on their sidewalks and driveways.

Currently, the museum is accepting submissions for its C19 Photo Project: A Time to Remember and A Time to Forget, an exhibition of photos taken during the pandemic by members of the Centre County community.

The photos are to be black and white or sepia, and each participant can submit up to five images. The photos will be stored and considered for inclusion in a 2021 gallery exhibition.

“Hopefully, we can use this art as a tool to show future generations what it was like, some of the things we went through,” Fisher says.

Photo submissions so far have included images of people with masks on, empty restaurants, an empty playground with caution tape on it, and signs thanking essential workers.

The Bellefonte Art Museum relies on donations, membership dues, and artist sales to keep financially afloat. The museum has asked its artists to share photos of art they’re working on or have recently created and is sending out weekly updates to supporters to keep them connected to the museum while its doors are closed.

The museum is also hosting “Twiga Tuesday,” posting to social media photos and information about items for sale in the Twiga Gift Shop that people can purchase online.  

Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania

Marie Doll, executive director of the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania, says the organization’s goal is “to bring art out in the community and provide art education.”

By offering Zoom art lessons, Doll says the alliance is “still doing what our mission is.”

The Art Alliance explored online learning with three classes – acrylics, oil painting, and pastel.

“We’re getting much more efficient, and more instructors and students are willing to give it a try, so we have found a way to make our classes continue,” says Doll. “We’re really pushing forward as much as we can, offering art experiences to people in the community who are used to coming to our shows or classes. They can still do those things, just in a different way.”

The Alliance also created an online gallery of art submitted by area artists, and kids’ instructors challenged its youth audience to create stay-at-home art projects, such as puppets and sculptures, with common household items.

The Art Alliance applied for and received a small business loan in the first round of Payment Protection Program (PPP) loans from the government, which Doll says will cover payroll for two months and some rent and utilities.

Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts

Arts Fest Executive Director Rick Bryant describes the annual event as the “diametrical opposite of social distancing,” with people crowding together on South Allen Street or on Old Main lawn.

Arts Fest – you guessed it – will be all online this year.

“We’ve tried to import parts of the festival that are amendable to an online experience,” says Bryant. “It won’t be quite the same, but it’ll still be a great way to buy some art and hear some music.”

Elements of the festival people love – shopping and the sidewalk sale exhibition, music, kids’ activities, the gallery exhibition, and the banner competition, will take place online at the same time as the scheduled, regular festival: July 9-12. There will be no children and youth sidewalk sale, but organizers are instead asking kids to make friendship bracelets. Children are asked to give one of the bracelets to people who have been important to them during the shutdown and to give the other to the arts festival to sell in local stores to benefit the festival. The event is called “Tying Us Together” and is a partnership between Arts Fest and The Makery.

Bryant says Arts Fest got together with other local festivals (Heritage Days, People’s Choice, and Fourth Fest) scheduled for relatively the same time and decided collectively to cancel.

“The four festivals decided it’s all for one and one for all, because if it was going to be unsafe to go to one of them, it would be unsafe to go to all of them,” he says.

The financial impact of the cancellation, Bryant says, “has been enormous.”

All artists who already paid for a booth got their money back. The festival did receive some PPP money that will enable staff to work for a couple months, but there is no income from food vendors or from the sale of admission buttons. Some sponsors have continued with their pledges, for which Bryant says the festival is very grateful.

“We have a little money in the bank, and frankly, we’re going to spend that,” says Bryant. “This is the proverbial ‘rainy day.’” 

Bryant encourages people to get a festival T-shirt, buy a poster, and buy some art, especially, because artists have had all their shows canceled this season.

“If you buy something from an artist this summer, you’ll remember, ‘That was the thing I got at the virtual arts festival,’ so hopefully it’s a beautiful way to remember a not very beautiful time.”  

Penn’s Woods Music Festival

Last year, the Penn’s Woods Music Festival was live-streamed, so this year, the virtual event will be “a little like NPR Great Performances meets the Met meets our live-streaming,” says Russell Bloom, assistant director of the Penn State School of Music.

Last year’s performance was of an especially high caliber, says music director Gerardo Edelstein, and though the artists will miss the real deal, he and Bloom agree it’s important to continue presenting the festival for the dedicated musicians and attendees who will miss the in-person event this year.  

“What we do is perform, and if we don’t have the chance to do that, it makes our lives a little harder,” says Edelstein. “When I heard this idea from Russell, I said, ‘This is a great idea to keep connected with to our musicians and audiences.’”

The performances will be live-streamed with a host to introduce the shows and interviews with musicians to discuss the festival and the repertoire. The music will be accessible free of charge on the festival’s YouTube channel, with links on social media and at

The virtual performance experience also has the opportunity for a live chat, something Bloom says will bring together friends who usually meet up only at the concerts.

“That’s kind of unique for a concert situation, where normally everybody sits still and listens,” says Bloom. “Now you’ll be listening, and you can make some comments about what you’re hearing or if you have questions, we’ll be able to respond to it. That’ll be an added bonus to the event. It’ll be very interactive, which gets the listener into the concert hall.”

Bloom says the biggest disappointment for him this year is the loss of Music in the Gardens.

“To see generations of people come together for the evening, and it’s a free event, because we have dynamic sponsorship from community support,” Bloom says of the evening. “We have up to 2,000 people in The Arboretum on a Tuesday night, and the music is free, and the kids are running and playing, and there are people walking in the gardens, and it’s one of the best events I do all year long.”

The Penn Wood’s Music Festival relies on donor gifts and ticket sales revenue, the latter of which is driven by donors coming to the festival. Bloom also notes musicians who normally have the festival as a contracted gig in the summer and rely on that money won’t be receiving it this year. There’s also a community domino effect, Bloom says, that hurts restaurants that partner with the festival, organizations the festival advertises with, and people employed in putting on concert receptions.

“We will get through it,” Bloom says. “The music will return. It may not be in the way we have experienced it before. As we move forward, everybody has to be open to hearing it in a different way.”


Teresa Mull is a freelance writer in Philipsburg.


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