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Book benches unveiled in State College

by on July 15, 2015 4:11 PM

STATE COLLEGE — In Centre County, you can hit the books. Now, you can sit on them as well.

On July 10, during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, unique “book benches” were unveiled in front of the State College Municipal Building.

Elody Gyekis is a local artist who helped coordinate the project.

“It's all about working with the community and bringing out a community vision,” Gyekis said. “This is all over Centre County. We've had community brainstorming sessions. We talk specifically about what we love about the area. We distill that into several different themes.”

After that, artists create a proposal based on the community theme.

“We move forward from there,” Gyekis explained.

In State College, the benches are painted with scenes from Arts Fest, as well as paintings of the county's numerous theaters and museums. A second bench shows the natural beauty of Centre County through the four seasons.

Sue Swain, a former marketing specialist with SPE Federal Credit Union in State College, helped get the book benches project off the ground. When the Centre Foundation first announced a Centre Inspires grant, Swain came up with the idea of book benches.

Although she moved to California since the project took off, she made sure she was back in Happy Valley when the first two book benches were unveiled.

“It's so awesome to see them in person. I've seen pictures, but this is just fantastic,” Swain said. “It was a trip. I felt connected to this. There were 39 people who submitted proposals for the Centre Inspires grant. We were the ones that won it.”

For Swain, leaving the project behind when she had to move was not easy. However, through technology, she was able to stay connected.

“Since I haven't been able to be involved, I've been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff. I was able to monitor the Facebook page, the emails, the website … but I had to be there for this,” Swain said.

According to Swain, Centre County is the first location in the United States to use book benches.

“We're the first in the states to use the book. Most people have done horses and cows. We're excited to be the first to do the book bench,” Swain said.

Soon, you'll see book benches everywhere throughout Centre County. Expect to see them popping up in Bellefonte, Boalsburg, Snow Shoe and Philipsburg.

“We've had a lot of meetings as to where to put the benches,” Swain said. “They'll be everywhere.”

Eventually, there will be 25 book benches in different Centre County locations. There will be five in each school district.

For now, though, if you want to see a book bench up close and personal, you'll have to head to downtown State College.

State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham tried out the benches and gave them her seal of approval.

“The book benches are a fabulous idea,” Goreham said. “The concept sounded good, but to see them … they're really dazzling.”

Goreham hopes that Centre County residents will make good use of the book benches.

“It adds a special something,” Goreham said. “These tangibly identify what we love about living here.”

Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.
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