Why We Shouldn't Take the State Theatre or Schlow for Granted
A friend of mine once remarked that living in State College is like living on Sesame Street.
I get the comparison. Our town is filled with flowers, fresh air, friendly neighbors. In our comfy, middle-class version of Pleasantville, everything truly is A-ok.
Our Main Street, USA, of course, is the part of downtown centered on College and Beaver avenues. Here, you’ll find two downtown gems—The State Theatre and Schlow Centre Region Library—that contribute to the town’s charm and culture, while positioning it as a place that values the free-flowing exchange of ideas.
Non-profits in our country have been hit hard by the economic downturn, and State College is no exception. Due to budget cuts, the library is losing more than $50,000 in district and state aid; a few weeks ago I received a solicitation letter asking if we could do our part to make up some of the difference. And back in July I received a call from a State Theatre volunteer urging me to renew my membership (for $100, you get advanced tickets for certain shows, access to member-only events, discounts and other benefits.) Ticket prices cover only about 80 percent of the theatre’s operation, she said, and programming is at stake.
These two places are vital to our community, not only because they provide knowledge in the form of great entertainment, but because they get people out of their houses and downtown. We socialize. We support downtown businesses by buying coffee or dinner after browsing books or seeing a movie. We connect and engage.
As a mother, I’ve spent more time in the library than anywhere else downtown. The spacious kids’ section is a vibrant jungle gym for the adolescent brain, a place where friendly librarians greet budding readers by their first names. Because of the library, my son knows that black holes are not capable of sucking up the whole universe (valuable information for a 5-year-old) and that an active imagination can free you from life’s dullest moments. The first he learned in a book; the latter he learned by watching a student-run short play of Calvin and Hobbes that took place in the library. All of the above was free.
There’s plenty for adults, too, including workshops, free DVDs, and a great selection of fiction and non-fiction. And the library recently started offering free e-books.
Just a five-minute walk from the library is The State Theatre, a non-profit community theatre where you can see theatre, dance, music and film. Built at a cost of $70,000, it originally opened in 1938. (Back then, a family of four could see a matinee for under a $1.) That theatre closed in 2001 and re-opened in its present incarnation in 2006.
Lucky for us. Where else in this town could you see “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work,” the biting and surprisingly endearing documentary that challenged my own image of Rivers as a burnt-out, plastic surgery punch-line? Ditto for “Food Inc.,” an expose on the industrial food system that gave people plenty of reasons to support our local farmers. It was the kind of movie you can’t stop talking about, and the theatre kept the conversation going with a panel discussion following the movie.
We make certain tradeoffs when we decide to live in a small town. In State College, we get high-performing schools, plenty of green space, and minimal crime. But our options for culture are limited to a handful of venues. So we wait for a documentary to come out on DVD and indulge during Arts Fest. And we try to hit The State as often as possible.
I’m hopeful that both places will continue to thrive. I recently spoke to Library Director Cathi Alloway, who reported that the library is just $1,500 dollars away from its 2010 Annual Fund Drive goal of $60,000 (including $5 from my 5-year-old, who reluctantly donated quarters from his frog bank). “We are humbled and gratified,” she says. But Alloway is already thinking ahead. “This state revenue is not going to come back,” she says. “People responded generously this year, but we have to talk about how we’re going keep this going year after year.”
I’ll tell my son to hold on to his quarters.