After months of planning, Centre County is hitting the books.
Two “book benches” completely unique to Centre County now sit in front of the State College Municipal Building on Allen Street, both brightly painted in captivating designs. They were unveiled on Friday morning as part of the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
One bench represents the vibrant art community of Centre County through vivid scenes from Arts Fest and depictions of the county’s various theaters and museums. The other bench shows the natural beauty of Centre County through the seasons, depicting tranquil nature seasons throughout the year.
“I’ve been so excited about this project as I followed it on Facebook,” says State College resident Jeni Kocher. “It’s really unique and creative. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
Elody Gyekis, a local artist who helped coordinate the project, says these two new pieces of functional art are the result of a new grant from the Centre Foundation. The goal behind the grant was to “create something beautiful that fosters community engagement” and celebrates the special character of Centre County.
The benches accomplish that goal because the community is directly involved in the creative process. Gyekis leads community forums around the county, where she holds conversations about what people love about Centre County and their hometowns. Those conversations form the basis of themes that are relayed to various local artists who are working on the project.
Gyekis says people in different parts of the county have different ideas about what makes Centre County so great. State College residents may celebrate Penn State, whereas Philipsburg residents were proud of their history as a prominent coal mining area.
Sue Swain, a former marketing specialist with SPE Federal Credit Union in State College, helped spearhead the project. Though she’s since moved out to California, Swain made sure she was back in town on Friday to see the fruits of her labors unveiled for the first time.
“This is really cool for me. I’ve seen pictures of the designs before, but this completely different,” Swain says. “It’s really exciting to watch these come to life.”
With the help of the Child Development and Family Council of Center County, Swain and her coworkers pitched the idea of the book benches when the Centre Foundation first announced its Centre Inspires grant earlier this year.
Swain was inspired by a similar book benches project in London, but excitedly says that the book benches of Centre County is the first time the idea has been used stateside.
When everything wraps up (hopefully by the end of this year), there will be 25 of these benches across Centre County, with 5 in each of the schools districts. Every single bench will be different, and each one will directly relate to a different part of the county.
“This will be a visual reminder to people of everything that’s great about Centre County in a beautiful, usable, interactive way,” Gyekis says. “We want to create pride and build community.”
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