The Robeson Gallery is critical to Penn State’s Strategic Plan and commitment to “fostering and embracing a diverse world.” For nearly 30 years, the Robeson Gallery has promoted diversity and inclusion through multicultural arts exhibitions and related programming for students, faculty, staff, alumni and the public. The planned closing of the Robeson Gallery will negatively impact arts outreach to local and global communities and will have a bearing on the out-of-classroom arts experiences of Penn State students.
The Robeson Art Gallery is a popular and important educational resource for the university community and should remain an art gallery. Both the HUB and Robeson Art Galleries hosted successful collaborations with university academic units, community, state and national partners. Thousands of Penn State students viewed the Anne Frank exhibits, the artwork of famous artists such as Faith Ringgold, Helen Frankenthaler, Hung Liu, Woodrow Nash and unseen photographs of Paul Robeson from the Rutgers University collection, to name a few. Group exhibitions explored critical global topics including Holocaust and genocides (Rwanda, Armenia, Black Lives Matter, etc.), the International Taiwan Watercolor exhibit, Orthopaedics in art, African-American and Amish Quilters, Shower of Stoles: LGBTQA, Cuba artists, Woman and Identity in Contemporary Art, Faces of Human Rights Revolution from around the World, and art comparing the similar experiences of the Indigenous peoples of Australia and Native Americans, Paintings of the Painted World: Art from India.
Student attendance at the Robeson Gallery has always been consistently high. Two PULSE surveys, one in 1997 and another in 2016, found that both the HUB-Robeson Galleries were among the top visited exhibitions, compared with other galleries and museums on campus. Visitor comment cards included many positive remarks from students on how much they learned from the exhibits, and from faculty who were appreciative of the exhibits’ contributions to their courses.
Also, both art galleries have stayed open consistently except for scheduled times for the installation and de-installation of exhibits, university holidays, and the two major renovations of the HUB-Robeson Center. Both HUB and Robeson Galleries are open six days a week during the academic year and five days during the summer, except during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts week. In the summer, student attendance is lower, general population is taking vacations, and the galleries uses two weeks for refurbishing.
Given my 44 years of employment at Penn State, with 27 of those years as the director of the HUB-Robeson Galleries, I have witnessed numerous construction and significant expansions of spaces in the HUB-Robeson Center. I believe there is enough room for the Robeson Gallery to continue in its current location, while offering the LGBTQA Student Center another area with high visibility within the HUB-Robeson Center. This could be a win-win situation, where the university would be upholding its commitment to diversity while implementing one of its thematic priorities, “advancing the arts and humanities.”
Ann Shields, Penn State alumna and conceptual artist based in State College, is former director of the HUB-Robeson Gallery.