State College

‘Our town is your canvas:’ A new arts and innovation center opens in downtown State College

New space for creative and innovative experiences

3 Dots is a new initiative to bring together creative people in downtown State College. Board member and directors Jason Browne, Spud Marshall and Harvey Weidman talk about the early hopes for the organization.
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3 Dots is a new initiative to bring together creative people in downtown State College. Board member and directors Jason Browne, Spud Marshall and Harvey Weidman talk about the early hopes for the organization.

Much is made of the economic middle class, though the artistic middle class is scarcely mentioned. An arts and innovation center in downtown State College that opened Tuesday is hoping to change that — at least in Centre County.

3 Dots Downtown is a 3,200-square-foot space physically located at 137 E. Beaver Ave., but 3 Dots’ managing director Harvey Weidman said she hopes the center has a much broader reach than what happens inside its four walls.

“I get to feel like I belong to something that I will miss when I eventually move out of town. That was something that I struggled to find in State College for several years,” Weidman said. “I was struggling to figure out how my outside experiences fit into such a tight-knit community and such a small town that’s so driven by campus life. Now every day I meet 15-20 people that I should’ve met years ago, and that’s the part that really, really excites me.”

The vision for 3 Dots, innovation director Spud Marshall said, is to host artistic and innovative experiences, serve as a connection point and push people to take their creative talent and apply it to Centre County.

Developing the center’s name took what Marshall called a combination of good and “garbage” ideas — they discussed naming it Mosaic and Woo, Clap — though he said the group constantly came back to the idea of the unknown and surprise.

“We want people to step in here and not quite know how the story ends,” Marshall said. “We want people to help finish the story for us.”

The performance space at 3 Dots on Beaver Avenue on Thursday, May 30, 2019. The space will offer lunch time performances and more. Abby Drey

Those connected with the project are not even sure how the 3 Dots story will play out. One of the group’s limited certainties is that the first iteration of 3 Dots will not be its last.

“What could happen here is absolutely anything. Well, almost anything,” 3 Dots board member and B94.5 co-host Jason Browne said. “What happens here is really determined by the community itself.”

Visitors will likely be greeted by one of two things — a volunteer guide who is trained to answer the inevitable “What is 3 Dots?” question and help make connections, or Marshall’s husky, Bodi.

Lounge spaces, a stage, an art gallery and a loft are among the other features of the space. Weidman estimated 95% of the center’s items were donated and said at least 300 people have been involved in one way or another.

Some of the other remaining items are thanks to Marshall’s nightly Craigslist sleuthing. Between midnight and 1 a.m., he is usually perusing the website, which he said is a “soul-sucking experience.”

“It’s like, ‘Ugh, this thing I don’t want anymore and now I gotta figure out how to get $10 out of it. And people don’t enjoy the process, so I reach out to everybody like, ‘Hey, I love that couch. I can’t give you any money ‘cause I have none, but here’s the vision of what we’re creating. Do you want to be a part of it?’ ” Marshall said. “It’s amazing how quickly the conversation really changes from this really transactional one to an actual relationship.”

3 Dots Innovation Direction Spud Marshall talks about the initiative with Jason Brown and Harvey Weidman in the space on Beaver Avenue on Thursday, May 30, 2019. Abby Drey

Funding for the center was procured by Centre Foundation Executive Director Molly Kunkel, who also serves as 3 Dots’ board chair. Grants through both the Knight Foundation Fund and the Kalin Family Fund plan to support operating costs for about three years.

Both funds, Kunkel said, are passionate about downtown State College and focused on making the area a better place for young professionals.

“It’s easy to find things to do in this community in the sports realm. If you want to go to an organized sporting activity, that’s really easy to find,” Kunkel said. “Smaller arts performances, local artists and this sort of alternative arts scene is much harder to find and for people to get connected with, although there actually is a fair amount going on.”

Since the lease was signed in January, Kunkel said her goal was to open the space as soon as possible because there is often a hesitancy to engage in something new.

“One of the great things about this funding ... is it allows us to try something new and to kind of say, ‘We don’t exactly know,’ because we don’t right now,” Kunkel said. “We know there will be performances. We know lots of people that are interested in renting it and using the space ... but we really don’t know what’s going to be the most popular.”

That funding has since been supplemented by trustees who help fund the center’s monthly $1,000 Awesome Grants and resident organizations who use the space as their headquarters for $500 per year.

An interactive wall for visitors at 3 Dots on Beaver Avenue. Abby Drey

Regular hours are scheduled to be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

A free performance series that is expected to feature some type of musical or artistic performance is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays. People are encouraged to get out of the office, bring their lunch and “see who you run into,” Marshall said.

Centre Social Dance is scheduled to use the space between 7 and 10 p.m. Wednesday. Dancers of all levels are invited to attend. The 2019 Bracket Awards, which showcase the best in advertising, design and broadcast work from central Pennsylvania, are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Additional events will be added to the the center’s calendar on its website, which is the best way to keep up with what is happening at 3 Dots, Browne said.

“Yes, we’re bringing together artistic and creative minds here. My hope is people can see the broader county as a canvas to create on,” Marshall said. “If we can encourage more and more people to see this community in that way, like, ‘Our town is your canvas. Come and create on it.’ Hopefully we’re inspiring people to take that out into whatever pockets of the town that they really care about.”

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.