Penn State

Could a planned multimillion-dollar Penn State art museum become large tourism draw?

Since Penn State announced plans to replace the Palmer Museum of Art with a larger museum next to The Arboretum last month, President Eric Barron has presented his vision for a large, accessible facility serving as a focal point for the community.

“We need a place large enough to display all the magnificent works of art,” he said to the crowd at the fifth annual Kish Bank Celebration of Community last week at Beaver Stadium’s Mount Nittany Club Lounge. “We need to be able to access more parking. We need school buses to be able to pull up to the front and drop off kids.”

The planned $71.1 million University Art Museum would replace the existing Palmer Museum of Art, move next to The Arboretum at Penn State and include expanded gallery and exhibition space, the university said in a press release last month. Though the exact site of the new facility hasn’t been determined, the proposed location is along Bigler Road, across from the Lewis Katz Building, the press release said.

At the request of the late Barbara Palmer, the new museum will not carry her name, but her name and contributions to the museum and community will be reflected in the new design, the press release said.

Construction is slated to begin in late 2020 for a planned fall 2022 opening.

Penn State plans to fund the project using donors and excess funding from Big Ten media contract negotiations, Barron said, not tuition dollars. Philanthropic donations could potentially bring in an extra $15 million, he said.

“I’m really excited about the possibilities,” he said.

Those possibilities, according to Barron, include an interdisciplinary space to promote learning, sculpture gardens and world-class collections of American art that could bring in more than 400,000 visitors every year.

Fritz Smith, executive director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the new museum could be favorable for bringing tourism — and subsequently economic growth — to Centre County.

“I think when (the museum) moves, it’s going to give us ... the opportunity to begin touting Centre County in our advertising, in the imagery that we create ... that has a message that it’s a little bit more art and culturally focused than what we typically have done in the past,” he said.

The new museum will draw interest from the visitors bureau’s “marketing area,” which includes people living about three to four hours outside of the central Pennsylvania region, in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland and Baltimore, he said.

Combining the new museum with The Arboretum is a smart move, Smith said, because both are major attractions to visitors. The Palmer Art Museum received its first tourism grant of $12,000 this year from the tourism bureau.

“Part of what makes this a very positive development for us, is the museum is going to become much more accessible,” he said. “It gets us past that barrier of parking challenges that we hear about.”

Kish Bank made an initial $1,000 donation to the museum in memory of Barbara Palmer, who was also posthumously awarded the Kish Bank Humanitarian of the Year Award, wrote Stephanie Strickler, assistant vice president and marketing manager for Kish Bank, in an email.

The bank is still in the process of determining an amount for a “major” gift to the art museum, she said, “because it is consistent with our tradition of supporting the arts in our region and also because we are fully supportive of the economic impact (the museum) will have on businesses generally in the region.”

“This is an opportunity to increase the vibrancy of our region in a way that has a profound impact on how we associate ourselves with this wonderful place in which we live,” Barron said.

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Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.
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