Public art is a defining component of any community’s character. Art can elevate key concepts of a region’s beauty, act as a cultural time-capsule, and offer fresh perspectives on social issues. Here in Central Pennsylvania we are so fortunate to be surrounded by inspiring art, much of it created by local artists.
Broadly, public art in our communities can include anything, from the dedicated sculptures and murals displayed on many buildings throughout State College, to the ornate architecture that adorns much of historic Bellefonte, to temporary sidewalk chalk displays and even the small painted rocks we sometimes find around town.
Art graced our public spaces almost as quickly as people began to live here. The creatively constructed homes that adorn more than a few streets of Bellefonte are nearly as old as the town itself. One of the earliest publicly dedicated pieces of art was the Centennial Fountain on Fraser Street, set to commemorate State College officially becoming a borough in 1907. From here, our region is decorated with many fine and fun pieces of publicly viewable artistic endeavors.
Many of the murals in State College represent the actively engaged community we are a part of. The murals ‘Color of Music,’ ‘Dreams Take Flight,’ and ‘Wild Geese’ were all assembled, painted, and otherwise contributed to by over 1,000 individuals collectively. In this way the art is not only a statement on the cultural aspects of our communities but also an example of an experience that strengthened community ties and culture.
There are also a few examples of functional art in the area. One example includes the piece on College Avenue, titled ‘Colonnade,’ which appear as oversized tubes of lipstick but also serves as a seat for the passing pedestrian. A more obvious example includes the book benches that were introduced to the county in 2014 with support from Centre Foundation and have become a part of the region's identity. The benches were based on a similar series of benches in London and the 25 here are believed to be the only ones in existence outside of their original city. Other pedestrian focused pieces include the gazebo in Talleyrand Park, which was designed by the late sculptor, Rob Fisher and became the park’s first structure in 1976.
Public art is an important indicator of the vibrance and passion for the things that make this region so unique. Those interested in seeing more of these marvels can learn more at these locations:
Downtown State College offers a wide array of public art from block-long murals to tiny bronze pigs. An unlabeled walking tour beginning at Sidney Friedman Park and looping around a large portion of downtown will take you past most of the pieces highlighted at statecollegepublicart.com. Start at the park fountain, then head east toward the book bench, Discovery Space mural, and the indoor sculpture of Beauty’s Run. From there, a fast track past the State College Borough building and Eagle toward Downtown Eugene Brown and along Allen St. brings the tour to either direction along Calder Way. Calder hosts the most public art pieces and walking its entirety will provide the greatest number of visible art pieces. The relatively new pieces you will not find yet incorporated into the website listing include the Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza and its pathway along key events in the civil rights movement.
Rhoneymeade Arboretum and Sculpture Garden hosts a plentiful garden of artistic pieces ranging from small stone sculptures to car-sized metal features. A self-guided walking tour of grounds is mapped out by the staff and volunteers and is available on their website prior to arrival. The art-walk covers nearly a mile of the arboretum grounds and winds through not only art, but many ornamental varieties of trees and shrubs
Downtown Bellefonte and Talleyrand Park contain the region’s most dense collection of historic homes and is an architecture fan’s must-see. A virtual guided tour describing several key historic locations throughout the town can be found on the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association’s website (www.bellefontearts.org). While the complete walk is lengthy, those preferring a less strenuous jaunt while taking in several works of art can explore Talleyrand Park which prominently features a cast of a Lincoln bust by George Grey Barnard.