Board of Trustees approves architect for new and expanded University Art Museum

The proposed University Art Museum would be located in The Arboretum at Penn State, in the open area to the right of the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens along Bigler Road, with the exact site to be determined during the design phase of the project. Credit: Penn State / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — To showcase Penn State’s growing collection of art and provide space for a range of cultural activities and events, University leaders have proposed the construction of a new freestanding art museum on the University Park campus that would be located in The Arboretum at Penn State.

The Penn State Board of Trustees approved the selection of Allied Works as the architect to design the new University Art Museum at its meeting on Friday, May 3. Allied Works was selected based on its extensive experience in the design of arts and educational facilities and for its interdisciplinary, research based, and collaborative approach to architecture. 

The firm, founded by Brad Cloepfil in 1994 in Portland, Oregon, is internationally recognized for its innovative arts, cultural and civic buildings, including academic art museums and art schools at higher-education institutions. Allied Works is known for architecture that is inspired by, and responsive to, nature and place, including carefully curated campus environments. Examples of the firm’s work include the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The proposed University Art Museum would replace the existing Palmer Museum of Art and include expanded gallery and exhibition space, providing greater access to its 9,300-object collection; enhanced learning, creative and social opportunities for students; and areas for events and community gatherings, while continuing and expanding the Palmer Museum’s role as a cultural, educational and scholarly resource for the Penn State community and visitors. 

According to the proposal, the new museum building would encompass approximately 68,000 to 73,000 square feet, with a total project budget of $71.1 million — funded by Penn State’s five-year capital plan that runs through 2023 — which could increase to as much as $85 million with philanthropic support, with final project plans and costs subject to approval by the Board of Trustees.

Under the plan, the existing Palmer Museum of Art building on Curtin Road and the signature bronze lion’s paws that flank its front steps would remain, as a student-focused space. A task force has been assembled to determine exactly how the student space could be utilized. With the consent of the late benefactor Barbara Palmer, her family's name would remain attached to the existing Palmer building, creating the opportunity for another donor to name the new University Arm Museum with a lead gift. To acknowledge Jim and Barbara Palmer's generosity and leadership support of the art museum at Penn State, their names would have a significant presence in the new art museum.

“The new art museum would allow us to advance Penn State’s teaching and research mission while serving as the cultural gateway to the University,” said Erin M. Coe, director of the Palmer Museum of Art. “The new facility would greatly expand public access to our growing collections in an exceptional setting while offering innovative and engaging experiences for our students, the community, and visitors from around the world.”

The proposed location of the museum is along Bigler Road near the entrance to the Arboretum, across from the Lewis Katz Building and adjacent to the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens, with the exact site to be determined in consultation with the selected design firm. 

A key goal of the project is for the Art Museum to complement the Arboretum and not detract from it —  thus enhancing the visibility and guest experience for both venues — with minimal disruption to the existing Arboretum infrastructure. 

“This project would fulfill our long-standing vision of the Arboretum as a venue for the arts as well as a place of beauty and education about the natural world,” said Kim Steiner, professor of forest biology and director of The Arboretum at Penn State. “The Arboretum is already one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the area. With this inspired partnership, I expect us to develop into a regional and national destination.”

The design phase of the project will commence immediately, with construction — pending board approval — anticipated to begin in late 2020 for a planned opening in the fall of 2022, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of an art museum at Penn State. 

The museum would serve as the first phase of a planned cultural destination intended to bring together many of Penn State’s collections and assets in the arts, humanities and sciences from across campus. The cultural destination has been identified as a priority by Penn State President Eric Barron to advance the arts and humanities at the University, and to elevate Penn State and central Pennsylvania as a hub for the arts.

About the Palmer Museum of Art

The Palmer Museum of Art on Penn State’s University Park campus is a free-admission arts resource for the University and surrounding communities in central Pennsylvania. With a collection of 9,300 objects representing and spanning a variety of cultures and centuries of art, the Palmer is the largest art museum between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The areas represented in the collection encompass 18th- through 20th-century American painting and sculpture; international Modern and Contemporary Art, including studio glass; Old Master through 19th-century European painting and sculpture; prints, drawings, watercolors, photographs, and other works on paper from Europe and the Americas; Japanese woodblock prints and watercolors; international ceramics, ranging from Andean and ancient Korean and Chinese through 20th-century and contemporary Danish, English, Japanese and American; and African sculpture and textiles. The museum presents 10 exhibitions each year and, with 11 galleries, a print-study room, a 150-seat auditorium, and an outdoor sculpture garden, the Palmer Museum of Art is the leading cultural resource for the region. 

Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.; and Third Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and some holidays. 

For more information on the Palmer Museum of Art or for the calendar of upcoming events, visit

Last Updated July 11, 2019