Summer events on campuses offer communities celebrations of art, health, culture

In summer months, Penn State campuses host events and special activities for the enjoyment of community members near and far.

Penn State campuses throughout the state participate in, and host , a variety of summer events in partnership with their communities. Credit: Illustration: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During summer months, when fewer Penn State students are studying on campus and many faculty are researching off-site or working abroad, community-campus partnered events welcome thousands of local residents and out-of-state visitors to many of Penn State’s locations around the commonwealth.

Perhaps the most well-recognized summer event is the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts on the University Park campus and in downtown State College. However, several Penn State campuses collaborate with organizations promoting the arts, culture and healthy lifestyles to visit the University’s grounds for free or low-cost entertainment, information and venues for celebration.

Cultivating culture outdoors

The Brodhead Cultural Center at Penn State Beaver is just one example of campus-community engagement. Designed as 700-seat, outdoor amphitheater with lush gardens and a reflecting pond, the center is the creative result of the collaboration between local businesses and the campus.

Since its grand opening in 1977, the center has welcomed more than 200,000 guests and is supported solely by local and regional donors as well as corporate sponsors such as the Beaver County Commissioners. The Times, the area’s only newspaper, supports the center with in-kind gifts of advertising and the Beaver Valley Musicians Union Local 82-545 provides underwriting for many of the performances that take the stage.

“The Cultural Center began as a campus-community outreach project for the local communities to enjoy the performing arts for free or for a low fee,” Amy Krebs, director of campus and community relations, said. “It’s truly amazing to see how the center has grown, and it is because of the support and response we get from the community.”

In addition to musical performances ranging from the Pittsburgh Banjo Club to the Beaver County Symphonic Wind Ensemble and many others, the Center Theatre Players, a group consisting of local and regional artists, presents theatrical productions under the direction of Penn State alumna Sandy Reigel. All performances are free to the public, with the exception of the annual musical production, which charges a small admission fee.

By hosting an array of performances, Penn State Beaver is able to provide its region’s residents with arts events they may otherwise not be able to enjoy locally.

“Many visitors have their first experience with live theatre here at Brodhead,” Krebs said. “It’s because of the great relationships we have with the donors and the community that we can offer these programs. And we’ve been fortunate to maintain those relationships and offer these programs for 38 years.”

A healthy appreciation for local music and food

Four hours east of Penn State Beaver, at Penn State Hershey, local residents are anticipating the 11th edition of what has become an annual Fourth of July tradition. “An American Salute,” a patriotic performance by the Hershey Symphony Orchestra, will be held on the front lawn of the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Preceding the music that day is Children’s Paw Prints to Health, a variety of youth-themed health and wellness activities.

Beyond a single day of patriotic celebration and children’s health awareness, though, is a vision-turned-reality of two faculty members from the College of Medicine. They saw the potential that hosting a simple weekly farmers market could have on the health and well-being of community residents of all ages.

Daniel George, assistant professor of humanities, and Wade Edris, senior research associate, both of the College of Medicine, recognized the importance of buying locally produced goods to maintain healthy lifestyles as well as develop a strong sense of community. In 2010, with the support of area organizations, the pair opened Farmers Market in Hershey, a wellness-focused market near — and with support from — the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

A registered, nonprofit organization, Farmers Market in Hershey is open from mid-May through the end of October and attracts nearly 7,000 visitors each season. Approximately 30 local vendors set up every Thursday from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to sell their products, which must be locally grown and produced.

“We have an 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of all products must be organic and locally sourced,” Edris said, adding that the market has been estimated to generate several hundred-thousand dollars for local vendors each season.

In addition to promoting the purchase of local goods and produce, the market aims to create opportunities for community wellness partnerships and increase community interaction with staff and students at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. One way George and Edris are doing this is with the new Prescription Produce program commencing this fall.

“Prescription Produce is a program run by my medical students, where pediatricians refer low-income, at-risk children to the market with ‘prescriptions,’ ” George said. “Those ‘prescriptions’ can then be redeemed for fruits and vegetables at the market.”

The market also applies for and receives grants that allow George and Edris to purchase food from the vendors and then deliver it to community organizations that work with underserved and food-insecure populations.

“The market is a community gathering place untouched by corporate or other influence where people can not only support local farmers, producers and artisans who carry out their business in a sustainable manner, but also interact with them and develop meaningful relationships that strengthen a sense of community as they ensure a robust local economy,” George said.

A campus-community festival of the arts

It is no secret that Penn State works closely with a number of organizations across Pennsylvania. In addition to the community-focused partnerships at Penn State Beaver, Penn State Hershey and many other campuses, the University Park campus has developed a cultural partnership that spans nearly 50 years and has earned national prominence.

In 1967, the State College Chamber of Commerce and Penn State’s College of Arts and Architecture joined forces to bring arts and crafts, culture and tourists to the local community by hosting the first Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts. Fast-forward 48 years later, the nationally renowned festival has become a driving force for the local economy and is the epitome of a town-gown partnership.

Generating more than $13 million in local revenue in 2013, the Arts Festival was recently ranked the No. 1 arts show in the country by Sunshine Artist magazine, an achievement based on artists’ total sales. Each year, between 100,000 and 125,000 tourists from throughout central Pennsylvania and across the United States visit the festival, including Penn State students, parents and alumni.

“This is part of the quintessential Penn State experience,” Executive Director Rick Bryant said of the Arts Festival, adding that 40 percent of visitors are Penn State alumni. “We have a very loyal audience of Penn Staters, and our artists love Penn State alums.”

Just one of many arts festivals held throughout the country, the “Arts Fest” — a name it has been dubbed over the years by visitors — sells out hotels and causes downtown businesses to bustle with activity. The festival is also distinctive because of the collaboration between the University and the festival board. The famed juried Sidewalk Sale and Exhibition, with more than 300 artists from across the country, overtakes many streets of downtown State College and extends onto Penn State’s University Park campus, continuing along Pollock and Burrowes roads. A host of artists and vendors also line up adjacent to Old Main lawn, where a festival stage offers a performance venue for a variety of artists.

Barbara Meeker-Ettaro, director of campus and community affairs at Penn State, has worked with Bryant for more than a decade to coordinate festival logistics and ensure that visitors have a great experience.

“The Arts Festival is a huge event for State College and the surrounding communities,” Meeker-Ettaro said. “Penn State knows the cultural and economic value of the festival and welcomes visitors to the University Park campus.”

Joyce Robinson, board president for the Arts Festival and curator at Penn State’s Palmer Museum of Art, shares that sentiment, stating that the sense of community and collaboration attracts visitors.

“The festival is really neat because it really brings together town and gown,” Robinson said. “It exudes a small-town sense of community and welcoming that you don’t necessarily see at other festivals.”

Bryant has developed great relationships with others at the University, too, such as Lanny Sommese, professor of graphic design, who for 40 years has been the creative mastermind behind the perpetually award-winning Arts Festival poster. Bryant also recruits interns from the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM) and the College of Communications, and speaks to RPTM classes about the importance of tourism as a local industry and why the Arts Festival is important to the State College and Penn State communities.

“A college town has two elements — the town and the college,” Bryant said. “When we work together, we have an absolutely great downtown and people see that. The Arts Festival is a super example of the borough of State College and the University working together.”

As the second-largest industry in Pennsylvania, tourism accounts for more than $650 million of annual income for Centre County. And, according to a 2008 economic impact report conducted by Tripp Umbach, Penn State’s statewide economic impact surpasses that of all of the state’s airports, professional sports teams and arts and cultural organizations combined. More specifically, it notes, “More than $1 out of every $20 in tourism generated annually in Pennsylvania is attributable to Penn State.”

Betsey Howell, executive director of Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, continues to see an increase in local tourism and encourages local businesses and organizations to seek out partnerships and opportunities to work with the University.

“People don’t understand the impact tourism has,” Howell said. “Any time you have events, it is helping the local economy. People need a place to stay, they need to eat,” adding that it is very difficult to run events without the help of others.

“Partnerships are imperative — it doesn’t matter who you are,” she said. “We need to look at the good of the whole — not just the good of ourselves. I’m a firm believer in partnering where you can and I’ve never known Penn State to not be a good neighbor.”

Last Updated July 22, 2014