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Susquehanna Art Museum Still Reigns As Harrisburg's Museum Without Walls

By Pamela Sosnowski

Although it is the state capital, Harrisburg often gets overlooked as a tourist destination in favor of Pennsylvania's more populated cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Yet Harrisburg is home to several notable attractions including the Susquehanna Art Museum (SAM) which is still central Pennsylvania's only dedicated art museum nearly 30 years after its founding. Housed in a former bank building in the Midtown neighborhood between 3rd and Calder Streets, SAM has been engaging and educating visitors of all ages since 1989.

"Susquehanna Art Museum's mission is for the public to experience creativity and explore meaning through the visual arts," Alice Anne Schwab, the museum's executive director, said. "Education was at the core of the museum's founding and still is the key reason for our being."

Three main exhibition areas (the Main Gallery, the Lobby Gallery, and the Education Center Gallery) regularly feature artwork from local, regional, national, and international artists. Past exhibitions have included African-American art from the mid-21st century, the paintings of Philip Pearlstein, and photography by Stephen Althouse. A current exhibition features the early photography of Ansel Adams.

"We are absolutely THRILLED to be able to bring the quintessential American nature photographer to Central Pennsylvania," Schwab said. A recent display in the Main Gallery paired rare vintage motorcycles with contemporary art, which Schwab believed was "the first of its kind" to be shown in any museum.

SAM was founded when a group of inspired Harrisburg citizens sought to create an art museum in the city. It was originally located in the city's business district occupying several floors of the Kunkel Building. It moved in 2015 into what was known as the former Keystone Trust Building and still features the bank's vault, which now serves as a space for interactive events and special exhibits.

SAM is perhaps one of the only museums in the country with the unique outreach program VanGO! Museum on Wheels, which allows students and community members a chance to experience art first-hand via a converted 31-foot Winnebago Sightseer retrofitted with a gallery space. The program was launched in 1992 to introduce art to rural central Pennsylvania communities that had limited exposure to museum-quality artwork and crafts.

Considering that many local school have eliminated or reduced their art programs, a visit from the VanGO! is a pretty big deal, according to Schwab, and the kids love the idea of an actual mobile museum coming to them. It also eliminates the need for a school to organize a field trip.

"We take the art directly to the students and a VanGo! visit is much more than just a quick jaunt through the bus," she said. "Our VanGo! director talks to the students en masse in a pre-visit assembly where he prepares them for what they will see when they board the VanGo! Then, in groups of no more than 15, the students board and get to participate interactively with the exhibit. They (then) do an activity that ties in with their visit."

The museum also offers several art classes for adults and children throughout the year, including drawing classes, an art camp (for ages eight through 12) and events that allow family participation. Group tours are always welcome and require advance registration.

SAM is open every day but Monday, with extended hours on Wednesday, and free parking is available behind the museum at Calder and James Streets. To learn more about the museum and its current exhibitions, visit http://www.susquehannaartmuseum.org.

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About The Author

Pamela Sosnowski is a freelance writer, social media manager, contributor for REBEAT...

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