May 11, 2021

Penn State Board Gives New $85 Million Art Museum the Go-Ahead

A rendering of the museum to be built at Pennsylvania State University. Image: Allied Works Architecture.

STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA—The board of the Pennsylvania State University on Friday voted 26–7 to approve plans for a new $85 million art museum meant to replace a crumbling 1972 structure, The Philadelphia Inquirerreports. Comprising some 70,000 square feet, the new State College, Pennsylvania, museum will be the largest between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and will house the largest collection to be found between the two cities, which sit at the western and eastern ends of the state, respectively.

The new building, to be erected alongside the botanic gardens at the university’s arboretum, will be about 40 percent larger than its predecessor, and will include more exhibition space as well as more room for the collection and for education programs, visitor services, and administrative offices. The current museum, known since 1993 as the Palmer Museum of Art, has over the past thirty years expanded its collection from 3,500 artworks to about 10,000, only 3 to 4 percent of which are on view at any given time. The approved plan allows for more than double that number to remain on display. Annual attendance is expected to triple, from 35,000 to 95,000, according to the Centre Daily Times, State College’s newspaper of note.

The idea for a new museum was first put forth two years ago by Penn State president Eric Barron in response to two large gifts of artworks and promises of future donations. Those voting against it raised concerns about where the money to build it would come from, and about whether funds could be better spent, with dissenting trustee Ted Brown citing a survey in which one in three Penn State students said they experienced “food insecurity.” Supporters pointed to the plan’s meeting the expected budget, and to the increase in visitors and the expected surge in related jobs, among other benefits.

“This new facility will help to advance the [museum] as a cultural destination and scholarly resource for the University, surrounding communities, and visitors from across Pennsylvania and beyond,” said Erin Coe, the Palmer’s director, in a statement.

Construction is scheduled begin this summer, with a fall 2023 opening expected.

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