Odds are that many people have walked past the Woskob Family Gallery in the lobby of the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center on South Allen Street without realizing it. Haley Finnegan plans to change that. As program manager for the gallery, Finnegan is overseeing the reinvention of the space into a thriving contemporary art venue and forging new relationships between the University and the local community.
Through partnerships with the borough, local government, and existing arts and cultural organizations, the Woskob Family Gallery will serve as a laboratory for exploring how the arts can catalyze creative placemaking.
“We are really looking at how we can make downtown State College a destination for the arts. We have theatre spaces, but few visual arts venues, and we want to engage with contemporary art as a form of community building,” said Finnegan.
Finnegan, who graduated from Penn State with an M.A. in Art History this summer, served as the graduate assistant for research communications for the Office of the Associate Dean for Research in the College of Arts and Architecture prior to her new position as program manager. Although her thesis (advised by Evan Pugh University Professor in Art History, Dr. Anthony Cutler) is about the re-imagination of post-Soviet Georgia’s medieval past and nation building through the preservation of architectural heritage, she explains that her work with contemporary artists is a logical next step in her career development.
“In my own research, which looks at interpretations of the past in the present, I’ve been dealing with contemporary politics and issues. So, it is a natural leap for me to work with contemporary art.”
Finnegan also worked in an art gallery as an intern while completing her undergraduate degree at Depaul University in Chicago. Her current role at the Woskob Family Gallery includes working with gallery director Ann Tarantino, assistant professor of art and landscape architecture, to develop programming and to foster community outreach beyond Penn State.
“We are hoping to reach out to families and young professionals. As someone who came here for grad school, whose husband is not affiliated with Penn State, I am aware of the gap in State College between events for undergraduate students and the older alumni community.”
One of the ways in which the gallery plans to fill that gap is by hosting art exhibitions and having regularly scheduled programming on Thursday evenings. The gallery had a soft opening in the spring with Robert Yarber’s exhibition, which brought more than 100 people to the gallery for the opening reception. This fall will feature Deal With It, an exhibition by Emily Burns (editor, Maake Magazine, and SoVA M.F.A. student); Woskob Wall, an installation by Katie Bell (artist-in-residence); City Rural, an exhibition by Stephen Zimmerer (landscape architecture fifth-year student); and an exhibition curated by Tiger Strikes Asteroid’s director, Alex Paik (’03 B.F.A. Visual Arts). The first event, “Sound and Sketch,” will be held in conjunction with downtown State College’s First Friday programming on September 2, 5-9 p.m. The event will offer a creative drawing experience for all ages with Emily Burns as well as live music by Daniel Collins and Nate Cutshall, 6-8:30 p.m.
“I think we will be able to create a following by keeping our events on the same days and times – First Fridays, 5-9 p.m., and Thursdays, 5-7 p.m. What we want is a gathering of people that come not necessarily knowing exactly what is going to happen, but coming because they know that it will be exciting. I wish it had existed when I moved here.”
For more information about the Woskob Family Gallery, visit the website: http://woskobfamilygallery.psu.edu/
Finnegan recently gave a presentation to the State College Borough Council about the Woskob Family Gallery, with Andy Schulz, associate dean for research, and Ann Tarantino, director of the gallery. View the presentation here.