LEWISBURG - What's life without a little mystery?
The Downtown Art Gallery of Bucknell University, an affiliate of the Samek Art Gallery, is celebrating its grand opening next weekend and nobody but Samek Art Gallery Director Richard Rinehart and the gallery's staff knows what it will be.
However, there will be a clue: During the last week of March, the Downtown Art Gallery will unveil one of the works in the gallery's front windows, as a teaser for the grand opening, but no one will know details of the exhibit beforehand.
Rinehart said the gallery hopes "to bring some more magic and mystery to Lewisburg." Or, in what he jokingly calls his "elevator pitch": "Bucknell's new art gallery is going to be a party for the mind and you're all invited."
The fledgling gallery's grand opening will be held from noon to 5 p.m. March 31 and April 1, when Rinehart and the gallery's staff will be on hand to greet visitors. While no specific event is planned, the gallery, located at 416 Market St. across from the Campus Theatre, will host a weekend open house, and provide refreshments. Its weekly hours will be from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Located in Lewisburg's historic DeWitt building, the gallery hopes to impact not only Bucknell's campus, but also the Lewisburg community and art scene.
"It's part of an economic revitalization," Rinehart said. "Bucknell is partnering with the community, [so as] not to hoard all of the resources on the campus, but letting those resources spill over into the downtown as well."
When Bucknell bought the DeWitt building, it decided to devote its upper two floors to economic ventures, now the Small Business Development Center and the Entrepreneur's Incubator. The building's first floor is reserved for the Downtown Art Gallery and will approach revitalization in a noncommercial way.
Rinehart said there are several benefits to opening the gallery at this particular location. Beyond helping Lewisburg develop into a center of cultural tourism, it also has the potential to draw people to Bucknell's other cultural offerings, including Samek and the Campus Theatre. It also will draw students downtown.
"There's this kind of bubbling up of culture in the region and this gallery will be the latest addition," Rinehart said. "And it will help, (simply by) being smack in the middle of town."
Because of the space's particular qualities and its size limitations, the gallery largely plans to feature contemporary work by solo artists, but will remain open to hosting other exhibitions.
"The space downtown is small enough that it's too small for a large historical exhibit or a retrospective or a comprehensive exhibit," Rinehart said. "The Samek Art Gallery is big enough, so that's where that stuff will happen."
The Samek Art Gallery is located on the third floor of the student center and while it owns the space it lives in, that location discourages students simply from stumbling across it. The Downtown Art Gallery aims to capitalize on pedestrian traffic, both from campus and from town. It will also call added attention to Bucknell's artistic offerings, simply through its location.
"If you think of the gallery less as a space and more as a program, then the program is certainly being surfaced [now]," Rinehart said. "It's always been a hidden treasure and now it won't be hidden anymore."
While most colleges and universities have galleries, they're not always as interactive with the public as the Downtown Art Gallery hopes to be and the foot traffic they typically attract comes from students, prospective students, campus visitors and alumni. Rinehart hopes that the Downtown Art Gallery will change that dynamic by engaging with the Lewisburg community.
"Most of the [Bucknell] campus is kind of a closed space," he said. "But campuses always want to have a relationship with their community and one of the ways in which it can do that is through programs that are porous. An obvious [example] would be sports, and right next to that is the arts program."
Of course, anything related to the University will aim to involve its students and Bucknellians will have several opportunities to be involved with different aspects of the gallery. Students may participate in the gallery's development either as gallery guards or as members of the Gallery Engagement Team.
The engagement team will consist of Bucknell student organizers whose mission is to initiate and then produce programs for other students, to be hosted at the Downtown Gallery. Students also will be able to take part in official gallery internships, offered to three students per semester. Students will spend six hours each week at the gallery, to both greet the public and to share their knowledge of the art on the walls and its place in the art world. There also will be two year-long graduate fellows contributing to behind-the-scenes work in the gallery.
Rinehart, who moved to Bucknell last May from the University of California at Berkeley, took on the project of opening the Downtown Art Gallery with his hiring. He said that initially he had to decide whether to make the Downtown Art Gallery an extension of Samek, or if he should think of it as a different entity, having its own program separate from the gallery on campus.
But, as he said, the Downtown Art Gallery "is not in the middle of academia, it's not in the middle of campus. It's in the middle of town," and so the ratio and demographics of visitors will differ from those in the gallery on the hill. As tourists, community members and, especially, families and children now will be part of the gallery audience, it made sense to diversify. An academic gallery presumes an adult demographic and presents the opportunity for more risque, provocative or more politically and socially challenging material.
"If we only have one program, if the Downtown Gallery is just a spill-over for whatever exhibit is up here [at Samek], then that only gives you one opportunity for collaboration and reaching out," Rinehart said. Instead, "if we differentiate the programs, we double the set of possible connections. There's a whole other set of connections we can make."
In the end, the diversification simply paves the way for Rinehart's goal - and the goals of both the Samek and the Downtown Art galleries - to make sure that "all art that we bring to both galleries is the absolute best art that Bucknell can bring here."
By creating an opportunity for campus and community to converge, the Downtown Art Gallery aims to showcase just that.