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Jewel of the Valley: Allentown Art Museum re-opens

By Susan Kalan, WFMZ.com Arts Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 12 2011 03:59:17 PM CDT
Allentown Art Museum_Front

The Allentown Art Museum

“Ambitious” is how J. Brooks Joyner summed the past year of gutting and re-renovating a structure that for more than a century has had high standing in the community. A lot of “quiet energy” was happening on the inside, he said. While its exterior may have appeared as a solemn, concrete mausoleum during its closure, its interior remained active and “buzzing like a beehive.” Analogous to a chrysalis, Joyner explained that the transformation “will emerge like a magnificent butterfly” this weekend when it debuts as the Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley.

“I’m full of excitement,” said Joyner, who has been the museum’s Priscilla Payne Hurd president and chief executive officer since May 1, 2010. He assumed the post vacated by Gregory J. Perry in September 2009. Heading a prestigious museum in the region that was preparing to undergo significant change was nothing new to Joyner who, prior to coming to Allentown, was responsible for the development of the Joslyn Art Museum’s first strategic plan back in Omaha, Neb. During his eight-year tenure there, Joslyn’s collection included more than 11,000 works of art from around the world, antiquity to the present, with a concentration on 19th and 20th century and European and American art; international exhibition exchanges; capital improvement of a sculpture garden; growth in its endowment, and enlargement of its permanent collection.

Brooks_Joyner_Headshot_2 Joyner’s heels hardly hit the ground in the Lehigh Valley as the Allentown Art Museum prepared to close its doors to the public last November for a $15.4 million expansion project led by Alvin H. Butz, Inc., construction manager. On Sunday, Oct. 16, nearly a year later, visitors will be guided through an entrance that was once the long abandoned 1901 neo-classical church portico. Joyner described the blend of past and present architecture as a “harmonious marriage of the preserved historic and an innovative 21st century adaptation.” Designed by Venturi, Scott Brown of Philadelphia, the museum boasts an additional 7,900 square feet of classroom and gallery space, a corner café (opening in December), an expanded gift shop, and an all-glass facade.

There is more space for the museum’s permanent collection and for traveling exhibitions, improved handicap access, state-of-the-art gallery lighting, a spacious reception area, expanded loading dock and expanded parking. The museum also debuts a new logo designed by Klunk & Millan of Allentown, with a new branding initiative and an easier-to-navigate website to come. The expansion project was funded by a combination of private and public donors. A capital campaign raised a total of $20.4 million, with $15.4 million of that used for the expansion and related costs, and $5 million added to its endowment.

Adoration of the Shepherds Joyner said in addition to welcoming the public this weekend, there also will be acknowledgement of those who gave their continued support in making the museum doors open to future generations, and that includes staff, volunteers and the State of Pennsylvania.

Original plans called for a soft opening this fall, Joyner explained, and a grand re-opening in February 2012, with the exhibition, “Who Shot Rock N Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to the Present,” organized by the Brooklyn Museum with guest curator Gail Buckland. But, Joyner said, the board of trustees of the Allentown Art Museum, chaired by Sanford T. Beldon, made a “prudent decision” in having this weekend feature the inaugural exhibition, “Shared Treasure: The Legacy of Samuel H. Kress,” marking the 50th anniversary of the gifting of the Kress Collection of Early European Art to the museum. It features 40 key selections from the Allentown Art Museum’s permanent collection, as well as 30 additional works borrowed from other museums and institutions such as the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the National Gallery of Art.

Joyner referred to the Allentown Art Museum as “a solid cornerstone of the Lehigh Valley,” located on North Fifth Street between Hamilton and Linden streets and across from the Arts Park. It’s in close proximity to what he labeled “linchpins in the cultural center of the city” – The Baum School of Art, Allentown Symphony Hall and the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum.

Portrait of a Lady “We’re in a very competitive arena,” Joyner explained. “We have great museums in Philadelphia and New York.” But, with crystal-ball vision, he sees special collections for the Allentown Art Museum that could include archeology and ethnology, as well as regional artists. Being from the Midwest, he even includes American Western Art. In the area of public art, Joyner said a newly designed Sculpture Garden will be in place in 2012, featuring renowned Jean-Leon Gerome bronze masterpieces and Harry Bertoia gongs.

When I asked Joyner to expand on why a museum is vital in a community, he was as a prolific poet in his answer. “We would starve,” he said, simply. “A museum provides the nourishment for one’s body and soul. It’s open joy. In an educational role, it’s a safe harbor refuge for people who want a contemplative experience. …It’s a wonderful light in a sea of anxiety and stress.”

He said the Allentown Art Museum has provided three generations of enjoyment for residents since its founding in 1934 by a group of artists organized by noted American Impressionist painter Walter Emerson Baum. It evolved steadily, from its original home in the city-owned Federal-style house at Allentown’s Rose Garden to the site where it stands today.

How would Joyner like visitors to leave the museum this weekend? “We hope people see light, brightness, brilliance. We’re reinvigorating now. …We want them to make their way in discovery and rediscovery, a renewal of their passions in art.”

Picture perfect from J. Brooks Joyner. For further info: allentownartmuseum.org

Arts Roundup:

Reading Symphony Orchestra Twenty-three-year-old British violinist Chloe Hanslip opens the 99th season of the Reading Symphony Orchestra this Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Sovereign Performing Arts Center in Berks County. While most children can be preoccupied stacking building blocks, this international artist began plucking strings at age 2. By 5, she performed for Yehudi Menuhin and at 10, she played Carnegie Hall. Among her numerous professional credits, she played the child violinist alongside Ralph Fiennes and Liv Tyler in the 1999 film, “Onegin.” Hanslip’s Saturday program in Reading includes Weber’s “Euryanthe Overture,” Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concerto” and Brahms’ “Symphony No. 4.” Reading Symphony Maestro Andrew Constantine, a native of England, marks his fifth season here. Prior to Reading, he was associate conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Known for his imaginative and compelling programming, he will end Reading’s classical season in May on a high note with “Audience Choice,” where audience members are invited via ballots throughout the season to request their favorite classical music works for the final concert. Final selections will be made by Constantine and the Symphony’s Music Committee. But in the coming months, there are plenty of fine classical offerings for all ages. For further info: readingsymphony.org

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Fate at Muhlenberg It’s always refreshing to read about young people making headlines in the news (good, of course!) Here we have two Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance alumni – Liz Wasser and Adam Pinti – who return to campus to perform their one-act theater performances in an evening titled “New Myths: Original Works by Emerging Alumni,” beginning tonight, Oct. 13 through Saturday. Both Wasser ’08 and Pinti ’06 have been working and performing in New York City since graduation.

“When our current students have the chance to see our alumni perform, it gives them a sense of life after college,” said Charles Richter, Muhlenberg’s director of theater and professor. “Liz and Adam are out there working, making their life in the theater. It’s important for our students to see that.”

“New Myths” includes Wasser’s “Fate, Fury and Musical Theatre: A Kind of Cabaret,” which she wrote and performed for this year’s New York Frigid Festival. It tells the story of a young actress who drives in a panic from her home in the suburbs of New York until she can’t drive anymore. On the beach at the very tip of Long Island, she meets the Three Fates of ancient mythology, androgynous and fabulous, and begins a journey of self-discovery and show tunes. The cast includes Muhlenberg alumni Kennedy Kanagawa ’08 and Michael Hull ’10, with musical direction by Kristin Sgarro ’10 and direction by Amanda Thompson ’07.

Wasser, herself, has appeared in several regional theater productions, from “King Lear” to “The Who’s Tommy,” and is currently taking classes at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.

Pinti’s “The VOID” speculates about what the end of AIDS might mean, in a piece set in the future. Diseases evolve; so does language and history. In this history, the strains of HIV have mutated, an evolution so significant that scientists have collapsed the space between the antiquated terms HIV and AIDS into one umbrella acronym: the VOID (Viruses of Immune Deficiency). But a miraculous cure has been found. The play is directed by Joya Scott.

Pinti is resident artist and managing director of festina lente, a Phoenix- and New York City-based multidisciplinary arts collective. He is the recipient of the 2010 Grace Le Vine Award from the Princess Grace Foundation, a prestigious honor awarded to students of the performing arts in the United States. Pinti received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Arizona State University in May. He previously performed “The VOID” at this year’s Phoenix Fringe Festival.

“Liz and Adam are wonderful performers,” Richter said. “Our audiences will remember them fondly from their time on campus, and will love their shows.” For further info: Muhlenberg.edu/theatre

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William Marley's "Black Jesus" Award-winning Easton playwright William Marley is at it again with his Paddle-People cast. He’ll be reading his one-act play, “Black Jesus,” this Sunday, Oct. 16 at 12:30 p.m., at The Gallery at St. John’s, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Easton. The play is part of Marley’s “full-evening” trilogy work that addresses the civil rights movement in Mississippi at three different times. “Black Jesus” concerns a Black “outsider” artist in Mississippi who is taken advantage of by a New Orleans art dealer. It was first produced and won first prize by the Pennsylvania Playhouse in Bethlehem as part of its Original One-Act Play contest in the early 90’s.

“When I was asked to read one of my plays at St. John’s, because the reading is in its art gallery, I felt the subject was appropriate as well as the fact that the Black artist paints only religious subjects,”
 Marley explained. “The fact that the Lehigh Valley Art Alliance International Artists Show is hanging on the gallery walls is an additional bonus.”

Marley said not being able to cast his plays for readings, he created a “Paddle-People” cast for each. He explained that he lifts the paddle of the character speaking, which eliminates his having to stop and identify the character for the listening audience. “I find it difficult to listen to plays being read,” he said, “unless the play is given a ‘staged reading’ where actors are cast in each role.” Other works in his trilogy include “In Sepia Tone,” set in the early 40s, and “The Perfect Place,” set in the present.

Artists featured in the Lehigh Valley Art Alliance Invitational Artists Show are Sandra Corpora, Janet Dean, Wilhelm Schmidt and Edward Shepherd.