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Vision 2022 | Arts, entertainment organizations moving forward in new year | Local News

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Despite facing challenges with ongoing COVID-19 concerns, arts and entertainment organizations are moving forward with programming and projects that will better serve the community.

The Community Arts Center of Cambria County in Westmont dedicated its M. Josephine Paul Family Museum in January.

The $2.8 million, 5,549-square-foot, two-story museum is connected to the Goldhaber-Fend Fine Arts Center building.

The first floor features Paul’s collection and personal effects, and includes a theatrical performance space.

The space also allows for museum tours, rotating school art displays, rentals and venue usage, lectures, music events and Log Art Theatre productions.

The second floor provides additional space for classes, workshops, summer arts camps, weddings, receptions and other rental uses.

In front of the museum is a 2,371-square-foot amphitheater that can be used for music and theater shows, weddings, receptions, rentals, lectures, fundraisers, events and summer camps.

“I hope people are able to experience the fullness of her art and be able to cherish what this community meant to her,” said Angela R. Godin, executive director the arts center. “The museum is everything I hope Josephine would want it to be. Her legacy will live on forever in this space.”

‘For our community’

Godin said that during the pandemic shutdown, the arts center focused on virtual art offerings, and moving forward organizers plan to incorporate more online experiences.

“We received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for a program called Cultured Communities to expand our exhibit program and be able to foster a digital competent with it, and this is springboarding off of what happened with the pandemic,” she said.

“Part of the grant is for community engagement, whether people are able to come in person and participate in the exhibits, opening receptions and classes taught by the exhibiting artist or experience all of those things digitally.”

Godin said the addition of the M. Josephine Paul Family Museum brought plans to expand programatically.

“That’s through our arts education department with classes and workshops and various outreach components along with our theater department, which is doing an entire season this year,” she said. “We’re working to expand our iconic events – the Log House Arts Festival and Holly Bazaar – and continue to make them a must stop for our community.”

Celebrating Spider-Man

In 2021, Bottle Works celebrated the success of the “Hometown Heroes – Steve Ditko Exhibition,” which recognized Johnstown native Steve Ditko, the co-creator and original artist behind the popular character Spider-Man.

“The response was incredible, and we had people come in from all over the country to see it and we had people reach out internationally wanting more information,” said Matt Lamb, Bottle Works’ creative director. “We take a lot of pride in what we were able to accomplish.”

Bottle Works, in partnership with the Steve Ditko estate and with the approval of Marvel Comics, has plans to have a public mural installed at Stone Bridge Brewing Company in downtown Johnstown.

“We’ve placed the order for the mural to be printed, and once we have it in hand we’ll start scheduling community paint sessions,” Lamb said. “We’re hoping to install the mural in late May or early June.”

Additional murals will be installed at the Tulip Building at Bottle Works and in the West End section of Johnstown, where Ditko resided.

“Bottle Works will be the home to a small permanent display to Steve, and I’m working with the Ditko estate to narrow it down on what pieces will be in that,” Lamb said.

He said moving forward, Bottle Works is focusing on community engagement.

“We have an exhibit coming in July that will be an art installation at Bottle Works that will be a collaboration with the State Theater of Johnstown,” Lamb said. “Anybody who wants to participate in this installation will have an opportunity to do so, and we’re bringing some creators from New York City to help put it all together.”

He said Bottle Works also is looking at incorporating public art into its offerings.

“We have some things in the works that will bring really cool things to the community,” Lamb said. “People will be able to decide what the art is, where it’ll go and help with the execution.”

‘Teach kids about art’

Despite seeing fewer people coming back into facilities due to COVID-19 issues, officials at Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art said they are on track with a full slate of exhibitions.

“All of our exhibits have been on schedule, and we’re doing the best we can to promote the museums through our events,” said Barry H. Newborn, president of the board of trustees.

“Hopefully, with this pandemic coming to somewhat of an end, we’ll be back up to normal.”

The four SAMA sites in Loretto, Bedford, Altoona and Ligonier Valley are operational. The Johnstown site, located in the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the Pitt-Johnstown campus, remains closed.

“Due to the COVID-19 restrictions that UPJ has in place, they have basically eliminated people coming in and that’s out of our control,” Newborn said. “We’re just waiting for them to give us the go-ahead to reopen.”

Newborn said virtual programming introduced last year when facilities were closed will continue to be offered as a companion to exhibitions.

“There’s always something going on online, and we showcase the works at each museum so people can virtually see them,” he said. “On our website each museum is listed with details on the exhibits and pictures, so people can view that to see what’s happening.”

Newborn said SAMA is continuing to place a focus on its Arts-In-Education program.

“We have teachers go into schools in the region to teach kids about art, and that’s going well,” he said.

Newborn said of the smaller communities across the country, SAMA is one of the few museums to have five sites.

“It really does wonders for those who are interested in the arts where they can come in see tremendous pieces of art,” he said. “We have 7,500 pieces of art that we move in and out of each museum for exhibits. From a community standpoint, SAMA is a tremendous asset.”

‘Part of downtown’

In October, Gallery on Gazebo in downtown Johnstown completed work on its Piazza project.

The outdoor area converted an alley into a landscaped green space contiguous with the gallery for refreshments, entertainment and programming.

The Piazza features open-air seating, a paver walkway, vertical gardening and lighted archways.

“The work took about a year to complete,” said Rosemary Pawlowski, director the gallery. “This is wonderful for us, and with the Piazza we were able to do about 12 different events out there over the summer.”

She said gallery leaders plan to increase programming at the Piazza.

“It’s a go-to place and it’s really a part of downtown,” Pawlowski said. “We want to do more programming and workshops that deal with agriculture from flowers to herbs and also nutrition that should appeal to people of all ages.”

She said this year will bring a focus on a full exhibition schedule with a variety of artists – as well as bringing back the Sunday on the Square event in August.

“I’m excited about our exhibit schedule and each will have an educational component with it,” Pawlowski said.

“This year, we’re going to put a spin on Sunday on the Square and that’s going to be interesting.”

‘Different venues’ for JSO

The Johnstown Symphony Orchestra welcomed back patrons in-person for its 93rd concert season.

“There’s nothing quite like being back home at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center in a space that’s acoustically created just for us and our sound,” said Jessica Satava, JSO’s executive director. “That was the moment that kept us motived through all of the challenges we faced in order to get through 2020 and 2021. Our first concert back in November felt very triumphant in so many ways.”

She said the remainder of the season offers a lot to look forward to – including performances at The Grand Halle on Broad Street, Westmont Presbyterian Church and John Murtha Johns-town-Cambria County Airport.

“This season is really unique because we’re performing at different venues, and we have more concerts this year than we’ve ever had with our subscription series,” Satava said. “You’ll see that extended into next season as well.”

In response to the pandemic, the JSO created digital programming as well as forming ensemble groups who performed throughout the community.

“We found that people really appreciated during the pandemic that we were coming to their neighborhoods with music,” Satava said. “We absolutely are going to continue with that and have it part of our offerings because there’s a lot of people throughout the community who physically can’t join us in a concert hall and they appreciate being included in this, too.”

She said the JSO has been a part of the region for 93 years, and despite challenges and tragedies in Johnstown, it has prevailed.

“The community supported the orchestra throughout all of that, so it’s clear it’s important to them,” Satava said. “You can have a fabulous night out with an orchestra that sounds like it could be from any city in America. It’s an incredible experience where you don’t have to travel far to get to it.”

‘Feel-good entertainment’

The Arcadia Theater in Windber was able to present two holiday shows in December after canceling much of its 2021 season.

“It was wonderful and we had nice crowds, so I was happy with the attendance,” said Jerry Ledney, executive director the theater. “People were ready to come back to the theater because it had been so long.”

The theater will kick off its 2022 season in March with shows scheduled monthly through December.

“We have our normal schedule of 11 shows and that will feature classic rock, pop, oldies, doo-wop and our Christmas shows, so this is all feel-good entertainment,” Ledney said. “A lot of the shows are ones that we had to move from the past two years to this coming year.”

He said leaders are hopeful they’ll be able to put the theater’s whole season on without disruptions.

“I believe this is going to be a strong season and I can take a guess that most, if not all, of the shows will be sold out,” Ledney said.

‘Core hub of arts’

The State Theater of Johnstown is in the process of acquiring a classic 35mm reel-to-reel projector to add to the movie-watching experience.

“One of the things that I think is really cool is that we have the biggest high-definition movie screen in the area, so it’s a really cool opportunity to add classic 35mm films,” said Eric Reighard, executive director of the theater. “We’ve had a lot of people ask about that because there’s something really special about the graininess and seeing the films on a screen that big as they were originally intended.”

The hope is to have the projector operational by the middle of the year.

“It’ll be great, especially when we get into our Halloween movies in October and Christmas movies in December we’ll be able to put a lot of those on the 35mm,” Reighard said.

He said along with monthly movies, the theater has plans to coordinate with ongoing downtown events such as Thunder in the Valley and AAABA Tournament to offer programming.

“We’re also partnering with The Learning Lamp to give kids an opportunity to get on stage in the summer months with a series devoted to acting,” Reighard said. “It’s also going to focus on the business side of theater, so everything from stage production to printing tickets. Our goal is to get as many kids interested in the arts as possible.”

He said theater leaders are working toward purchasing the building from Conemaugh Heath System so they can proceed with modifications to the space.

“We want to put in an in-house PA and amp system, and also get the signage and marquee put up in the front,” Reighard said. “The second phase will be major renovations that will include elevators and ADA access. We have all of the design concepts and architectural and engineering work down on paper, so we’re hoping to start to work on this in the second half of this year.”

Long-term goals include creating office space, additional smaller-scale theaters for first- and second-run films and classics, a 1920s-style speakeasy and overnight accommodations.

“Once the theater is fully up and running you’re really going to start to see it become a core hub of arts and entertainment downtown,” Reighard said.

‘Ton of big movies’

Moviegoers are slowly returning to theaters, and owners are hopeful the summer season will help jump-start business.

“For the entirety of last year we barley hit 50 percent of the attendance we would have done from 2019, so it’s still a struggle,” said Ed Troll, owner of Richland Cinemas. “Once we get to May we have a decent lineup of pictures.”

Some of the upcoming releases people can look forward to include “The Batman,” “Morbius,” “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Jurassic World Dominion,” “Lightyear,” “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Black Adam.”

“When you have these big pictures, people will come out and watch because there’s no better environment to watch a action movie than on a big screen with the sound system,” Troll said.

Blake Fleegle, owner of Westwood Plaza Theatre & Cafe, said during the past holiday season the theater went back to its normal six-days-a-week schedule.

“We’re not back to full-time business, but we’re getting closer every day,” he said. “This is a product-driven business so there needs to be that big movie that brings people in. But when they do come in they always say they’re glad to be back. It’s nice to do normal things like go to a movie theater.”

Fleegle said when the theater was closed, he remodeled the lobby and upgraded the sound system in one theater and is working on the other.

“We’ve done these things to make the customer experience better,” he said.

“We have a ton of big movies coming out for people of all ages, especially this summer, so I’m hoping by then we’re back to 100% normal.”

Kelly Urban is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter @KellyUrban25.

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