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Penn State’s proposed $71 million art museum could be the largest between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh

Penn State recently received two large art collections, and more want to give, but the university doesn't have space to house the works. That will change under a plan unveiled by president Eric Barron for a $71 million university art museum, which could be the largest between Philly and Pittsburgh.

The new university art museum would be located in The Arboretum at Penn State (above).
The new university art museum would be located in The Arboretum at Penn State (above).Read morePenn State

Pennsylvania State University recently received two large art collections, and more want to give, said president Eric Barron, but the university doesn’t have adequate space to house the works or a site that’s easily accessible to the public.

That would change under a plan presented by Barron this week for a $71 million university art museum — the price tag could grow to $85 million if fundraising is successful. University officials believe it would be the largest art museum between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both in square footage and in size of the collection.

“This new facility would really put us on the map,” said Erin Coe, director of the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State.

The board of trustees Friday agreed to hire an architect, Allied Works, to design the up-to-73,000-square-foot facility, which would be scheduled to open in 2022.

The new museum would be located in the Arboretum at Penn State, in the open area to the right of the botanical gardens along Bigler Road, across from the law school. It would replace the Palmer Museum, which is in the center of campus without easily accessible parking. That building would be re-purposed, Barron said.

The art museum, Barron said, would be the first phase of a vision to create a cultural district. Phases two and three envision a science and technology museum and a museum that crosses science and technology and art, Barron said.

“Consultants said if we do all three phases of the museum, they believe we’ll have upwards of 400,000 visitors to central Pennsylvania because of the combination,” he said.

The university recently received two large donations of art, one from the late Barbara Palmer, namesake of the current museum, and the other from Penn State grad John Driscoll, a New York gallery owner.

Driscoll donated 140 American drawings from 1795 to 1950, Coe said. Palmer, who died in January, left her collection of 19th century to early 20th century American art, including pieces by Georgia O’Keeffe, Arthur Dove, and John Marin.

Coe said the museum, which has gone from 3,500 pieces when it opened in 1993 to 9,400 today, is out of space. The new facility will have 21,780 square feet of display space, nearly double the current display space.

Barron said the university has more than 20 small museums throughout campus and the new project would allow many of their works to be housed at the new location.

Most of the project will be covered through the capital budget, but Barron has begun fundraising to increase the project budget to $85 million. An art fan who recently began oil painting again, Barron has with his wife donated $100,000 to the project.

“I paint bits and pieces at a time,” he said, showing a reporter an iPhone photo of his recent piece — a rock outcrop with trees in the fog. “I have done nine paintings. I enjoy it. It does help me relax.”