Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Bob’s Art Blog: SAM’s Surprise & Millworks Saturdays

A big celebration was afoot recently at the Susquehanna Art Museum.

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you are over the age of 5, unless you are my granddaughter, who is precocious. I know what you’re thinking, “She’s your granddaughter.” That aside, someone much bigger, think grand-scale big, just celebrated their birthday.

Founded in 1989 by a group of arts educators, the Susquehanna Art Museum (SAM) today provides a perfect anchor to the 1400-block of N. 3rd Street. All the more reason to strike up the band in celebrating SAM’s fifth Midtown birthday, which was on Jan. 23.

There is an old saying from the days of dime novels, “Will it play in Peoria?” That query was code for—will it be well received by mainstream America? For years, Peoria was a test market for you-name-it, due to its representation for middle America.

Having lived most of my life in this area, I can honestly say that central PA is on the cusp of being a metropolitan hub, branding its own taste for culture. This is represented by the handsome addition five years ago of the new Susquehanna Art Museum and its neighbors, such as the Millworks, Midtown Cinema, Midtown Scholar, Elementary Coffee, HMAC’s revitalization and the list goes on.

The growth of SAM under the leadership of Executive Director Alice Anne Schwab and its board of directors has taken what once could have been viewed as a risky venture and turned it into a jewel of the 3rd Street corridor. It links Midtown Harrisburg to downtown through events like its summertime partnership with the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Its educational art mobile, Van Go! On Wheels, reaches 20,000 students annually, and SAM brings major art shows to its grand galleries.

Its biggest asset, consistently on point, is the groundbreaking art exhibits that take center stage. From Romare Bearden to “Picasso: A Life in Print,” there have been an array of outstanding shows in its recent history. In 2020, stay tuned for more.

They say that, in business, the first five years are crucial, and it takes reinvestment to grow. Knowing Alice Anne and her team of Lauren Nye, Tina Sell, Ross Tyger and an outstanding group of volunteers behind the scenes, SAM will continue to give back to Midtown, creating even more avenues for art, and you can take that to the De Soto Vault.

So, to answer the question—will it play in Harrisburg? Most definitely, yes. SAM, besides being open  six days a week, offers amenities that major museums in metropolitan areas like New York and Washington, D.C., also offer. These include members-only art salons on summer evenings, special gallery tours by exhibition artists and visits by art aficionados such as John Szoke of his world-famous New York City gallery. Most important of all, SAM is the only dedicated art museum in central PA.

At the birthday bash, Dauphin County Parks and Recreation Director Carl Dickson made the opening remarks. Speaking on behalf of the county commissioners, he read from a proclamation declaring Jan. 23, 2020, as Susquehanna Art Museum Day in Dauphin County, commending SAM’s “enduring impact in the region.”

Keynote speaker J. Randall Grespin, chair of SAM’s development committee, then revealed noteworthy news to all, a crowd of over 150 staunch supporters and art patrons who gathered to celebrate. He announced that the successful “Bridge to the Future” capital campaign raised more than $3 million.

“Now we can think about not just surviving but thriving,” Grespin said. “We can explore how to expand our programs’ reach beyond the museum’s walls. We can envision a beautiful art and event space in our adjacent courtyard or a new VANGo! to replace one that has served more than 55,000 children.”

Philanthropist Marty and Tom Philips of Lemoyne (and Naples, Fla.) pledged a total of $2 million over 20 years if the museum could raise $1 million in matching funds by the end of 2019, which they accomplished. In recognition of this generous gift, the museum now is proudly referred to as the Susquehanna Art Museum at the Marty and Tom Philips Family Art Center, or in its abbreviated form, SAM at the Marty. Perhaps the most exciting news, beyond the campaign’s success, is the mission going forward for inclusion to go well beyond the city limits and to enlighten every visitor to the wonders of art.

Peoria—that is so 19th century. I have seen the future, and it resides firmly planted at 1401 N. 3rd St. Play it again, SAM.

The Susquehanna Art Museum is located at 1401 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit


1st Saturdays at the Millworks

The art part of the Millworks, under Director Tara Chickey, is experimenting with expanding opportunities for exposure (to the arts).

In speaking with Chickey, she informed me that the Millworks’ eat+art experience has been well received since the venue opened in 2015, with people patronizing the artists before or after they grab a bite. This innovator, with her hive of artists, now has sweetened the pot, enticing patrons with a window “to dine and mine” the rich treasures found among the artists’ offerings, every first Saturday of the month from 2 to 5 p.m.

It’s hard to believe that January is almost over, which means the next “1st Saturday” is coming up on Feb. 1. Chickey, in consort with the artists, will have the studios open for gazing (and purchasing) before or after grazing. This special window of time affords customers an opportunity to grab a drink, then meet and talk to the artists firsthand, learning about their processes and their works.

It sounds like a perfect pre-Valentine’s date to me—lunch or dinner and a chance to discover that special piece to wear or hang on a wall. And if you are unattached, what better place to meet someone new at the bar or strolling the avenue of art at the Millworks? The perfect icebreaker being, “Would you look at that?”

The Millworks is located at 340 Verbeke St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit

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