Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

A Mother’s Legacy: 4 decades ago, Rose Lehrman Arts Center was built as a tribute to a woman who wanted to share her love of the arts.

Screenshot 2014-10-30 14.46.53Before Rose Lehrman’s death in 1968 at the age of 60, she made sure to instill in her children a love for the arts—dance lessons, piano lessons and trips to Philadelphia to delight in concerts conducted by Toscanini and Ormandy.

“My mother used to say that, if you can’t be the artist or the pianist, you can be the audience,” recalls her daughter Lois Grass.

Grass took those wise words to heart. Not only is she part of “the audience,” but she’s helped create a place and space for performers, visual artists and others who entertain or who are working and learning to perfect their craft. The Rose Lehrman Arts Center at the main HACC campus in Harrisburg is that place and space, and this year it celebrates 40 years of bringing the arts to central Pennsylvania.

Constructed in 1974 and officially opened the following year, the Center came to be through a donation from the Lois Lehrman Grass Foundation. Early programs were primarily student-produced and community-focused, with a smattering of professional productions and a free “Friday Night Flicks” series.

Later, things changed. Teri Guerrisi, now the director of the Live at Rose Lehrman Artist Series, came on board in 1989 and, with Grass’ continuing support, the theater underwent a major renovation that upgraded the entire infrastructure—from state-of-the-art audio and lighting to a new stage floor and seating.

“This renovation enabled us to grow our artist series programs to include touring professional dance, theater and music events,” Guerrisi says. “It led us to further define our program mission and create the Live At Rose Lehrman artist series.”

Many Center-goers frequent the venue for its dance performances, but there’s also theater, music and an art gallery within its walls that host visiting artists and offer exhibitions of national and international artists. Three or four professional dance events are featured every season, and many have a contemporary edge. There’s diversity, too, with an emphasis on presenting the performing arts of cultures in this country and across the globe.

The mission of Live at Rose Lehrman, as Guerrisi tells it, is to serve HACC as both a community outreach and extension of the college classroom, providing residency and educational programs.

“Many patrons may not know that we often contract with our artists to arrive in the community a day or two before the ticketed performance,” Guerrisi says. “We engage them to provide more than a show, with a variety of programs such as master classes, lectures, demonstrations and pre- and post-show events.”

The performance series attracts around 8,000 attendees annually who come not only from central Pennsylvania, but as far away as Allentown, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. Guerrisi strives to fill each and every seat in the venue, but that is not the sole measure of success.

“When audience members wait in line to get into the theater and then give the performer a rousing standing ovation at the end of a great show, there is that buzz, awe and energy of audience and performer connection,” she says. “When you see young people engaging in dance master classes or theater workshops, and you see that spark and excitement, you know that you have made an impact.”

In this celebratory season, Live at Rose Lehrman will present Cirk La Putyka, BalletX and Janis Ian in November, Jasmine Guy in “Raisin’ Cane” in January, the renowned Martha Graham Dance Company in February, San Jose Taiko in March, and The Brubeck Brothers Quartet in April.

“The Brubeck Brothers were on our stage in April 1975, and it is very fitting to have them back to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Rose Lehrman Arts Center,” Guerrisi adds.

Guerrisi often tells HACC students and other young people that they need to include attendance at live professional cultural events to round out their education during the college years.

“So many young people have not had a full arts education during the K-12 years,” she says. “I love to see them attend a show and come out in the lobby afterward saying, ‘Wow! That was really amazing. I am so glad that I came to the show.'”

And so every show at the Rose Lehrman Arts Center is all about that “wow!” After all, the building’s namesake knew a thing or two about the arts, about being an audience member, about passing along her love of music, theater and dance to her children who, in turn, have paid it forward.

It’s fitting then that an oil portrait of Rose Lehrman is proudly displayed in the Center’s lobby. No doubt she is watching, listening and delighting in the applause.

For more information about the Rose Lehrman Arts Center and a schedule of performances, visit

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