At first glance, Shippensburg does not seem to be at the cultural hub of Pennsylvania. It is a small town known for its university and annual Corn Festival but does not seem to be the type of place to find spoken-word poetry readings, art studios and independent film premieres.
However, with efforts from local artists, as well as through the local university, Shippensburg has begun to have a rash of artistic endeavors opening up and flourishing.
A main hub for arts in Shippensburg is the H. Ric Luhrs Performing Arts Center. Located on Shippensburg University’s campus, it has hosted such events and performers such as Jeff Dunham, Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood, Brian Regan and Randy Travis.
“The response from the community and region has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic and reflects the number of patrons who have attended our shows,” said Leslie Folmer, associate vice president for External Affairs at the Luhrs Center. Luhrs has had 34 sell-outs since the center opened in January 2006 and is now a recommended attraction on TripAdvisor.
Folmer also said the patrons of the theater have been known to attend performances locally at other places such as the Capitol Theatre in Chambersburg and the Carlisle Theatre.
On Garfield Street in downtown Shippensburg, there is The Thought Lot, run by Aaron Treher, which features many different types of artwork, live music and other art galleries and openings. In the past, it has featured exhibits such as “Naturally,” an exhibit featuring pieces carved out of wood. The current exhibit features the art work of Haitian artists, especially traditional masks.
The SHAPE Gallery, located on West King Street in downtown Shippensburg was founded in 1999 in an effort to bring arts to Shippensburg. Since its creation, it has hosted close to 100 galleries and exhibits. It offers art classes to the community, as well as highlights local artists.
At the university itself, there are many ways to pursue creative interests.
For those who like the written arts, there is The Reflector, the college’s literary magazine, which is accepting submissions through Oct. 31. Also, there is The Spawning Pool, an annual creative magazine that publishes every three months.
The newest addition to the creative culture at the university is the Creative Writing Club, which meets every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in Horton Hall.
“Participating in the arts is about more than self-expression; the arts can complement and enhance students’ other studies, while connecting powerfully to their lives,” said Zachary Savich, an associate professor in the English department. “In my creative writing classes, for example, students practice creative and critical skills that should help them in many future situations.”
In terms of the performing arts, there is Act V Productions, a student-run acting group that has put on such shows as ”The Mousetrap,” “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “Twelfth Night” and “Urinetown.”
For those who like less scripted performances, there is also Game On! Improv.
In the music and theater department itself, there are also many opportunities for students wanting to act.
Paris Peet is a theater professor at the university and is also currently directing a production of “The Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris on campus. He calls the anti-“Christmas Carol.”
“It’s irreverent and somewhat sardonic, but funny. I think audiences will enjoy it. It’s a refreshing break from sugar plum fairies,” Peet said.
He does believe that this area has certain values that may not be reflected in every area.
“I once heard an old line that ‘every community gets the kind of art it really values.’ I think that’s absolutely true. What we value is reflected in what audiences pay to attend.
“The change I have seen is that these same values are more readily embraced by our entire society. We choose our local art experiences primarily based on familiarity and familiarity is, more than likely, dictated by advertising. We have not been educated or encouraged enough to take risks on new or unfamiliar art and if we do, and don’t like it, this merely confirms our previous buying habits,” said Peet.
But Peet is optimistic about the arts in Shippensburg.
“On a more optimistic note, I believe the choices that some of the students make are very exciting. Act V is currently producing plays by Neil LaBute and Adam Rapp and these kinds of works are much more exciting to me than a Disney musical,” Peet said.
“I also believe these choices are more indicative of the kinds of work we should be insisting on at the university level.”
As for the arts in Shippensburg, they seem to be growing and expanding with every year. There are new student-run clubs in the creative arts popping up and different creative havens locally making the area a more artistic place to live.
There are still people who feel like there are not enough arts here at Shippensburg and at the university.
“For students who want more from the arts, I encourage you to start a magazine, a band, a radio show, a salon, a performance series, an exhibition, a one-person play you perform in Starbucks,” Savich said. “I know this is a community that will be eager to see what you do.”