At first, the tangled spirals on the inside wall might seem incomprehensible. But soon, upon a closer look, the sprials turn into a giant, snake-like pair of earbuds that wraps around one side of 3 Dots — an art space at 137 E. Beaver Ave.
3 Dots Downtown opened at the start of the summer and includes a gallery, and has hosted local events and organizations, such as Centre Social Dance every Wednesday. The center also provides a public space to those interested in art or a place to relax.
Located at the corner of Beaver Avenue and Pugh Street, 3 Dots is designed to serve as a community art hub for State College residents, according to Managing Director Harvey Weidman. The 3,200 square foot space is broken down into three sections: a performance space, a gallery and an “innovation lounge.”
The space is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the exception of private events.
Local organizations are able to rent the space at varying rates, or sign up to be a resident organization, which pays a yearly flat rate for discounted rentals and other benefits.
In January, 3 Dots Innovation Director Spud Marshall and his team were officially given the keys.
“I vividly remember that moment, walking in here totally alone,” Marshall said. “I remember thinking, ‘Magic’s going to happen here.’”
First seeing the space when it was “bare bones,” Board of Directors Member James Tierney was confident in the people creating the space.
“It was blood, sweat and tears,” Tierney said.
Tierney is tasked with organizing the Lunchtime Performance Series which occurs every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m.
The series includes free, live performances from local performers and all are encouraged to bring lunch and enjoy the music — or, at least, air conditioning — on a hot summer day.
The series, which was booked solid for two months after its opening in early June, invites local performers, such as singers, dancers, poets and more to entertain community members for an hour of the day. As payment, artists earn $50.
Tierney said he worked with Luke Cimbala’s website “The Band Junkies,” which has a compiled list of local bands. Through this website, Tierney was able to connect with many performers that jumped at the opportunity to perform.
One artist that has made it on the 3 Dots stage was Bellefonte resident John Thompson, who performed in front of an audience of roughly two dozen guests with soulful blues music.
“As a musician, you are always looking for new places to play,” Thompson, 62, said. “[This space] is going to be a lot of things, but I think that’s the idea behind it.”
Tierney is also an economics professor at Penn State, as well as a member of Happy Valley Improv. Despite his other commitments, Tierney said he has always been a “busybody” and uses his varying perspectives to join his passions in a space like 3 Dots.
“I believe that creativity and entrepreneurship are very, very important to keeping an economy growing,” Tierney said. “If you get stale in a community, you’re not going to have that economic growth that comes with it,”
Marshall was one of the people behind the project. He said that, in his experience, towns like State College abide by an “unspoken” status quo, in which “things have always gone this way.” Marshall said this idea “frustrates the hell out of [him].”
But an art space wasn’t the original image for the corner location. When Marshall saw the space four years ago, he said the plan was to make an escape room.
When plans fell through, he stepped away from the location for a few years, but once more returned to the area with investors interested in creating an artistic community space.
“Immediately what I did was I went home and I built a cardboard cutout of the space,” Marshall said. “That sat in my office for a month and a half and I just kept looking at it and thinking, ‘There’s got to be something we can do with this.’”
Soon after, Marshall hosted one of his community projects called “Potluck Brainstorms,” which garners community discussions, one of which focused on art in Central Pennsylvania.
Marshall said many guests wanted a space for performance art, considering the fact that visual art has a predominant platform at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
At this brainstorm, he put his model on display with markers and playdough and asked people to create what they would want to see.
Weidman was invited to that particular brainstorm, which would ultimately be the stepping stone to her involvement in 3 Dots.
Coming from a family of artists, Weidman was disappointed by the lack of art culture in State College. She said that whenever she would ask locals where artists can flourish, she was told to wait for Arts Fest.
Having lived in multiple cities — including locations with heavy focus on the arts like San Francisco, California; Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon — Weidman said she felt like “there wasn’t a place for [her] in town.”
“It wasn’t that I didn’t try — I tried,” Weidman said about her efforts to find a place she belonged as an artist. “I spent the first two years [living in State College] trying and then I just completely gave up.”
Yearning for a place to practice her art, she began to offer her dance instructing skills for free in exchange for studio space, despite years of training globally.
To her surprise, Weidman said not many people responded. She said she was often rejected because she said people would have prefered working with someone who was a local.
“I just felt like I was missing the people I was supposed to be meeting,” Weidman said.
Since joining the 3 Dots team, she said she meets several people a day that she wishes she had met years before.
Regarding the finances of the space, Centre Foundation provided grants through the Knight Foundation and the Kalin Family funds, which ultimately “keeps the doors open” for 3 years.
The space has not encountered many roadblocks thus far, according to Marshall, but did push timelines during the first week. He explained that the establishment officially got its occupancy code 3 hours before its first main event.
In terms of the aesthetics and types of events held at the venue, Tierney said he suspects it will “not make everyone happy.”
“You might have 10 people say they want [3 Dots] to be very colorful, and another 10 people want it white,” he said. “Well, you can’t have both of those so we as a board of directors… have to make decisions to determine what the vibe of the space will have.”
After several “successful” weeks of running the space, one issue that prevails, according to Tierney, is a lack of volunteers who can help guide guests around and answer questions.
For those interested, Weidman said volunteers are only expected to work two hours a week. During that time, volunteers will man the front desk, welcoming guests, answering questions and providing tours.
Marshall, Weidman and Tierney said the main demographic of the space will be community members looking for an inviting place downtown, but students are free to use it.
Ideally, Weidman said 3 Dots would not become “just another study space,” but wants those that need a space to relax to feel inclined to visit.
She added that the space will be an alternative to the bar scene or restaurants for those looking for an intimate space to hang out in the evening.
Now open for nearly two months, 3 Dots has seen a consistent flow of visitors, which assures Marshall that the space is “headed in the right direction.”
“I love that our brand and our name ended up centering on that [idea] of ‘this is a space where the story’s not finished… you’re a part of finishing the story for us.”