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Pennsylvania Council on the Arts takes in Warren culture

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry During a tour of Struthers Library Theatre, Executive Director Wendy McCain (left) talks about the history of the facility, recent renovations, and some forthcoming needs with Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) Executive Director Karl Blischke, PCA Special Assistant Sarah Merrit, Council Member Judge William Morgan, PCA Director of New Projects and Capabilities Norah Johnson, and SLT Artistic Director Chuck Gray.

After retired Judge William Morgan was appointed to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, some of the council’s staff expressed an interest in the arts scene in Warren.

Morgan went one better and gave them a guided tour.

The council is made up of 19 members — four from the state General Assembly and 15 at-large appointed by the governor.

Last week, Executive Director Karl Blischke, Special Assistant Sarah Merritt, and Director of New Projects and Capabilities Norah Johnson joined Morgan in a tour of some of the highlights and in meeting some of the major players.

They started at a meeting with City of Warren leadership. After that, they visited the Struthers Library Theatre where they saw some of the newly renovated areas and some less public areas that need work, but are “harder to fund-raise for,” according to Executive Director Wendy McCain.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry During a tour of Struthers Library Theatre (from left) Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) Special Assistant Sarah Merrit, theater Executive Director Wendy McCain, PCA Executive Director Karl Blischke, Ellen Paquette, and Council Member Judge William Morgan talk about the history of the facility, recent renovations, and some of the forthcoming needs.

From there, the group went to Crary Art Gallery, Warren County Historical Society, and the Conewango Club.

After lunch, they met with Pat Evans of Warren Concert Association, Dave Sherman of Warren County Visitors Bureau, Kelli Knapp of Warren Public Library, John Papalia of Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, Mark Davis of Allegheny Center for the Arts, Brenda Schnick of Warren Philharmonic, and Denise Pearson of Warren County Summer Music School in the library’s Wetmore Gallery.

“We feel like the activities you represent… are a key part of an economy,” Blischke said. “I think it’s a key part of education and the livability of a community.”

He said the region, with the Allegheny River, various trails, and the art scene has the potential to be a multi-day “real-deal authentic experience” for visitors.

After hearing both Schnick and Pearson speak excitedly about the Pops at the Fountain event, which brings musicians from Summer Music School and the Warren Philharmonic together for an outdoor concert, Blischke said, “You just encapsulated the best time to be in Warren — that whole experience.”

At the end of the meeting, the group of local arts leaders, at the PCA leaders’ encouraging, decided to meet again. They scheduled a meeting to continue the arts discussion for noon, Tuesday, Feb. 12, at the Visitors Center in Starbrick.

Morgan was nominated to join the council by State Sen. Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati. His nomination was approved by Gov. Tom Wolf. Still, the appointment had to be approved by the senate.

“I was surprised,” Morgan said.

He joins a “pretty impressive group” of community arts leaders on the council, Merritt said.

Blischke explained that the staff of nine acts on the guidance of the council. “We execute their policy and budget,” he said.

The PCA had an allocation of about $9.5 million last year. Most of its funding goes to programs and projects through regional regranting partners, Blischke said.

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