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Susquehanna Life

Samek Art Museum Evolves, Yet is Still Rooted in its Sense of Place

Nov 17, 2017 12:33PM ● By Melanie Heisinger

Samek Kress.

Multiple universities in Central Pennsylvania house cultural centers of all shapes and sizes, enhancing quality of life for residents and visitors. Since its naming in 2001, the Samek Art Museum at Bucknell University has evolved to curate exhibitions on-campus, in downtown Lewisburg and beyond. The museum is well-positioned to fulfill its goal of becoming a regional arts mecca. 

By Lisa Z. Leighton

After college, Richard Rinehart lived in large cities, but always felt a gap, wondering why art had to live in big cities. Art spaces on college campuses always had an appeal to him as learning laboratories—ideal spaces for lifelong learning for people of all ages.

“I grew up in a small town in Oregon and have always been a maker [drawing]. There were few art spaces [in my community], so the Time Life Library of Art books became my inspiration,” reflects Rinehart, Samek Art Museum director.

Up to par

Since coming to Bucknell in 2011, Rinehart has sought to professionalize every aspect of the museum’s operations—from professional and student staffing to operations and marketing—bringing the museum more in line with museum standards nationally. The staff has demonstrated excellence and practical experience in their respective fields. Facilities have been brought up to professional standards in areas as diverse as security, pest control and archival storage.

Rinehart also seeks interdisciplinary perspectives to truly embed the museum in Bucknell University’s cultural life and academic departments, adding value to the campus and beyond.
Outreach programs include opening receptions and artist talks, but also programs within the community such as Art in Bars, Pop Up art exhibits and guest curators. Since Rinehart arrived, attendance at the museum has increased 40 percent.

“We want to serve all of campus—every student, regardless of their major, faculty and staff members—and all of the community. It’s a challenging mission, but also liberating,” smiles Rinehart.

An urban perspective


Rinehart’s prior 17 years of experience at the University of California, Berkeley, have brought an urban perspective to Samek exhibitions, many of which involve new media, as well as edgy and sometimes controversial topics. But Rinehart’s approach is always rooted in Samek’s history and unique sense of place in Central Pennsylvania. Exhibitions have ranged in theme and scope, but are curated based on their artistic excellence, first and foremost, as well as interdisciplinary appeal and resonance.

“We feature professional artists and focus on diverse perspectives and issues that are relevant to the on-campus community, as well as conversations occurring locally,” says Rinehart.

The museum’s permanent collection includes 5,000 objects ranging from Baroque and Renaissance art, Japanese decorative art, modern and contemporary art, and historic prints. The collection is enhanced by a dozen exhibitions annually at the Samek Gallery, Museum Collection Study Room and Connections Gallery, all within the Elaine Langone Center on Bucknell’s campus, as well as the Downtown Gallery, in the historic Dewitt building on Market Street in Lewisburg.

The Samek also curates exhibitions in other spaces such as the Weis Center for the Performing Arts’ atrium lobby and takes art into the community with programs such as the ever-popular Art in Bars series.

The exhibition schedules of each space differ: the on-campus spaces mirror the schedule of the academic year and the Downtown Gallery reflects the rhythm of the town, being mindful to remain open during large community festivals, parades and events.

What’s up-coming?   

From January 16 through March 11, 2018, the main Samek Gallery on campus will feature the exhibition “1% Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality,” a new photography exhibit curated by Myles Little that “examines the story of inequality and offers glimpses of both appalling poverty and magnificent wealth...There is a long history of photography denouncing poverty…but recent decades have witnessed a boom in strong photography questioning privilege,” according to the curator’s statement.

The exhibit is a prime example of Rinehart’s approach to curating exhibits—a professionally curated and accessible exhibit on a timely and sometimes controversial topic that seeks to start a conversation.

For the first time, the Samek is directly involving residents of Lewisburg as artists and curators, in a community-driven show about the concept of beauty. The outreach project and exhibition received a two-year grant from the Maurer Family Foundation and will be open to the public in the summer of 2018.

According to Rinehart, the Downtown Gallery will be divided into 350 three-dimensional grids and 350 people will be asked to contribute an object that represents beauty to that individual.
To make the project random yet representative of the region, a map of Lewisburg also will be divided into a grid and the Samek staff will reach out to one organization within each grid section, asking for their assistance in identifying a participant.   
Rinehart says, “My vision has always been to demystify art and give more people access to great art. It doesn’t need to be exclusive and stodgy. All walks of life should feel welcome and included.”

The museum's exhibitions and public programming are free to the public. Hours vary based on location. Current exhibition schedules can be found at

Lisa Z. Leighton is a freelance writer and marketing professional who resides in Columbia County.

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