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Butler Cultural District art adorns Penn Theater

Luca Panei, 8, of Butler, talks about his artwork, which hangs on the north side of the Penn Theater, to his father Tom on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 14. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

Just around the bend from the Penn Theater’s freshly-lit marquee, four local artists are featured on its northern wall — helping delineate the new Butler Cultural District.

According to Leslie Osche, Butler County commissioner and secretary for the Butler Rotary Club PM, the artwork comes from the Butler Cultural District’s launch last October. That included artwork submitted for banners in an exhibit titled “Visions of Community.”

“These banners were pictures that were sort of reflective of that theme of community,” she said. “They were either photography or paintings that were submitted by various artists.”

The banners were originally hung at the former Butler Area Middle School, Osche said, but the Rotary Club is displaying the banners again this fall ahead of a project to formally identify the city’s cultural district.

“We’re in the process of working with the city to get all the clearances to demarcate the district with signage,” she said. “They’re signed poles that look similar to the street lamps that are on Main Street, but smaller and not lights. But they’re basically black poles with banners that indicate it’s part of the cultural district.”

Osche said the project would also include custom benches. The club is preparing to announce grant funding for it from the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts at the city’s fall festival on Sept. 30.

“You’ll be getting that information here shortly, but that will sort of be our next step,” she said. “Then that evening, we have a fundraiser to help raise money to match the grant that we got.”

The signage and poles, Osche said, aren’t expected until spring 2024 though.

“Our next step: the city has approved the drawings, we just have to sit down now and show them the locations so that they can permit all the various locations,” she said. “And then we’re going to have to find somebody to install.”

Luca Panei, 8, of Butler, stands in front of his artwork, which hangs on the north side of the Penn Theater on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 14. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle
‘A cool thing’

Local artist Tom Panei, part of the cultural district’s committee, said he was surprised to see a familiar piece hanging outside the Penn Theater this month.

“The funny thing is, that artwork that’s up there is my son’s,” he said with a laugh.

Panei, who helped facilitate the Visions of Community banners last fall, said his son Luca — 8 years old and an artist in his own right — submitted a piece.

“He’s a really cool abstract artist, and his artwork got chosen for one of the banners,” he said. “So he was really excited about it.”

After showing Luca that his artwork had been rehung outside the Penn Theater, Panei said his son was “really excited.”

“I always joke around because the actual painting is vertical, and the first thing he said was, ‘Dad, they made it the wrong way,’” he said with a laugh. “And I said, ‘Well, it’s abstract.’”

The original piece, Panei said, still hangs in their house.

“I framed it, and so the actual piece hangs in our house, and then that’s the banner that they made from it,” he said. “It’s a great way to display not just my son’s work, but it’s a great way to display art and it’s mobile.”

Bryan Frenchak, owner of the Penn Theater, said he has been regularly meeting with the cultural district and was happy to display the banners as part of the project.

“They approached different businesses and some of them didn’t want to put them up, so I said, ‘We’ve got a whole wall, we’ll take them all if you want,’” he said, laughing.

Panei said the banners were a great way for artists to get their artwork out into the community and an opportunity to highlight the city’s new cultural district.

“It’s a cool thing for the Penn Theater, for the community for my son and for the other artists,” he said.

Luca Panei, 8, of Butler, talks about his artwork, which hangs on the north side of the Penn Theater, to his father Tom on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 14, 2023. Shane Potter/Butler Eagle

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