Rick Hiduk Winter 2017
When the icy winds of January and February come howling, maintaining a consistent level of activity can be challenging. That’s when the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts in Harrisburg becomes a virtual oasis of indoor activity that stimulates both the body and the mind. Ongoing, seasonal, and one-time programming is geared toward family members of all ages, as well as school groups. But planning for your Whitaker Center adventure is the key to its success.
Often referred to as “Harrisburg’s Crown Jewel,” the Whitaker Center, 222 Market St., was born out of the desire of community and business leaders, city planners, art associations, and government officials in the area to develop a site where science and the arts could be integrated in brand-new ways. Ground was broken in 1997 for the four-story, 30,000-square-foot building that now houses a fine arts museum, a 700-seat theater, performance studios, and the Museum of Scientific Discovery.
The Whitaker Center is named for Uncas A. Whitaker, whose Whitaker Foundation was established in 1975 to support biomedical engineering research and education, and his wife, Helen F. Whitaker, who started the Helen F. Whitaker Fund to support training for classical musicians. Their combined support to the public-private partnership topped $8 million.
The Whitaker Center fills a quarter of a city block and features a two-level connecting lobby and entries from Market and Third streets, as well as an internal bridge reaching to Strawberry Square and a parking garage on Walnut Street.
The Harsco Science Center offers more than 240 exhibits spread over three stories geared to children and families, including KidsPlace, Carnival of Health, Backstage Studio, Forces of Nature, and Move It! Programs in the Science Center this winter will include Little Learners, Girl Scout Badge Workshops, and Girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs.
Whitaker Center director of marketing and sales Ashlee Hurley noted that a new program planned for early 2017 is aimed at allowing parents and children to learn about popular STEM topics together in an interactive classroom setting. February is also when the center announces the summer camp schedule and opens up registration.
January and February are perhaps the best time for families with children and teens to visit the Whitaker Center, as March heralds the beginning of the school field trip season, especially on weekdays. Educators should contact the center now to learn what is available and to make arrangements.
“Field trip season is a busy and exciting time inside the Whitaker Center,” stated the facility’s director of education, Lauren Schaller. “Over half of the groups that come here participate in more than one activity, so a field trip to the Whitaker Center could include anything from self-guided time in the Science Center, seeing a documentary in the digital cinema, or participating in a classroom-like lab, where a member of our education staff guides students through a hands-on science activity.”
“We attract school groups from a 100-mile radius,” Hurley related.
Entertainment in the Whitaker Center ranges from music representing various genres and live theater to dance programs and stand-up comedy. Performers include local, resident companies; touring troupes; and international stars.
One of the featured artists in The Forum this winter will be Jo Dee Messina, who burst onto the country music scene in 1996 with “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” On Friday, Jan. 20, Messina will sing a number of her biggest hits, including “Bye Bye,” “I’m Alright,” and the aforementioned tune, as well as songs from her latest independent release, “ME.
“City of Angels,” a musical comedy set in the 1940s written by Cy Coleman, David Zippel, and Larry Gelbart, will run at the Whitaker Center from Feb. 15 to March 5. To view a current entertainment schedule, log on to www.whitakercenter.org.
The Select Medical Digital Cinema features a 38-by-70-foot screen where theatergoers can enjoy Hollywood blockbusters and educational films in surround sound.
“Our digital cinema offers the largest screen in central Pennsylvania, and we like to keep the content that we show on that screen fresh and exciting,” said Steve Bishop, vice president of science and cinema. The Whitaker Center’s Oscar-Winning Film Series will return in February with the screening of four to six Academy Award-winning movies.
“(These classics are) a must-see,” Bishop continued, “not only because they are great films but because they are made even more vibrant by the size of our screen and immersive quality of our cinema.” Another February highlight in the digital theater will be the documentary “Dream Big: Engineering Wonders of the World,” he added.
The Whitaker Center is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.whitakercenter.org.