Inspiring a more vibrant community


By Holly Riddle

Happy Valley creatives bring a unique agency to 3 Dots, downtown State College’s premier venue for culture, civil engagement and innovation in a free, safe social space — and all while demonstrating the substantial economic impact of the arts.

3 Dots provides a free, social space for creatives to congregate. Credit: 3 Dots

Walk around State College, near the Penn State campus, and you’ll come across it: a corner building right in the busiest area of downtown, where something always seems to be going on. Look a little closer and you’ll notice the purple signage sporting a square and ellipses, and a name, 3 Dots. Since 2019, 3 Dots has injected State College’s walkable downtown with a vibrant dose of inspiration, as a free and safe social space celebrating a side of the Happy Valley that often doesn’t get enough attention (at least not compared to the impressive research and athletics): the creatives. 

Executive director Erica Quinn said, “[Founder Spud Marshall] had been working with a group of local community leaders, just having these monthly conversations, trying to determine what was needed in our community. The growing consensus was that folks in the creative world needed a place to congregate, share resources or have a platform or just a space to hang out.” She added that 3 Dots’ inception also answered the question of what exactly do young professionals, or even those in their 30s or 40s, do and where do they go, especially if they’ve just recently moved to the area. “That's part of the origin for it — but, I would say, since we've opened, we've become a really intergenerational space, which we're excited about.” 

Now, 3 Dots — with its mission of “inspiring a more vibrant community” — offers a range of programming designed to bring the creatives — and the community at large — together. Tuesdays on the Terrace is a weekly block party with live music and an open mic session. Educational programming focuses on everything from songwriting to dance to other artforms. The gallery space boasts an ever-changing rotation of unique and impactful exhibits, focusing on topics such as identity, belonging and loneliness. And, every month, 3 Dots awards a community member a $1,000 Awesome Grant to spur on a unique initiative or fund a project that benefits Happy Valley; past recipient projects have included an arts camp for children, a charity music festival and an Ethiopian cooking class and dinner event. 

Since 3 Dots’ inception, Quinn said the nonprofit organization has evolved in myriad ways to address the community’s changing needs, as well as to attract creatives from other communities beyond Happy Valley. 

Catch the recognizable piano sitting on 3 Dots’ sidewalk just steps from Penn State’s campus. Credit: 3 Dots

She noted, “We've become this regional hub for lots of creative folks around not just the county, but beyond. It's been really exciting to be in the center of the state of Pennsylvania and to start making these connections with folks in Pittsburgh and Erie and Philadelphia  … There are also a lot of organizations around town that don't have a physical space, and so this has become a place where a lot of people can convene and share resources and have a space to be. We also think it's exciting to have this safe space for a really wide variety of groups and individuals in the community. There are a lot of people who feel like 3 Dots is their home base and that feels exciting. That's part of our resource sharing, but it's also part of something richer and more emotional.”

The economic impact of the arts

But beyond the creativity and rich emotional value that 3 Dots provides Happy Valley, it also generates economic development. In fact, the organization claims to have generated more than $525,000 in downtown economic development in 2021 alone. 

“When folks come into the downtown for an arts and cultural reason, so a festival or movie or a performance, they are, on average, spending $25 in that downtown,” explained Quinn. "So they're coming down here and then they're going out to dinner. They're going to get coffee. They're going to go grab a drink afterward. We keep track of the folks who come into our events and we break it down by event, month and year … and then keep close relationships with local business owners to really demonstrate the economic impact of the arts in our community … We really want to demonstrate to business owners the value of having an arts and cultural vibrancy to your downtown and what that does to drive business to the local shop owners, bars, restaurants, et cetera.”

The future for 3 Dots

So what does the future look like for 3 Dots, which is, in all consideration, still in its infancy, especially considering the socially-geared space was partially closed over the course of the pandemic, which began not long after its opening?

According to Quinn, the organization has been building its internal team, adding a new assistant director, and it also has its eye on a future new location. The organization’s current building is part of a planned construction project, which necessitates a move in the next few years. As Quinn and team look at what options are available, they plan to stay in the near vicinity, but are looking at ways a new space can broaden their impact. 

Quinn also noted that 3 Dots likely just wouldn’t be the same elsewhere, if it existed outside Happy Valley.

She said, “I think there are people locally who are doing really fascinating things, but they maybe haven't been brought into the same room together. It's not like these people and their ideas and what they're making exist because of [3 Dots]. The space does generate certain things, but really, everywhere I go, every dinner party I go to, I just meet some of the most interesting people that I've ever come across, and I've lived in many different places. 

From art installations to open mic nights, there are a wide array of events at 3 Dots. Credit: 3 Dots

“I've done a lot of community work and arts community work in different areas as well, and I've never seen the co-stewardship of the space or of the ideas that happen here. I think there's a different kind of agency that the people who volunteer or program or work in some capacity at 3 Dots have, for the work that's coming out of here. It's really different from anywhere else that I've done any community programming.”

Want to experience 3 Dots’ unique creative energy for yourself? Throughout the summer, the organization’s Tuesdays on the Terrace events take place each week and 3 Dots will also be participating in June’s Rhoneymeade Fest, which combines art and music for a three-day weekend of fun at the Rhoneymeade Arboretum & Sculpture Garden, as a downtown satellite location for the event. 

Those interested in volunteering for or donating to the nonprofit can get in touch via the 3 Dots website or social media. 

“If you have five minutes or $15,000, there's a really meaningful way to be involved, and we're super grateful for people who play at the open mic, people who help us wash the windows, people who are major donors or people who stack chairs. All of these things are really important to how we stay open and how we stay vibrant,” said Quinn. 


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