Rotunda wraps up diverse summer series
The venue aims to connect Penn students with the greater West Philadelphia community
September 25, 2011, 10:11 pm · Updated September 26, 2011, 1:13 am·
Alexandra Fleischman | DP
Break dancing, American Indian pow-wows and Russian sing-alongs are closer to campus than you might think.
This past Saturday, the Rotunda, an arts and culture community venue at 40th and Walnut streets, concluded its summer series.
Billy Martin & Friends, a percussion and saxophone ensemble, and Jay Sand, who led sing-alongs to songs from a variety of global cultures, led the two-hour performance.
The Rotunda hosts approximately 300 low-cost events a year. This summer, the “40th Street Summer Series,” organized by Penn and the University City District, offered free concerts every fourth Saturday from June to September on High Rise Field.
The Rotunda celebrated its 100th anniversary this May, though Penn undergraduates only began using the space for performances in 1999.
Since then the Rotunda’s goal has been to connect Penn students with the greater West Philadelphia community, Rotunda Director Gina Renzi said, adding that they were “trying to mix it up and get a bunch of different people in the room.”
Though the concert in August was cancelled due to heavy rain from Hurricane Irene, the Rotunda and UCD deemed the June, July and September concerts a success.
Activity in University City tends to slow down over the summer when fewer students are on Penn’s campus, UCD Communications Manager Mark Christman said. The motivation behind the series was to draw people into the area.
Other performers this summer included a wide range of musicians such as Sun Ra Arkestra, Elegant Cavaliers, Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits and Joseph Bowie and Adam Rudolph, who played music from Brazilian pop to free jazz.
“We were looking for artists who sort of represented the qualities of University City,” Christman said. Summer concerts drew Penn students, in addition to young children, families and senior citizens.
“The stuff they’re doing is really speaking to the broadest possible constituency,” Christman said. “The Rotunda seems to be engaging the student body.”
Penn provides a majority of the Rotunda’s funding, including a programming budget to promote events. The venue presents four to six events a week.
This past Friday, the Rotunda worked with Social Planning and Events Committee Jazz and Grooves to bring The Olivia Tremor Control to campus, Renzi said, emphasizing that the Rotunda wants to form partnerships with student organizations on campus, rather than simply charging them to use its space.
“There’s always more work to be done,” Renzi said regarding the relationship between Penn and the Philadelphia community.
2008 College graduate Peter Richman volunteered for the Rotunda during his time at Penn and began a committee to increase student presence at the venue. “The Rotunda is there for people who want to find it,” he said.
Second-year Liberal and Professional Studies student Andrea Okorley, who is a photographer and videographer for the Rotunda, agreed that the space tends to attract more community members than Penn students.
Penn students “tend to not want to step outside the box,” she said. At the Rotunda, “you get to connect with people from all parts of the Philadelphia community. I feel like people are a bit intimidated by that.”