What should Penn do to help make West Philadelphia a safe, socially diverse, culturally and intellectually exciting, cosmopolitan community?" When given this assignment in an academically-based community service class two years ago, students proposed the idea for The Foundation Community Arts Initiative. Since September 1999, The Foundation has hosted free concerts at the Rotunda nearly every Friday in an effort to improve Penn's relationship with the West Philly community by fostering interaction through shared interests in the arts. With a vision of using art as a catalyst for social change, The Foundation attracts a diverse group of students and neighbors to the Rotunda every week. Through hip-hop, jazz, electronic-ambient music and spoken word poetry, The Foundation highlights the abundance of talent and positive energy right here in West Philly. It also provides a vital social alternative to Penn students as an alcohol-free venue. Though The Foundation's efforts are promising, larger problems persist. Substantial barriers -- physical, cultural and mental -- still divide the University and West Philadelphia. The history of the Black Bottom has created a wall of resentment that stands tall. Before even approaching the notion of a "cosmopolitan" community, Penn has to help erode those barriers. To chip away at this wall, there is an urgent need for a venue which creates regular interactions between Penn students and members of the community. And the Rotunda is the perfect place to begin this movement. ABCS groups have talked about the idea of transforming the Rotunda into a "cultural hub" for years. It's time to mobilize students and make it happen. The Rotunda's location at 40th and Walnut streets makes it an ideal venue for pooling talent from the community and the University. Penn's continued support of The Foundation and recent renovations of the back room are initial signs of its commitment to improving these relationships. But the Rotunda building itself has far greater potential to become a vibrant cultural center in West Philly. Students have tossed around ideas for the space ranging from a crafts market, to an ethnically diverse cafe, to a multi-cultural gallery complemented by exhibits featuring local history. The possibilities seem endless. The rear rehearsal room of the Rotunda currently hosts Foundation concerts, R5 Productions (formerly 4040), Gathering events, and occasional rehearsals for performing arts groups. Expressions After School Program is a student group that focuses on enriching relationships through creative arts activities. Currently cramped into a thrift shop on 42nd Street, Expressions could move to the Rotunda and thrive as a daytime community arts program. The University needs to make a serious commitment to revitalizing the Rotunda. While the current list of events may seem impressive, the space is not being used efficiently. Students have already invested countless hours to developing these community-oriented programs. But with no central organization to manage the scheduling of Rotunda events, conflicts often arise between groups and compromise their programming. The concept of increased interaction between Penn and the community is so vital to the future of this University that a commitment to the Rotunda must become a top priority. Now that commercial films have been slated to appear at the former Sundance Theater, the Rotunda is the only venue along the 40th Street corridor that consistently draws crowds together in the name of alternative arts. But while current programs are working, they only scratch the surface of the Rotunda's potential. The Rotunda can connect communities in a way commercial venues can't. Having free arts programs brings positive foot-traffic to the block and leads to a safer environment. While featuring local artists, the Rotunda's real power lies in its ability to bring people together. The future of this vision depends on our immediate action as students. What happens if Penn does not renew its commitment to the Rotunda? What will happen to The Foundation? And the Gathering? What about visions for a cultural hub? Students committed to using the Rotunda as a center for arts-based community programming have formed an umbrella organization called the Rotunda Alliance. Simply put, these programs cannot survive if moved elsewhere -- their location is as fundamental to their mission as the events themselves. Let's not underestimate our power as students. There are 10,000 of us on campus -- together we can show the University that students are committed to revitalizing the Rotunda So what can we do to help make West Philadelphia a safe, socially diverse, culturally and intellectually exciting, cosmopolitan community? E-mail email@example.com and add your name to the list of students supporting the revitalization of the Rotunda.Comments powered by Disqus
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