4014 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
|The Rotunda, a community gathering place for the promotion of arts and culture, is fueled by the belief that art is a catalyst for social change and that the arts can lead to the formation of meaningful partnerships between the University of Pennsylvania and the surrounding community.
Over 300 events are presented every year, ranging from live music of all types, film, theater, dance, art, spoken word, education, youth events, activist gatherings, and various experimental forms of art and performance. National acts often perform side by side with local artists, illustrating Philadelphia’s eclectic and robust music scene.
As an alcohol-free, smoke-free venue, The Rotunda provides a critical social alternative for all ages, and opens its doors to the public [usually for free] for cultural events as well as a meeting, rehearsal, class room, and workshop space for various West Philadelphia and citywide organizations, after-school, and youth programs.
The Rotunda is a charming 1911 Carrere and Hastings building. The venue is wheelchair accessible and is equipped with a sound system and technical staff, a basic lighting system, video projection capabilities, a 12ft x 24ft x 2.5ft stage, art exhibit amenities, and more. The venue can seat up to 125 persons, or host a standing room event of up to 350. All ages are admitted. Alcohol and smoking are prohibited. The Rotunda can be used for nearly any kind of public event. We do not book private events and socials. We tend to book at least 4 months in advance, though we can occasionally accommodate with less lead time. Please contact us for more information.
Built in 1911 as a house of worship originally for the First Church of Christ Scientist, it was designed by Carrere and Hastings, the New York-based firm who set the tone of the American classicism of the twentieth century. With its low, tile-roofed narthex, circular main hall, and oversized windows, The building is of unsurpassed simplicity and elegance recalling Early Christian spaces such as Rome’s Santa Sabina.
The University of Pennsylvania purchased the building in 1996 as a strategic acquisition tied to a large scale community investment strategy known as the West Philadelphia Initiatives. With its prime location at 40th and Walnut, Penn explored several redevelopment options such as retail use, a radio station, and restaurant. While pursuing redevelopment options, Penn’s real estate officials responded to the ideas put forth in a 1998 Urban Studies seminar led by Dr. Ira Harkavy and Dr. Lee Benson at the University, which called for the formation of The Foundation Community Arts Initiative.
By making space available in a portion of the building, the Foundation held their first event in 1999 producing a free, all ages Jazz concert open to the public. Utilizing the programming and performing talents of both students and other West Philadelphia community members, The Foundation, led by an undergraduate student, Andrew Zitcer, quickly began programming weekly events and monthly series, showcasing world music, Jazz, Rock, Experimental, and more, while consciously striving to unite diverse groups of people through arts and culture experiences.
By 2002, The Foundation, primarily fueled by dedicated Penn students with the aid of performers, artists, activists, and event organizers from within the surrounding community, acknowledged the need for a full time Director of The Rotunda. The appointment of a venue Director allowed an increase in the frequency of events while strengthening marketing efforts, outreach, and quality of programming. Nowadays, we use the name The Foundation interchangeably with the venue name of The Rotunda.
Gina Renzi, a local event organizer, artist, and activist, was hired while Andrew Zitcer accepted a position at Penn’s Office of Student Life, programming Perelman Quadrangle and other campus spaces in addition to advising on all facets of The Rotunda and serving as an liaison between The Rotunda and Penn. In January 2004, Andrew went on to become the Cultural Asset Manager at Penn’s Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES). In this position, he oversees, aids, and helps to cultivate existing and new venues and projects within the FRES arts and culture portfolio.
The appointment of a venue Director allowed an increase in the frequency of events while strengthening marketing efforts, outreach, and quality of programming.
With a handful of exceptions, the sanctuary space and 2nd floor of this former Christian Science church have been unoccupied since the University purchased the building, while the former Sunday school/meeting hall in the rear is occupied on nearly every day of the week.
THE ROTUNDA’S PLACE AT PENN
The Rotunda is part of the University of Pennsylvania Facilities and Real Estate Services Arts Portfolio (FRES ARTS). FRES ARTS unites a set of cultural assets that exist along the 40th street corridor and elevate the quality of life for Penn and University City by providing access to the arts for multiple communities. The FRES ARTS portfolio includes an artist in residency program, an art gallery, studios, performance and screening space. These static programs are joined by annual festivals that bring tens of thousands of patrons per year to the area, enlivening the street and making the area safer and more inviting. The FRES ARTS assets support the academic mission of Penn by providing laboratories for academic experimentation and beyond the classroom learning. They support the social mission of the University by providing greater access to Penn’s real estate assets to the culture community. And the economic mission of the University is served as the arts form a strong co-tenant for the vibrant retail destination that is 40th Street.