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“If you're
standing in
Rittenhouse
Square, the
perception
is that we’re
significantly
farther away
than the
[Philadelphia]
Museum
of Art, but in
fact, that’s not
the case.”

 


Audience Participation Requested, continued...


When people do hear about events at campus cultural institutions, there is a “perceived barrier” between the University and the rest of Philadelphia, notes Dr. Jeremy Sabloff, director of the University Museum. “If you’re standing in Rittenhouse Square, the perception is that we’re significantly farther away than the [Philadelphia] Museum of Art, but in fact, that’s not the case,” he says. “We need to break down the idea that somehow the Schuylkill River separates us from Center City.” Many Philadelphia guides gloss over the University’s offerings, and tourist maps often relegate University City to a small undefined space on the left side, with (perhaps) a few buildings identified.
    Another barrier, says Sabloff, is “the perception that this place is somehow dangerous.” Crime in the University City area has been a perennial hot-button issue, and especially so in the wake of several high-profile violent crimes in 1996. Though crime is down significantly since then, fear among prospective campus visitors lingers.
    And once people from other parts of the city and beyond decide they do want to visit the campus, getting where they want to go can also be a problem. Parking at Penn is at a premium. As surface lots have given way to developments like Sansom Common in recent years, parking spaces in the immediate vicinity have dropped from 8,000 to 5,000. Visitors from outside the city especially can be reluctant to use public transportation—and unwilling to walk more than a few blocks from a parking space to their destination. A sidebar to a May 5 Philadelphia Daily News article touting the many things to do and see around University City began: “One word about driving to the University of Pennsylvania campus: Don’t.”
    It will be difficult to draw people from off-campus “unless we can provide adequate, reasonably accessible, reasonably priced and safely located parking.” says Dr. Peter Conn, the Andrea Mitchell Professor of English and deputy provost, who chairs a recently formed committee of campus arts and cultural organizations.
    So, it’s a tough time to be the director of a Penn cultural institution: There’s never enough money, it’s expensive to spread the word, and people harbor misconceptions about the neighborhood. It is difficult, acknowledges Sabloff—but exciting, too. “In one sense it’s daunting, but I think there’s every reason to be positive,” he says. There are signs that things are beginning to change, and the heads of these centers are taking matters into their own hands to get the word out and get people in the doors.
    Claudia Gould has been ICA director for barely a year, but she and her staff have already made strides in publicizing the exhibitions they mount. She recalls that, when she was executive director of Manhattan’s Artists Space, she couldn’t get on the institute’s mailing list. Exhibition notices were sent by first-class mail to ICA members only. Now, the ICA sends bulk mailings to a greatly expanded list, often targeting specific audiences depending on the content of the exhibition. And Gould has also made a point of including a Philadelphia artist in each new show to draw in members of the local arts scene.
    In years past, the Annenberg Center was the venue for touring shows from Princeton’s McCarter Theater, as well as the home of the old Philadelphia Drama Guild and the Philadelphia Festival for New Plays. Today, the center faces increasing competition for audiences, performers and productions from a burgeoning theater scene in Center City, with much more to come from the Philadelphia Regional Performing Arts Center, currently under construction at Broad and Spruce streets and scheduled to open in late 2001.
    Few regional companies mount tours anymore, says Rose, in part because the National Endowment for the Arts no longer provides support for them. Shows that do tour tend to be very small or to be commercial musicals, “and most of those are not quite what we’re looking for, so that makes it a bit more of a challenge.” Philadelphia’s more vital theater scene, though, he says, is “good all the way around—because there is a growing interest in theater, and I think we can be very successful in presenting theater. It really depends on what we’re presenting, and issues of quality and content.”

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