Andrew Zitcer’s charge as Penn’s Cultural Asset Manager is to look after the real estate in Penn’s portfolio that don’t fall under the traditional headings of commercial, residential or retail spaces.
These include The Rotunda, a community performing arts venue that Zitcer, a Penn alum, wrote undergraduate and graduate theses about; the Slought Foundation art gallery; internationally renowned artist Osvaldo Romberg’s studio; the newly relocated Scribe Video Center; the 40th Street artist-in-residency program and The Cinema, programmed with community events and film screenings.
Zitcer also brings festivals to University City, including the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, the 40th Street Summer Series and, starting March 30, the Philadelphia Film Festival, which is back in West Philly in a big way for a fourth year.
Q. When you went to Penn, how involved were you in neighborhood cultural activities?
A. I participated in the early years of the Kelly Writers House, which was a very influential experience. I was also involved in a WXPN internship, so seeing what one of the greatest radio stations in the country had to offer to a student was really influential to me. Philadelphia in 2006 is on the map in ways that it wasn’t in 1996, but I always had a sense that it was an unbelievably rich cultural destination. I was definitely one of those students who was going to Ortleib’s and figuring out how to use SEPTA to get myself to Old City and to Northern Liberties and Bella Vista. It was a combination of those citywide experiences and then experiences in the neighborhood cultivated by working with the Center for Community Partnerships and Ira Harkavy.
Q. Why is Penn so interested in enriching culture?
A. It really is in Penn’s DNA. Franklin believed in a practical education that took theory and practice and looked for ways to make them mutually inclusive. By engaging with our neighborhood and our city, I think that we provide a better education to our students because so much of learning happens outside the walls of a classroom… Of course, it also has to do with civic responsibility, with being a good corporate neighbor and when the life of the neighborhood and the quality of the urban environment is elevated, then benefits accrue to all.
Q. Talk about Penn’s expanded role in this year’s Film Festival.
A. A lot of people don’t know this, but the Festival actually began at International House, so it has University City roots. We’re extremely proud to be able to host probably 50 percent or more of the screenings in University City with three venues: The Bridge, International House and now The Cinema at 3925 Walnut. We have in addition to the venues, five Cine Cafes that are hosted by the Penn Cinema Studies Department. They’re going to be happening all over the West Philadelphia area.
About 65,000 people come to the festival every year and that has a huge spillover effect for our retailers. That’s the story of the arts. For every dollar spent on an arts venue, there’s three or four dollars spent on restaurants, parking, taxicabs, overnight stays in hotels. … Everybody has already become aware in the last few years that 40th Street in University City is the new something—the new neighborhood in Philadelphia. That’s very attractive to the Fringe Festivals of the world, the film festivals, or organizations that are looking for a new home, because of these incredible partnerships and access to the academic curriculum.
Q. What do you think 40th Street will look like down the road?
A. One thing I think is happening already is an increased residential base because of the building project that’s happening at 40th and Chestnut called the Hub. There’s going to be a new development in one or two years at 3900 Walnut and that’s going to put a lot more people living on 40th Street. When you have more people in [residence], that increases your audience for any kind of cultural participation. I dream of a 40th Street several years out where we expand arts and culture in several small venues and in large anchor venues like The Rotunda all the way north, as far as Lancaster [Avenue]. It’s an essential component of the quality of life for any urban neighborhood. It’s an intergenerational fit.
Q. The Rotunda is so unique—you can go see a punk show, you can go to a yoga class. Was that the original intent?
A. Absolutely. The idea actually grew out of a group that had written a paper proposing a jazz venue on 40th Street. They had approached Zanzibar Blue and Ortleib’s and they had said, ‘No way.’ When I read the paper [as an undergraduate], I said, “You can’t create a jazz club out of thin air. You have to make a multipurpose, multigenerational space that can be a project space.” In a way, The Rotunda’s concept sprung fully formed.
Q. Are you aware of positions like yours at other universities?
A. There’s not another person who both incubates and attracts cultural arts entrepreneurs to a campus like this and once they’re here, oversees their management. I’m also the person they call when the heat is not working, when they need to talk to a landlord. We want to increase the quality of life. It’s not art for art’s sake. It’s art for community sake. I think that’s what’s exciting people about wanting to come to University City and be part of this experiment.
Originally published on March 30, 2006