Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Collective Imprints: On Community and the Rotunda

by Bonnie MacAllister

"Self-Portraits" 36" X 48" oil, spray, ink on canvas

"Chromatic" 9 X 12 oil and spray on canvas

Both of these have hung at the Rotunda at several events.

When first moved to Center City, I was very detached from the people in my neighborhood. I would see them at the grocery store but never at events or shows. My coworkers from the art museum became my only friends, and they were not my neighbors. I was a girl who had never taken the trolley, who hadn’t made it further west past the U Penn animal hospital, and who’d never taken the El past City Hall.

When I met Denice Witkowski (Vitamin D Productions), she invited me to be a part of her festival, Womynsfest at the Rotunda in West Philadelphia. I knew Clarity Haynes, a woman artist who made a powerful impact with her Breast Book, and Vitamin D had collaborated with her on a film. I met Gina Renzi, and I was struck when she said, “It’s amazing that people don’t know that we’re doing these things in West Philadelphia, and that they’re free.” Instantly, I felt at home.

A few of my friends from the Women’s Caucus for Art, Philadelphia Chapter decided to have a table at the two day event at the Rotunda. We would continue to come back at various events including the F-Word issue launch and Zine Fest, and at both events (and many others) I performed my poetry on the Rotunda’s old and new stages. Over the last few years, we hung our artwork on the wooden walls, on the pillars, and once, I even attempted to hang mine from the balconies (though it wasn’t as successful.) The Rotunda always remains a place of which our art group praises, for its ingenuity and openness in art exhibits.

Not even two years later, I would move to West Philadelphia, just a few blocks away from the Rotunda, and my husband and I would come down often to see the free programming and the West Philly artists who had become our friends. We’ve attended everything from experimental music produced by children’s toys, rare films projected high above the stage, minimalist dance, spare drama, performance poetry featuring robotics and puppetry, and art bazaars with crafts both delicate and diverse. How amazing to have a venue so open to personal growth and with a bravery to showcase such rich programming of the fringes and the underground.

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