So let’s say you’re a talented artist looking for a venue with a built-in crowd to perform before or exhibit your work? What’s this? You want to live in a space rent-free while you prepare for and host the show? Hold the phone, there’s a bar and food too?

Wolf Building

If Cornell-, Penn-, and Wharton- trained architect and real estate developer Gary Reuben’s vision becomes a reality, his Underground Arts (UA) space in the basement of the Wolf Building, located at 12th and Callowhill Sts., will be just that space. And it will hum every night. It will also be the second venue to recently appear on the scene in the Callowhill neighborhood, with the opening of Union Transfer last month.

Entrance on Callowhill St.

Reuben envisions the 12K sqft space as a vibrant incubator, offering new forms, ideas, and artists to Philly audiences. Reuben expects nightly performances from various disciplines, including theater, performance art, music, comedy, poetry, dance, and more. In addition, he intends to host painters, sculptors, photographers, videographers, and other visual artists concurrent with performances, in order to offer a more fully realized arts experience.

And while artists prepare for a show at the space, they can live rent-free. This way, all of the door money goes straight to their pockets. “It’s really a way to give artists a place to make a living,” Reuben said.

In addition to bringing quality artists to the city and quickening the pulse of a somewhat sluggish neighborhood, Rueben will also bring food and adult beverages to the table. The concept is still a work in progress, with the menu still under discussion and the liquor license application only recently approved, but this additional dimension to an already cool offering elevates it to another level.

Coming soon

John Struble, a founding member of the Callowhill Neighborhood Association, had only good things to say about Mr. Reuben, saying “He’s been a very active and positive member of the community for a long-time.”

Struble said he and others worked with city council members last year to create the City of Philadelphia Special Assembly Occupancy License. An agreement was forged between the city and state where, if a venue cannot handle certain problems through its community associations, L&I takes over the issue instead of the state. At present, the license applies to the Union Transfer Community Benefits Agreement. Now, difficulties that might surface from entertainment venues like Underground Arts or Union Transfer can be handled locally instead of in Harrisburg.

“I think it’s a very sensible way of doing it,” Struble said. “[…] I think it’s a very interesting thing for the neighborhood,” Struble said about the venue. “We hope he has great success in his endeavor.”


–Lou Mancinelli