Philadelphia legacy arts organizations: one up, one down

As November turns to December, and autumn to winter, two of Philadelphia’s legendary legacy arts organizations – Old City’s Painted Bride Arts Center and the Eraserhood’s Vox building – are in radical transition phases, as of this week.

As the art space containing Vox Populi and several other galleries (319 N. 11th St.) reopens its doors December 1 after suffering fire, smoke and water damage form a June 28 blaze at the property, the founded-in-1969 Painted Bride (230 Vine St.) announced the sale of its property, with last performances occurring July 7.

The Bride – with its famed Isiah Zagar mosaic front – is on the market as of today. But, the Bride will continue as a producer of project-based events and programs, they said.

“As we move toward our 50th Anniversary, we began thinking about how to leverage this asset, our building, to position the Bride for the future,” executive director Laurel Raczka said.

This is not the first time P-Bride has gone through radical change. The Bride started in 1969 on South St., moved to Bread St. in 1981, bought the building on Vine in 1982, and opened there before the Old City renaissance of Starr restaurants, the open galleries of First Friday, and the duel rise of the Arden Theater and the FringeArts space.

“For the last 3 years, the Bride’s board has tried to decide what to do with our building,” Raczka said of the dramatic changes in Old City. “Once home to artists and galleries, Old City is now filled with high-end boutiques and million-dollar condos. … Our street has become so predominantly residential, there’s little foot traffic and lack of amenities for our audiences.”

During that three-year-period, the Bride faced the challenges of gaining and maintaining audiences due to a number or internal and external reasons. With that, the Bride’s board considered renovations and relocation, with the latter option forcing them “to face the same challenges of sustaining a facility.”

So they decided to sell. That won’t change the Bride’s mission or goals moving forward as an arts producer and project manager.

“Our goal and focus will be to support artists and the bulk of our resources will go directly to artists,” Raczka said. “What we will do will be dictated by what we perceive to be relevant or pressing as it intersects with our mission.”

They even have two projects set for 2019 they were previously committed to the Vine St. space – Jumatatu Poe’s, “Let ‘im Move You: This Is a Formation,” and Bill Shannon’s, “Touch Update.” With that, the Bride is already moving into the future.

“The Bride has a legacy that includes the greatest artistic voices of our time in jazz, world music, performance art, dance and visual arts,” said Raczka. “I look forward to expanding that in ways that reflect the artistic voices of today.”

As originally reported in Metro Philly, the industrial loft space of Vox Populi and its grouping of galleries, artist studios and arts org office space was felled by a fire in the stairwell of the property. Though the fire department quickly end the blaze without incident or injury, the smoke-and water damage caused Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections closed the building until code violations were corrected.  

With everything fixed and LNI certified, not only can the building welcome back habitués, but audiences as well, come December’s First Friday. Vox Populi, the artist collective on the third floor founded in 1988, will host a December 1 reopening bash as does AUTOMAT Collective, Grizzly Grizly, and Marginal Utility.

Vox Populi member president Julia Staples enthusiastically welcomes audiences to its gallery this Friday and said that its “five-month displacement due to a fire did not dampen the spirits of this 30 year-old experimental art institution,” and that they are ready again to play “a distinct role in shaping the contemporary art community in Philadelphia.” VP’s former executive director James Merle Thomas – who held his position during and after the fire, steering them through the fire-related crisis– also spoke up. “Vox is a terrific organization with a wonderful history….and am pleased that the collective is able to return to a space they hold dearly,” said Thomas, a teacher at Temple University’s Art History department. “I anticipate great thing as Vox enters its thirtieth anniversary.”

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