As the Painted Bride board chair for the past three years, I am outraged by a recent piece written by Jimmy Clark, a leader in Philly’s art community. He described the Bride’s decision to sell the building as “organizational suicide” and demanded the entire board resign.
The board of the Painted Bride decided to sell the building after carefully considering the limitations of our current business model; the millions of dollars needed to upgrade and repair our facility; the changes in foundation, corporate and government funding for the arts; the seismic changes in how art is created and appreciated; and the evolution of the neighborhood surrounding our Old City building.
The Painted Bride is more than a building.
Our new vision is to bring arts and culture to neighborhoods throughout the city as a means of revitalization and sustainability. Our events should be as accessible to the residents of North Philly or West Oak Lane as those in Old City. This is the Bride’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusivity for both artists and audiences.
We are focused on equity and access. The Bride wants to serve young people who have little or no access to arts education. African American and Hispanic students have less than half the access to arts education as their white peers, recent studies have shown.
The endowment from the sale of the Bride building, supplemented by funders and partnerships, will allow the Bride to not merely survive but to thrive, and not just for the next season or two. We will carry on our institution’s rich legacy and implement a vision that will see the Bride as a new model for arts institutions, taking programming directly to the community.
Some would like our building, which features deteriorating murals by Philly artist Isaiah Zagar, to be designated as a historical landmark. Doing so would impede the Bride’s future and its ability to do significant work by decreasing the sale price of the building and, thus, our endowment.
What’s more important here? The building, or the work that the Bride has done for decades, that it has done at its previous homes on South Street and Bread Street?
We understand the legacy of this building, but there are alternative methods of preservation including photogrammetry, narrated video photography, and other digital methods used by museums and notable artists. These digital methods would expand the artist’s reach to millions, not just to the few on Vine Street, and ensure long-term preservation.
The Bride wants to leverage the power of arts and culture to strengthen Philadelphia. We believe the Bride can have an even bigger role in transforming the lives of city residents in the future than it has in the past. And you don’t need a building to do that.
I implore those who truly believe in the work of the Bride to support this bold vision, offer their resources, and cease these distractions.
In the best of all possible worlds, it wouldn’t have to be one or the other: the building or the mission. But with reduced funding, we need to be smart about how we use our resources. We want our money spent on supporting art and artists, not on paying for a high-maintenance building on a street where there’s no foot traffic or parking. We want to deliver programming to underserved communities across the city.
Let us pursue this goal unfettered by over-the-top criticism and a historic designation.
Joan Sloan is chair of the board of the Painted Bride.