Opponents of the proposed sale of the Painted Bride Art Center in Old City, a landmark venue known for its performances inside and mosaic facade by Magic Gardens artist Isaiah Zagar outside, are seeking the removal and replacement of the Bride’s entire board of directors, responsible for the looming deal.
In a petition filed with Orphans’ Court on Tuesday, the group argues that “the current Bride board has failed in its responsibilities to its mission and the public interest” and therefore should be removed by the court.
In its place, opponents seek an “interim board,” which would be “dedicated to revitalizing the Painted Bride and continuing the Bride’s long-established mission of supporting its iconic artist-centered, nonprofit performance space and art gallery.”
Laurel Raczka, the Bride’s executive director, said she had not seen the petition and could not comment.
Amid considerable opposition, the Bride announced in the spring that it had sold its iconic building at 230 Vine St. in Old City and would embark on a future without a building or performance space, as a kind of incubator and facilitator for arts projects all over the city.
Opponents have argued that the sale repudiates the Bride’s history as the city’s oldest alternative arts space and might result in the destruction of the Zagar murals.
The Bride has operated in its current location since 1982, a period that has seen Old City flourish and evolve as an art and design district. The Philadelphia Historical Commission rejected the recommendation of its own historic designation committee and refused to certify the building as a local historical landmark in September 2018.
In May, the Bride reported that it had accepted a $4.8 million bid from a group of developers, including Groom Investments — a subsidiary of the private equity investment group Maxim Capital — and Atrium Design Group. Atrium’s Shimi Zaken has now filed plans with the city that would replace the Bride with condos and parking.
The Bride subsequently petitioned Orphans’ Court, which has authority over charitable organizations and nonprofits, to bless the deal. The hearing on that petition is now scheduled for Tuesday.
Jim Moss, who is acting as counsel for Zagar at the hearing, said Wednesday that if the court decides against the current sale, another bid from the Lantern Theater Company for $2.6 million remains on the table and would ensure the continuance of the building as an arts venue.
Moss conceded that acceptance of Lantern’s bid would leave roughly $2 million on the table, but dubbed Lantern’s offer impressive nonetheless as it includes “keeping the building, keeping [the Zagar] artwork.”
Robert Drake, attorney for the coalition of opponents to the sale, said that the proposed interim board would have four past presidents of the Bride. Also in the lineup are Philadanco’s Joan Myers Brown, Brandywine Workshop’s Allan Edmunds, Faye Anderson of All That Philly Jazz, and a number of other figures in the area’s art world.
Drake said that the purpose of the petition was to save the building and the mosaics, which he said were integral to the Bride’s function as a performing arts organization.
“But the biggest point is the belief that the Painted Bride has foundered,” he said. “The Painted Bride has essentially sort of given up.”