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Painted Bride is selling its building and will focus totally on projects

The Painted Bride is selling its building at 230 Vine St., covered with Isaiah Zagar's distinctive mosaics. The organization will now focus entirely on developing and presenting arts projects.

Exterior of Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia.
Exterior of Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia.Read moreSharon Gekoski-Kimmel / Staff Photographer

The Painted Bride Art Center, the granddaddy of all alternative arts spaces in the city, has decided to sell its landmark Old City building and become a completely project-based organization.

"We are going to switch from being building-based to being project-based," executive director Laurel Raczka said Monday.

The last performance at the Vine Street venue will be July 7. The building, which is sheathed by the elaborate, mirrored mosaic work of Isaiah Zagar, will go on the market immediately, she said.

The organization is not having any particularly stressful financial problems at this time, Raczka said. Rather, the decision to free itself from the building is driven by a desire to serve the city's younger artists and audiences in a way that makes sense.

"In 1982, this was the only art space, and now there are so many," Raczka said. "Now, in 2017, the world is changing."

The Bride's operating budget has fluctuated from around $800,000 to $1 million, with fully 25 percent of that going to service the building — the lights, the plumbing, the mosaic repointing. Selling the building into a rising real estate market will not only bring an infusion of cash that can be used to fund projects, it also means funding needs are reduced by 25 percent, she said.

"I feel its a really positive thing," Raczka said, noting that discussions about a change had been bubbling under the surface for the last two or three years. The first focus was on moving, but there was a growing realization that the organization was about the art and the artists, "not about the place."

She emphasized that the organization will focus on artist-led projects and will work to develop them in venues throughout the city and in public spaces.

Performance artists like Karen Finley and Spalding Gray cut their Philadelphia teeth at the Bride, as it is commonly known, and artists from the outsider worlds of dance, music, and theater have found a comfy home there. It was founded in 1969 and operated out of an old bridal shop on South Street until its building was sold in 1981.

At that point, the Bride became an early arts pioneer in Old City, acquiring its building at 230 Vine St. for $300,000 in 1982. At the time, the slumbering city arts scene was showing signs of awakening, and new galleries were beginning to open in Old City. The Bride served as a community anchor — for the neighborhood and for the city's younger artists.

But that was then. Old City now has a thriving gallery scene, although it is showing signs of stress. Two major theater operations are humming along nearby — the Arden Theatre and FringeArts.

Raczka said the absence of a building would open the Bride up to exploring new ways to present the arts.

She cited two recent examples along those lines: the sprawling Philadelphia Assembled project that involved hundreds of artists and community groups, and that took place across the city; and the Monument Lab, a multifaceted effort in which public monuments were created all around Philadelphia.

Raczka said discussions are already underway about how to proceed. An advisory panel of artists and supporters is being assembled and will discuss future possibilities with the Bride.