Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Laurel Raczka

A Continuingly Evolving Kaleidoscope
by Laurel Raczka, 1 Feb 2010

Having taken on the position of Executive Director June 1, 1999, Laurel provides both artistic vision and managerial leadership for the Bride. Formerly the Program Director of the Bride, she has worked at the Bride since 1992. Trained as a visual artist, Laurel received her MFA from Rutgers University.


The Painted Bride Art Center is currently located in Old City, wrapped in a glistening mosaic and housing an intimate theater and bi-level gallery. The Bride is celebrating 40 years at the intersection between culture and creativity. It is an amazing Philadelphia story of an organization driven and run by artists and their creative visions that grew organically to become today an internationally recognized art center.

Laurel Raczka | Executive Director of Painted Bride Art Center

The story starts in Philadelphia, 1969. Perhaps you have heard the tale of seven painters graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts who just wanted a place to show their paintings. They each kicked in $10 and rented an old Bridal Shop on South Street. At the time there were few opportunities for artists to exhibit and perform, and very soon poets, dancers and musicians all came to participate and to build the Bride.

On a national level, the Bride was part of a larger context, now known as the Alternative Art Space movement, which grew in the early 1970s, in cities throughout the country. This movement was a response to changing demographics and a heightened awareness of social issues. It sought to establish organizations in which artists had greater control over the presentation of their work and were able to present the work of those who were underrepresented in commercial or larger established institutions, such as women, people of color, gay and lesbian artists, and the disabled.

Laurel Raczka | Executive Director of Painted Bride Art Center

Over the past 40 years, the Bride has continued to evolve into an innovative, internationally recognized, artist-centered, multi-disciplinary institution that remains committed to inclusion and the presentation of varying points of view. Defining the Bride is often tricky, as the Bride is complex, including multiple art forms, work that addresses social and political concepts, speaks to different cultures, commissioning, presenting, collaborating, community all define parts of the Bride. My dear friend and one of the Bride's conceptual architects, Gil Ott once defined it as "a continually evolving kaleidoscope of actions, all taken with the most positive of motivations - passion, concern, the need to articulate – in the name of art, community, and other high ideals."

I think it is best defined by the artists. The Bride is a home for artists, it belongs to artists and it was created by artists. It is the one thing that has remained constant since 1969. The Bride has evolved over the past 40 years, being responsive to different artistic visions and changes in our world. Often people think of the Bride at that moment in their lives when they spent time at the Bride whether on South Street, Bread Street or Vine Street but over the years the work we present has evolved to be more reflective of the times and the world around us.

Laurel Raczka | Executive Director of Painted Bride Art Center

And today it is a certain kind of artist that finds their home at the Bride. They are artists who are committed to artistic excellence, who work with great integrity challenging themselves and developing their work. I often describe them as artists that are very present, who have a deeper understanding of what impact their artistic work can have on communities, on people's lives. This is a rare balance, a balance of artistic integrity and at the same time commitment to making this world a better place. And it this combination that truly makes the Bride experience special.

We need help, we are looking for creative individuals to join our board of directors and help us create a new plan to sustain us into the future. The story would be an opportunity to tell the story as well as help us find new talent to contribute to our endeavors.

Print Article Brought to you by: Laurel Raczka | Executive Director of Painted Bride Art Center

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