Arts & Entertainment: Laurel Raczka Brings Community, Artists And Scholars Together
Laurel Raczka is the executive director of the Painted Bride Art Center in Old City. The Painted Bride Art Center, founded in 1969, is an art venue that caters to artists of varying disciplines that works with independent artists to bring arts to the community. Although leadership of the Painted Bride has changed through the years, its mission has always stayed the same: bring together artists, audiences and communities to push the boundaries of how art is created and experienced. Raczka hopes to cary on that legacy.
Can you give us a little background about where you work and what you do?
The Painted Bride has been around for 48 years. We present visual arts, dance, theater and every art form. We do a lot of educational programs and outreach, and we make connections with different communities in Philadelphia.
How would you describe your role at Painted Bride?
I guess I would call myself the facilitator. I do a combination of artistic and administrative leadership. I work with a team of people, and we interact a lot with artists to develop some new projects. I’m responsible for the strategic vision of the organization. I kind of do everything, but nothing at the same time.
Did you always know that you wanted to work in visual arts in some capacity?
I grew up in a very creative home and not necessarily the arts, but creativity was key. I didn’t know about places like the Bride, but when I got here I was like, “Wow, I found my home.” I felt at home right away. There were all types of people working here as a team, collaborating. I just knew that this was where I wanted to be.
Have you worked on, or are currently working on any projects that you are particularly proud of or excited for?
We just finished working on this project called re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia. It was almost a two year project, and we worked with three artists and members of the community to create this collection of stories, and what we call field notes, from the people who live in Philadelphia. It’s a very complicated project.
For me, I wanted to do a project with the community but also with community artists and scholars, all working on the same level. We wanted to have this project bring people up together. So I am really interested in pursuing projects about those three things: community, artists and scholarly thinking. I feel really strongly that we have to step out of our own conversations and expand our conversations by bringing other people from other sectors to the table. And I think that the artist is a key tool for that, and that is how new solutions and real change is going to happen.
How have you changed from when you started as executive director?
I guess I feel like I’ve grown up. I have an understanding of what I bring to the picture. When I was younger I got more annoyed with other people, like it was their fault. But now I understand my place and how I impact everything around me. It’s a big lesson in life.
What is the best part of working here, apart from the satisfaction of working with artists and helping their visions come to life?
I think what’s really wonderful is the opportunity to work with so many different kinds of people from artists, to funders, to the audience, to kids. Just having the opportunity to interact over life with that range of human beings is very unique and special to me.
-Text and photos by Brian Tom and Sequoia Hall.