Somber and Celebratory: Reflections on Seven Weeks at the Bride

April 7, 2017

This post is from Nila Devaney, a Bennington College student who spent a seven week Field Work Term at the Bride. Here she shares reflections on her experience with us.

I spent this past Field Work Term in Philadelphia, PA, working with two primary organizations: The Painted Bride Art Center and Vox Populi. Because this was my final FWT, a sense of confidence and an overbearing pressure came hand in hand, and I spent a lot of time and energy trying to gain an understanding of Philadelphia as a potential place to move to after graduating in June.

So much of what was on my mind this past winter was influenced by the political climate and I went into my internships questioning how art can be productive in times of urgency. I felt at a loss with my personal art-making practice and desired to watch people who were wise and practiced do what they do. I felt like I was starting. The primary idea I learned about this FWT––through my jobs and general experience living in Philadelphia––was about the nature of creating beginnings. At the Painted Bride Art Center, they were beginning an initiative called BrideNext. BrideNext is a project headed by Marty Pottenger, Marangeli Mejia-Rabell, and Laurel Raczka and is centered around a mission is to create a collective of people in their twenties and thirties–– the rising generation in Philadelphia. The group is comprised of city workers, artists, activists and educators. At its core, the motivation behind BrideNext is community building, but it also intends to inspire organization, activism and networking between individuals in separate areas of work in Philadelphia. Along with other general intern duties at Painted Bride (including preparing for the large fundraiser event), I helped with planning, organization and setting up meetings for the BrideNext events. I was able to meet individuals in completely separate sectors and spheres of working, and had the opportunity to see the vastly different ways that people choose to impact change.


Nila with Secret Show artist Mr Stine.

Because the Painted Bride is such a well established organization, the community feels very familial, trusting and grounded. I learned a lot about the logistics and mechanics behind the things which appeared “miraculous”––like harmonious moments of community togetherness, and I spent time talking to Laurel (director of Painted Bride as well as my advisor) about the technicalities of getting funding and financial backing for projects. It was fascinating––and frightening––to learn what a challenging balancing act it is to juggle different funders and projects as a non-profit–– especially in a time like this, where all non-profits are being forced to reconsider where their funding comes from. On one of my final days in Philly, I asked Laurel if she was concerned about moving forward, and about how Painted Bride could stay afloat without government funding, and she said she feels grateful that Painted Bride is established enough in Philly that the community support can go along way. However, she also expressed concern about young and uprising organizations and individuals not having the support they need, and she thinks that intergenerational initiatives are especially crucial and vital at this moment.

Lastly, over the course of this FWT with Painted Bride, I witnessed somber crowds as well as celebratory crowds, and it caused me to think a lot about the power of gathering together with communities (communities of your own and also which are unfamiliar). As I enter post-grad life hoping to make art in a politically conscious way, I will continue to question how pride, joy and celebration can share a space with anger and mourning to create a productive togetherness.