The Divine Lorraine... or Museum of Contemporary Art?
by Marc Londo
Caryn Kunkle speaks on her vision for the Philadelphia landmark.
Philadelphia art director Caryn Kunkle has big ideas for one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city, the Divine Lorraine. In Kunkle’s view, the Divine Lorraine– located on Broad Street and well known to many locals because of the colorful graffiti covering its walls– would be better served as a place where graffiti artists could one day hone their techniques in a larger contemporary art scene. Kunkle is spearheading a movement to have the city take control of the property though eminent domain, and to use the building as the new Philadelphia Interactive Museum of Contemporary Art (PIMOCA). Kunkle dreams of the Divine Lorraine as a place where regional, national, and international art exhibitions could be housed, while providing an interactive space for area high school arts programs and other local art activities.
To raise awareness for the project, she started a petition through change.org that outlines her strategy. And that’s not all. She recently engaged community leaders in a roundtable dinner discussion, and had another meeting with former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, to discuss her plan. According to Kunkle, renovating the structure for condominiums or retail use isn’t plausible in today’s economic environment. Her PIMOCA strategy involves a similar model to the Eastern State Penitentiary— keeping the historical elements of the building intact, while funding its repair and maintenance through a combination of philanthropy and investment.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Caryn Kunkle a few questions about her visions for the Divine Lorraine. In the process, I gained a greater understanding of her love for Philadelphia, and her view of the Divine Lorraine as part of that identity.
ML: What ignited your interest in the Divine Lorraine?
CK: The Divine Lorraine is the only property that I know of in a downtown area of this size anywhere on the East Coast; which means it has the potential for good, or it may even cause harm, to the public. The current titleholder has owned this same property before, and proved previously that he doesn't plan on doing much with it besides talking about it.
Why the DL hasn't "popped off" used to mystify me. It literally sits on top of a Broad Street subway entrance. You can walk six blocks to City Hall or a few more and be at the Art Museum. Did I mention there are four acres attached to the building?
Philly has the biggest network of parks of any city in America. I used to wonder, “How has no one capitalized on this opportunity to get our resources together and use this awesome site for something that vibes with our national reputation and ISN’T connected with violence?” Every single person in Philadelphia, when asked if they know of the Divine Lorraine, says "OH! I love that building!"
ML: Why an artist community?
CK: We need a contemporary arts "stadium" that allows all of our arts resources to interact and grow while enabling them to be sustainable. However, this is not a small idea. Big ideas need big space.
ML: What impact do you foresee this project having on the surrounding communities in North Philadelphia?
CK: PIMOCA will create jobs, boost inter-disciplinary education, ignite international tourism, rescue the Divine Lorraine, and unite a fractured community! Most importantly it will impact the way children of the future have access to the arts, which are so threatened in our public schools today. Music, drama, culinary arts, and visual art should not suffer in our grade schools while colleges expand programs.
ML: How long have you been working on this project?
CK: I have been interested in the Divine Lorraine for many years. I kept thinking [that] amazing concepts could be put there that would really unite the city.
ML: What drives you to take on such a big task?
CK: I was a volunteer firefighter for several years in Abington Township. I joined when I was 15. I also worked construction with some of the guys in my firehouse to pay for college. I am a 31-year-old young lady now. My mother would KILL ME herself if I told her I was a firefighter in this district, and I am no stranger to adventure. I live across the street from the Divine Lorraine and my heart stops every time I hear or see sirens or lights pulling up to the Divine Lorraine.
The Divine Lorraine deserves much needed attention. Let’s encourage lawmakers to enable the community to step in and utilize a property that individual developers have let become a hazard and a blight.
To sign the petition to save the Divine Lorraine through Eminent Domain, click here.