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Preserving Sacred Spaces

Congregational Town Hall

Preserving Sacred Spaces Through Thoughtful Partnerships

DATE:     Wednesday, March 9, 2016
TIME:      6:30 pm - 8:30 pm (light refreshments served)
WHERE:  Zion Lutheran Church, 400 E. Lexington Street, Baltimore


Sacred spaces within the boundaries of the Baltimore National Heritage Area (see map) are invited to attend this congregational town hall meeting. Facilitated by Partners for Sacred Places, the town hall will be the next step in exploring how Baltimore’s sacred places might benefit from partnering with the arts community, neighborhoods, or small- to medium-sized businesses. The expectation is that each interested sacred space will be matched with a partners that fit within the congregational theology and governing bodies. Sacred spaces clergy and lay staff; members of the visual and performing arts community; and community stakeholders are invited to attend to learn more about preserving Baltimore’s historic sacred spaces.

The town hall is hosted by the Baltimore National Heritage Area, Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance, Preservation Maryland, Baltimore Department of Planning’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods. 

Maryland was founded in the 17th century on the principle of religious tolerance, and there has long been a wide array of denominations represented in Baltimore. Methodism was founded in the city in the mid-to-late 1700s, joining Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists, Quakers, and, later, Unitarians. There was also a small but committed Swedenborgian group. In 1829 the local Jewish community incorporated the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.

Baltimore’s religious institutions are notable for a number of reasons. They have produced many “firsts” in religion and continue today to play a major role in the growth and rebirth of the neighborhoods they serve.

With just a quick glance at the city’s skyline, the breadth of Baltimore’s sacred spaces becomes immediately clear. More than 600 church structures are scattered throughout the city, gracing many of the city’s squares and providing a stately view of spires and towers across Baltimore.

The churches and synagogues are important not only for their contributions to religion and to community efforts, but for their visual presence. Many of these churches contain some of Baltimore’s most important artistic treasures, including Tiffany stained glass; elaborate wood, plaster, and tile ornamentation; and statues by noted artists and skilled craftsmen.

Despite the wealth of history and art, many of our sacred spaces confront diminishing congregations and donations as well as increased maintenance and capital costs. Congregations feel burdened with insurmountable challenges. Sadly some congregations have closed, leaving the buildings at great risk for demolition by neglect.

There are numerous sacred places within the boundary of the Baltimore National Heritage Area.  For more than fifteen years, many sacred place clergy and lay staff have reached out to the heritage area for assistance, especially through our competitive grant programs. Unfortunately, their applications fail to receive funds, as they lack the heritage tourism potential necessary to receive top ranking.

In 2014 the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation awarded funds to Partners for Sacred Places, Inc to execute and create a scalable, replicable model for matching small to mid-size dance and theatre companies with space needs to historic, sacred places that have available space.

The Three City Arts Study builds upon partners’ successful Making Homes for the Arts in Sacred Places (AiSP) program. AiSP was designed to facilitate long-term, mutually beneficial space-sharing relationships between arts organizations— with inadequate or no home—and houses of worship with space to share. AiSP maintains a database of information on arts organizations and sacred places; provides tools such as training, documentation, and budget and legal assistance; and acts as a matchmaker and facilitator for partnerships.

Three regions were identified for this study: Baltimore, Md.; Austin, Tex.; and Detroit, Mich. These cities are very diverse and represent a range of circumstances for the arts organizations in each area, which will ensure the development.

Want to learn more about the study itself? Click here to download the Baltimore report in its entirety.

In 2015, the Baltimore National Heritage Area received a technical assistance grant from the National Park Service Northeast Region’s National Heritage program office to complete the Phase 2 Partners for Sacred Place program model. Phase 2 calls for the heritage area and partner organizations to conduct a town hall meeting with clergy and lay staff from sacred spaces within the Baltimore National Heritage Area’s boundary. 

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