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Sacred (and Substantial) Space for Performing Arts

"Our work in these three wonderfully different cities—Austin, Baltimore, and Detroit—made it abundantly clear that artists have a dire need for spaces in which to create and work, and sacred places offer the potential to help fill this void in an exciting and dynamic way." Karen DiLossi - Director, Arts in Sacred Places

Partners for Sacred Places has released Creating Spaces: Performing Artists in Sacred Spaces (Austin, Baltimore, Detroit), a new report exploring the potential for performing arts groups to partner with local churches, synagogues, and other religious centers for space.


"In my fifteen-plus years of professional theater experience, I have witnessed the deafening clamor for space. I constantly hear horror stories, such as the dancer who wanted to produce an intergenerational dance, but the only space she had access to had a concrete floor with little heat and no bathroom," writes Director of Arts in Sacred Places (a program of Partners for Sacred Places), Karen DiLossi. “[At the same time] the spaces in many historic sacred places are simply too enormous. Spaces once filled with families, activities, and programming are now empty, and the congregations continue to dwindle.”

Connecting artists and sacred spaces

Recognizing this confluence of needs, Partners for Sacred Places has been working for over a decade to connect these groups. In a pilot study based in Philadelphia and Chicago they facilitated long-term, mutually beneficial space-sharing relationships between arts organizations lacking adequate space and houses of worship with room to spare. The program was a wild success, with models like Neighborhood House - a thriving arts incubator in Philadelphia's Christ Church – demonstrating the strength of such alliances.

Partners for Sacred Places is now investigating how these partnerships might operate across distinct contexts and if this model could be achieved on a broad scale. The new study focused on Austin, Baltimore, and Detroit, looking at the needs of artists and clergy in each city and how their goals might align, as well as where conflicts might arise. With hundreds of artist interviews and intensive assessments of six sacred sites, the report found:

  • Over 130,000 square feet of unused space documented in just 18 assessed sites.
  • Historic architecture and community ties that artists perceived as beneficial – both in their ability to increase connection to audience and collaborators, and to anchor artists to the sacred space.
  • Lay and clergy leaders viewed inviting the arts into their facilities as opportunities to fill their under-utilized spaces with community-focused activity, connect with diverse groups, and realize their purpose to serve.
  • Artists expressed fears about censorship; lay and clergy leaders expressed few concerns about artistic content.

Partners for Sacred Places knows that partnerships will vary from city to city, depending on economic and cultural contexts, as well as the artists who inhabit each city. Challenges might arise from negotiating the shared burden of caring for or rehabbing aging buildings, especially in cities like Detroit where abandoned properties are in abundance, but funding is sparse. In spite of the challenges, the potential for thoughtful partnerships exist. Plans are underway to bring the program to San Francisco, Chicago, and New Jersey.

How you can connect

Looking to facilitate partnerships nationally beyond the bounds of these studies, Partners for Sacred Places has set up the iSPi website. The site collects information from sacred spaces as well as performing arts groups looking for a compatible partnership and then facilitates matches when the needs of both (square footage, mission and vision) align.  You can register to be matched at:

Read the full study at: