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What is iSPi?

The iSPi website is a tool to facilitate matches between sacred places and community partners so that they can share space, resources, and volunteers. These matches are based not only on a compatibility of space needs and square footage, but are also rooted in a marriage of mission and vision.

iSPi helps expand the scale and scope of Partners’ successful space sharing programs by providing an online hub for artists, arts organizations, food justice groups, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, schools, social service agencies, startups, and grass roots organizations looking to leverage underutilized space and other assets at houses of worship. The website provides an important portal where sacred places can connect with individuals and organizations in their communities.

iSPi is …

  • a gateway through which new stakeholders can engage with houses of worship. Sharing space is just the beginning. As sacred places open their doors to community partners, these organizations share their passion, imagination, and creativity with congregations, helping to breathe new life into neighborhoods.
  • a catalyst for change in communities. iSPi will expand access to and audiences for the arts; promote public health, nutrition, food access and food justice; and advance public safety and civil society. It will foster more interconnected and vibrant neighborhoods and promote sustainable community and economic development.
  • a resource, not only for Partners for Sacred Places and our constituents, but for our peer preservation organizations, community foundations, denominational leadership, municipal governments, universities and other researchers. The website will provide a pipeline of data about the role that sacred places play in the lives of their neighbors and neighborhoods.
  • an experiment in activating and animating underutilized space. iSPi is a tool for curating community partnerships. It got its start in Chicago, helping connect artists and sacred places, but has potential for replication across the country – in cities, towns, and rural areas.

How Does iSPi Work?

iSPi works like an online dating service. Individuals or organizations interested in working with a sacred place complete a profile outlining their

  • Space Needs: including square footage, ceiling height, floor type, heating/cooling, internet/cell service, building condition, etc.
  • Equipment Needs: Lighting, furniture, amenities (shower, kitchen, restrooms, etc.), instruments, audio and visual equipment, etc.
  • Accessibility Requirements: Parking, proximity to public transportation, handicapped accessibility, exclusive and shared use policies
  • Mission & Work Style: vision and values, strategic priorities, desired outcomes, and impact of programs and ministries
  • Institutional Capacity: operations, finance, staffing, leadership structure, membership, and attendance
  • Community Engagement: experience with and interest in working with local stakeholders
  • Heritage: background information, connections to significant events and prominent individuals in local history

Sacred places will complete a similar profile, along with an inventory of their underutilized space. After comparing these profiles, potential matches will be introduced to each other to see if they hit it off and to explore the potential of partnering with each other.

What are the benefits of using iSPi?

With so many websites offering inventories of available space, why use iSPi? Because it’s a resource that not only finds you space, but finds you an organization with whom you are compatible.

Based on Partners for Sacred Places’ experience facilitating space-sharing relationships, there are several benefits to the iSPi approach:

  • Longer Relationships – Completing an iSPi profile and finding your space-sharing match may take more time than perusing online space listings, but in the long term, the time you invest in finding your match will save you time. When you find a sacred place that you can trust and build a relationship with, you will not constantly be searching for new space. The benefit of iSPi and relationship-based space sharing is that it will help you find a home.
  • Better Relationships – When you take the time to find a space-sharing partner with a compatible work style, you have opened the lines of communication. When and if issues emerge, you have already laid the groundwork for an open and honest working relationship.
  • Substantive Relationships – It may be faster and easier to find space at a local vacant warehouse, but will that warehouse be a hub for peer organizations doing work that complements your own? Finding a space-sharing partner through iSPi means that you will land in a sacred place where other space users and the congregation itself are aligned with your mission or share the same vision and long-term goals.

Who Does iSPi Help?

Partners for Sacred Places operates at the intersection of heritage, faith, and community. iSPi, like all of Partners’ programs, trainings, consulting services, research, and resources, helps not only congregations, but their neighbors and neighborhoods. As Partners plans for iSPi’s launch and growth, it has already fielded interest in the project from a wide variety of stakeholders, including:

Sacred Places

Individual congregations have expressed interest, as have denominational bodies. Partners is exploring opportunities to weave iSPi into the infrastructure of several judicatory offices. iSPi profiles would become a mandatory part of the life of congregations, creating important pipelines of updated data from sacred places that open to and interested in sharing their space

Artists

Partners first space-sharing program, Making Homes for the Arts in Sacred Places, has been well received by artists across the country and across artistic media – from dancers to directors, painters to puppeteers. We have reached out to individual artists and arts organizations, as well as local, regional, and national arts service organizations to get their constituencies interested and invested in iSPi. The diversity of their space needs – office, audition, rehearsal, performance, exhibition, studio – is a match for the rich diversity of spaces available in historic houses of worship.

Nonprofits

As Partners’ space-sharing programs diversify and reach into areas of public health, nutrition, food access, food justice, public safety, peace, and civil society, a new pipeline of organizations – and umbrella groups representing these organizations – have expressed interest in iSPi.

Municipal Governments

Partners has a history of working closely with city governments to identify opportunities for them to partner directly and indirectly with sacred places. iSPi has already proven to be a useful resource in this effort. In Evanston, IL, and Chicago, where iSPi will launch, Partners is in contact with city officials in the departments of cultural affairs, community arts, economic development, public safety, buildings, and public engagement about how iSPi can support their work.

Universities & Research Institutions

Academics and other researchers interested in community development, preservation, culture, and the arts have all expressed interest in how iSPi can serve as a tool for research about the role of sacred places in their communities. This research will be critical to uncovering the activities that often happen under the radar there, identifying new ways to leverage it and evaluate it.

Why Share Space in a Sacred Place?

Why sacred places?

In the wake of the economic recession, communities across the country are witnessing drastic changes to their built environment. Vacant land, foreclosed homes, and shuttered schools impact the way we see our neighbors and our neighborhoods. As older buildings are demolished and new ones built, there is often one constant in the visual landscape: historic houses of worship.

Sacred places bear witness to the changes in their communities; local history is often written in, on, and around their walls. Synagogues built by Eastern European immigrants became Missionary Baptist churches after the Great Migration. Lutheran churches built by Norwegians have become Pentecostal congregations for Latino immigrants. More recently, some churches that have fallen into disuse are being purchased and converted into mosques. Today, many shrinking churches share their worship space with those of other faiths.

Historic houses of worship may change hands over decades and centuries, but their presence is a constant. Sacred places are important local landmarks and centers for civil society. With the right support, they can play a unique, critical, and catalytic role in the future of their communities. Partners is the only nonprofit, nonsectarian organization in the country that clearly understands the needs of both congregations and their communities, and has the ability to broker effective, lasting relationships.

Partners’ experience and research with thousands of congregations across the nation has shown that many are overwhelmed with the burden of caring for surplus space in their older and historic properties. As membership at houses of worship decreases, faith leaders struggle to find new ways to fill their buildings and fund repairs. These magnificent spaces are underutilized. Many congregations – committed to their cities and deeply engaged with the communities they serve – continue to occupy their historic buildings, but are so small that they no longer worship in their sanctuaries. Moreover, their fellowship hall, kitchens, Sunday School wings, and other ancillary spaces are underused or vacant Monday through Saturday.

Decades of research by Partners for Sacred Places, Ram Cnaan at the University of Pennsylvania, and Robert Putnam at Harvard University have demonstrated the varied and vital roles that houses of worship play in their neighborhoods. Congregations are providers of social services, repositories of social capital, magnets for spending, venues for the arts, incubators of small businesses, employers of local residents, and purchasers of local goods and services. They are engines of community and economic development.

The Halo Effect, Partners’ latest research conducted in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, indicates that the average annual economic contribution of a historic house of worship is more than $1 million.

As awareness of the value of sacred places grows and the threat of sacred place closures looms, iSPi is a critical resource for leveraging an underutilized asset that exists in many communities.

Why space sharing?

Sharing Economy: an economic model based on sharing underutilized assets – from spaces to skills to resources – for monetary or non-monetary benefits.”
- from Collaborative Consumption

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is at the center of a large and growing movement that considers local assets as the primary building blocks of sustainable community development. Building on the skills of local residents, the power of local associations, and the supportive functions of local institutions, asset-based community development draws upon existing community strengths to build stronger, more sustainable communities for the future.”
- from the Asset Based Community Development Institute

iSPi will function at the intersection of ABCD and the sharing economy – the intersection of the grass-roots model of community development and the latest trends in technology and innovation.

For decades, Partners for Sacred Places has trained congregations to see their underutilized space not as a burden, but as an asset. iSPi will be a critical resource to sacred places and their potential partners as they leverage this asset.

How Can I Get Started?

You can get started today! iSPi launched publicly on November 12, 2014, so if you are a sacred place with space to share or if you are looking for space, get started on your profile by going to the iSPi site.

Need some help getting started?

  • If you have questions about completing your profile, let us know! Send us an email at iSPi@sacredplaces.org or call us at 215.567.3234.
  • If you are denominational staff, an arts service organization or umbrella organization, or a city government interested in how you can do this on a larger scale, let’s talk! Please contact Karen dilossi at kdilossi@sacredplaces.org  

Click HERE to access the iSPi website

For more information, contact Karen DiLossi, Director of Arts in Sacred Places, at kdilossi@sacredplaces.org