Many sacred places have under-utilized space, volunteers and resources. Meanwhile, artists, community groups and nonprofits are struggling to find adequate and affordable space in which to work. Together, these challenges present an opportunity to match those in need of space with those with space to spare, and in the process, create partnerships that serve communities with space sharing:

  • Performing arts
  • Food
  • Tai-chi
  • Fitness program
  • Choral group area
  • Healthy cooking class
  • Children and families
  • The recovery community
  • People who are in need
  • Environment
  • Immigrant groups
  • School advocacy
  • Education
  • Wellness
  • Community engagement
  • Academic support

A Robert Jaeger, President, Partners for Sacred Places

Partners for Sacred Places has been around now for 25 years and we were founded as really the only and the first national nonprofit to really focus on making the most of older sacred places as resources and assets for the larger community.

Space SharingWhat’s really exciting about iSPi is, it’s the first program in the nation to really allow us to get out and gather data on all the available space that sacred places have to offer in any given community. With this tool, we can really get out there and talk to arts groups and other nonprofits and learn more about their space needs and their values and their goals, and that can provide the basis for a much more space-matching, and much more impact on the community.

Gianfraco Grande, Executive Vice President, Partners for Sacred Places

Our knowledge of congregation and in their life and their systems and their complexity is pretty unique. We are very well positioned to have a program that answers to their needs. And personal goal for me, the dream scenario is to have every congregation maximize their space and see that they can get revenue, but they also can have the building full of people. There is a great benefit in having these two groups that in many cases they never met before starting finally working together.

Cate Fox, The Macarthur Foundation

There’s a real art and science to partnership. There are very practical concerns. “Do you have the kind of space that I need?” But then there’s the art of the partnership. How to match the vision, the values of the organizations in a way that’s complimentary and builds on the relationship.

Erik Christensen, Pastor St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square

One of the things I noticed when I got to St Luke’s was that just out of necessity, they had been renting the space to whoever needed space in an effort to try and keep the income coming in that would keep the doors open.

We decided on the basis of some asset mapping, and looking at what our own particular unique gifts were in this neighborhood, that we were going to focus on community health and community arts. We don’t necessarily have either the right set of connections to know where those working artists are, or the right set of tools to help craft really smart agreements between ourselves as a church and the artists who come work with us.

So for example, you know, our current artists in residence, Theatre Y came to us directly through a relationship with Partners for Sacred Places.

Melissa Lorraine, Artistic Director, Theatre Y

I had actually secretly wanted a church for my theater for years and I sat down with Pastor Eric for our first conversation just to talk about what my goals were in the community, what my goals were inside of my art form and what I wanted to do in this room.

And it was very apparent from the beginning that he and I shared the same objectives for the community. Every day I meet somebody else in the community who knows about St Luke’s and what they’re doing here and is thrilled to find out that there’s also a theater company in the back and there is a magnet now between our two efforts, drawing people into the same building for a myriad of reasons, covering all sorts of needs that the community has.

Eric Christensen

Mission-based space sharing has a really positive impact on the congregation because it helps them see the activity that takes place in the building throughout the week and not just when we gather for worship as connected to their own identity.

Cate Fox

I think the pairing of arts organizations with houses of worship is a really interesting and frankly a very old idea, but one that has not necessarily gotten a lot of attention. I think that there is a real national model here for other organizations to look at and to see, again, a comprehensive way of making a partnership.

Julie Burros, Director of Cultural Planning, Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs

So, there’s a tremendous need to empower communities to drive the cultural life of their neighborhood. From my perspective, bringing in new partners, new uses, new users, new constituents and stakeholders in the mix really will help strengthen this part of the fabric of communities.

Barbara A. Wilson, African Methodist Episcopal Church

iSPi helps to change the way congregations share space, or even consider sharing space, by helping us to understand that we don’t exist for ourselves only. Our view is that we did not want the space simply to be empty. We didn’t want to fill the space with programs that disconnected from the community. iSPi will help give us structure, a format, a vehicle for congregations to see how we can do that, on a practical level.

Julie Burros

I think it’ll help elevate awareness of the role that congregations play in your communities as not only places where people worship, but their multifaceted role in the fabric of a community. I really see this website and what Partners is doing is part of implementing actually that priority in the cultural plan, to help people gain those tools that they need to build their capacity and to feel empowered. “Oh, we can actually build a cultural life in our neighborhood and our community and we can do it ourselves.”

Joel Bookman, National Board Member

It is so important, as communities try to regenerate themselves in urban neighborhoods, that the anchor institutions quite frequently are the religious institutions, large facilities, which are a moral force as well as a physical force in these communities. A force for good. These religious institutions have space available that they can make use of and those local organizations have a need for affordable space that can serve the needs of these communities. So there’s a very natural link between these organizations.

iSPi is a fascinating project because it really marries the work of community development practitioners with the importance of religious institutions. And it is the creation of an online data hub that really connects information from both of these types of organizations so that something greater comes about. There has been a tremendous effort to create a tool that can be used not only in Chicago, but eventually across the nation, which will link these organizations, making better use of religious facilities, as well as providing space for artists, entrepreneurs, and social service agencies that they wouldn’t otherwise have. And it’s a wonderful thing.