When pastor Linda Jaymes first came to Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church, in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia, she found it a little quiet. It was 1998, and the church owned half a building full of classrooms that had not been used since the Second World War. The church no longer operated the large-scale Sunday school program for which the classrooms had originally been built, and nobody could think what else to do with the space. Whole floors stood vacant, decade after decade. It wasn’t until 2004 that a visiting artist noticed the unused space and had an idea: what if these classrooms could be transformed into artist studios?
The dream became a reality, and now almost ten years later, the space is abuzz with activity on a daily basis:
The rooms along the sides of the gymnasium and along the upper floor balcony are all artist studios; in the middle, artist Ben Volta works with local middle school students to create a collaborative mural. “What I love about working at Church Studios is that it doesn’t feel so much like ‘renting’ a space — it’s more about the relationships we have with this community. I find that these relationships become an integral part of the art-making process itself,” says Volta.
Rev. Jaymes loves the energy the artists have brought to this space. “When I first came here there was dead silence in this building,” she says. “Now there’s new life coming in. I feel like [the artists are] our young congregation, even though they’re not church members. We’ve had the most wonderful conversations, about spirituality and about everything else.” The studio space in the old Sunday school building is much in demand; there’s now a waiting list for available space.
Churches and artists often find themselves at odds due to a variety of cultural influences, but Rev. Jaymes and the artists in residence at Church Studios don’t think it needs to be that way. Misunderstandings can be transcended, forging mutually respectful and enriching relationships. The sharing of space facilitates connections that might not otherwise happen. It’s a win-win for all concerned; and we think it’s brilliant!
This is the final installment in our series on how churches can revitalize their underused spaces, gaining a new revenue source and forging new relationships in the process. If you missed parts one, two, three, and four, click on over and check them out!