Creating Space: Performing Artists in Sacred Spaces

Cheryl Ikemiya

The arts sector struggles within an environment of scarcity of resources, and yet we know that untapped, unexplored resources exist. We live in an age of a sharing economy, where existing extra rooms, vacation homes, and apartments become the destination for travelers, and car owners provide a vehicle to those in need of transport. This makes so much sense. So the idea of partnering performing arts organizations needing homes for their work with sacred places maintaining underutilized facilities ignited the imagination of the review panel for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Fund for National Projects.

We established this fund to provide initial resources to organizations testing out new ideas that might benefit the national sector of performing arts and in particular the fields of contemporary dance, jazz, and theater. Grants may support a research or planning phase, or the initial pilot and/or implementation of a program. In the case of the “Three-City Study for Partners for Sacred Places,” support was provided to execute the groundwork with artists, arts organizations, and houses of worship in Baltimore, Austin, and Detroit and to explore their mutual interest in partnering. Funders are in a unique position to take risks in testing out new ideas, in this case, could a successful model be scalable in different urban settings with varied populations, local resources, and support networks?

One of our panel’s initial concerns was whether religious organizations might inhibit the artists’ freedom of expression. This has not proven to be the case in the existing partnerships in Partners for Sacred Places’ core cities. The panel fully acknowledged not only the mutual financial benefit but also the opportunity for artists and sacred places to fulfill their individual missions by creating a deeper relationship and relevance to their surrounding communities. Indeed, this “sharing economy” model is thriving and has the potential to scale up on a national level. We are encouraged that other funders see this potential as well.