Fine Arts Center: Brings Hope to a Broken Community

July 2, 2018 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

Stepping out of the cold and into the warm light of the Intersect Arts Center (IAC) grand opening is a very unique experience. Less than a year ago, this three-story building–the former Concordia Seminary St. Louis at the corner of South Jefferson and Texas Avenue–was empty and falling apart.

Tonight, the 4,000 square foot gallery is loaded with people milling around with drinks in their hands, passing from one painting or portrait to the next. The crowd is a mix of young and old, men and women, professionals, artists and students. Over 1,100 people will pass through the gallery before the night ends, most of whom would never set foot in a church. This is exactly what makes IAC one of a kind.

Sarah Bernhardt, founder and executive director of IAC, admits that ministry happens in between the spaces. “Opening night is a great microcosm of what we are trying to do,” Bernhardt said, “where lives intersect, and we reach a rather broad and diverse population.” From day one, LCEF has shared Bernhardt’s vision as a ministry partner, beginning with a congregation loan to cover the renovation of the building.

Right: Sarah Bernhardt, art center founder and director, speaks during the grand opening ceremony.


The Unique Story

One day while working in an empty room at Holy Cross Lutheran Church that served as a studio, Sarah Bernhardt heard glass break. She looked out the window to see two boys throwing rocks at the church. Bernhardt invited the boys inside to do crafts. They eagerly agreed and joined her.

Several hours later, it was time for them to leave. Before they left, Bernhardt invited the boys to take their crafts home, but with one condition: They help pick up the broken glass. They agreed. Fast forward a few years, and that simple exercise has blossomed into the IAC and the myriad opportunities that come with it.

The Unique Purpose

To Bernhardt, IAC is a basic way of breaking down the barriers that have built over the last 40 and 50 years, particularly with artists. “When would you interact with them otherwise?” she asks. And these artists are showing plenty of interest in IAC.

Above the gallery, you’ll find dance and music recording studios; shops for stained glass, woodworking, ceramics, printmaking, papermaking; and a commercial kitchen. The third floor houses 25 working artists’ studios–all rented out. The wait list is up to 15 people.

Outside reactions to IAC range from “Wow, the Church is doing this?” to “The Church cares about the community?” to “Lutherans are behind this?”

“This is a place where we are just going to love you,” said Bob Bernhardt, Sarah’s husband. “We are going to be real with you.” He is associate pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, St. Louis. “Holy Cross created another entity to be a place that interacts with the community where there was once a stigma against the church.”

The Unique Location

Take a step back outside the gallery and you’ll walk around one of the most populated neighborhoods in St. Louis, Gravois Park, where three-quarters of the residents are below the poverty line and 60% of the students are expelled in a given year. Not the kind of place you would expect to see fine art center. Then again . . . “I see [the art center] as a great parallel to the hope we find in Jesus,” Casey Carlson, LCEF district vice president – Missouri, said. “Broken, run down, lost buildings with no hope for new life, yet through the gifts of those called by God they are made new to serve His purpose, the same way we are broken, lost sinners are all made new in the saving grace of Jesus Christ!”

The renovation is a great example of how LCEF investments are helping build ministry at Holy Cross and supporting the mission of the Church.

“Amazing things can happen if we are creative with the resources we are provided,” said Chris Shearman, executive director of Lutheran Development Group. “Holy Cross is a relatively small church who is moving forward in faith and amazing things are happening. It is great to get help with that.”

The Future

The IAC offers educational programming for children and adults six days a week. All youth programming is free. For adults, the first class is free. Since the inception of the program, hundreds of kids have benefitted.

Why are people drawn to art? “There is something about working with materials,” Sarah Bernhardt said. “We are made in the image of God and it’s part of the human experience to create. It’s natural to make things.”

With God’s blessings and the prayers and support of people like LCEF investors, Holy Cross is finding unique opportunities to share the healing love of Christ with St. Louis communities. Join us as we pray for Holy Cross, the Intersect Arts Center and all those involved to be the salt and light for the Gravois Park neighborhood–today and in the future.

Originally appeared in the 2018 spring issue of Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s official magazine, Interest Time. View a digital version here.

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.