From the pre-Rennaissance, the Church has assisted in the very existence of the arts. The so-called Dark Ages was the supreme example of this patronage. The music from this period serves as a model and building blocks upon which the whole history of arts is based.In these times, difficult for clarinetists as well as most other artists,here is yet another example of the Patronage of the Church in times of peril:
from: The New York Times, by Tim Sohn
“Around 200 parishioners were gathered on a recent Sunday for the 10 a.m. Mass at St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church in Greenpoint, a grand limestone pile a block from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. “The bare minimum is for others to do, not for us,” the pastor, the Rev. James Krische, 52, preached from the pulpit. “Jesus calls us to leap beyond the minimum.”
St. Cecilia’s has more than heeded its pastor’s call. Since 2009, the parish has bridged the cultures of old and new Greenpoint by hosting an arts program in buildings that once served as the hub of a booming Irish community but had lately had little reason to turn on their lights.
That Sunday, while the pastor was delivering his sermon, there were artists at work in the former school building; an art show in a convent building turned gallery; a photo shoot in the former residence for the Christian Brothers, members of the religious order who, with nuns, staffed the school; and two film crews setting up in the school’s basement.
The arrangement is keeping St. Cecilia’s vibrant at a time when the city is littered with underused or empty church buildings, and there have been few original ideas to put them to good use. Instead of falling victim to vandalism and decay, St. Cecilia’s buildings have been emerging as a haven for space-starved artists, in a part of Brooklyn that is increasingly young and creative.
When “Father Jim” arrived in early 2008, he found the parish in a condition that has become all too familiar in New York: in debt, the school facing declining enrollment and little money to spend on maintenance of the empty convent and the brothers’ residence. The church itself, built in 1891 for a mostly Irish congregation, was still drawing 300 parishioners every weekend, far from its 800-seat capacity.
All over the city, other churches and parishes have faced similar challenges: high upkeep costs, a declining number of parishioners and a shortage of the priests and nuns who minister to them. Late last year, the Brooklyn Diocese began considering closing down or merging some of its 198 parishes. The Archdiocese of New York has already closed 10 churches and merged 11 others with neighboring parishes.
“The demographics of many of these neighborhoods have shifted,” said David Noonan, with the real estate company Newmark Knight Frank, who has assisted the Brooklyn Diocese and other religious groups in evaluating their property options.
“They have to think about how do they support their mission and do what’s consistent with their principles and right for their community.”
At St. Cecilia’s, the decision had been made by spring 2008 to close its school. At the time, condominium buildings were springing up like glassy weeds all over Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and the diocese began marketing the school, schoolyard and other empty buildings to developers. But then the real estate market crashed, and that slice of the St. Cecilia property was no longer attractive. The pastor began thinking about a Plan B, and about the artists flooding into the neighborhood.
“Father Jim wanted art to be part of the raw space,” said Daniel Navetta, a location scout and founder of ApK Media, who has shot more than 50 projects at St. Cecilia’s. “And he wanted musicians around because St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music and because he wanted people who could infuse energy into the spaces.”
The arts program evolved almost accidentally. People who worked on film shoots there in late 2008 began telling friends about the Greenpoint parish with the amazing buildings.
Then a parishioner who works in real estate told band members looking for rehearsal space that they should talk to her priest; another parishioner told one of her tenants, an artist looking for a site for a show, to do the same.
The pastor said yes in both cases, and soon more people showed up with ideas and requests. After putting some ground rules into effect — all art shows must end by 11 p.m., the thermostat would be set at 50, the artists would give donations for use of the space — the pastor kept saying yes.
“It’s like a weird commune or something that nobody ever intended to exist,” said Nathan Spondike, the artist whose landlady referred him to her priest.
Over Labor Day weekend in 2009, Mr. Spondike organized the first large exhibit at the convent-turned-gallery, a group show with 30 artists, 2 bands playing and throngs of the young and the hip descending on St. Cecilia’s.
Shortly after, Mr. Spondike and some of the other artists from that show asked if they could look around the empty school, five floors of classrooms with 16-foot high ceilings, some with views of the Manhattan skyline.
Within weeks, all of the 36 classrooms that the pastor made available for studios were claimed by painters, sculptors, a dressmaker and a choreographer. (There are now 93 artists on a waiting list.)
Three bands use the school’s basement for rehearsal space. And out back, the former schoolyard is home to the Tenth Acre Farm, a dozen above-ground planters full of organic eggplants, tomatoes and other vegetables. That is all in addition to the 10 or so film or video shoots each week.
The parish property’s various buildings have been host to feature films like “Brooklyn’s Finest,” television shows like “30 Rock” and “Rescue Me,” and hundreds of smaller productions. The pastor charges on a sliding scale, but even for the bigger budget commercial productions, it ends up being less expensive than elsewhere, with the added benefit of less red tape and a multitude of options.
Not only the filmmakers benefit. While the artists give donations for their studio spaces and shows, the commercial film and video shoots are what pay for the upkeep and maintenance of the buildings.
All this activity has led to occasional complaints, particularly about production crews’ taking up too much on-street parking space, but they have been few.
“Some people didn’t understand it,” said Rosalie Washack, a lifelong parishioner and neighborhood resident. But, she added, “It’s being Christian: You extend the hand and bring the church into the community.”
Though the school’s closing still stings, parishioners view the arts program as a way to keep their church relevant and open.
“What Father Jim has done here is open up the doors to the new people who have moved into the community,” said Francis Brancato, another lifelong parishioner and second-generation product of St. Cecilia’s school. “And they’re not all going to come to church, but maybe a few of them will. And in the meantime, it’s brought life back to those buildings and to this block.”
As the moving parts have multiplied, the pastor, who is the sole clergyman, has absorbed the additional work, keeping track of everything in a collection of bulging binders and overflowing calendars in his office in the rectory. Not that there are not occasional hiccups. That Sunday morning, a film crew had mistakenly set up in a room the pastor had reserved for a Sunday school class. He straightened it out before Mass.
The artists seem to take some pleasure in their chapter of the church’s long history of artistic patronage. And though that relationship has historically been a complicated one, at St. Cecilia the pastor has remained hands off.
“His attitude is that he’s providing the platform and the space for the work to happen,” said Celia Rowlson-Hall, a dancer, choreographer and filmmaker who occupies a cavernous studio on the school’s fifth floor, “and he’s never said ‘This certain kind of work’ needs to happen.”
Ms. Washack, who attends many of the gallery shows, said the parishioners sometimes “stick out like a sore thumb.”
“I’ve seen some art shows in there that I’ve cringed a little at,” she added, “but they’ve been so nice and so grateful, and the energy in there has been so positive.”
The future of the arts program, and the parish itself, is unclear. Though the program could most likely continue even if the pastor moved on to another posting, a real estate deal could end it.
Ms. Rowlson-Hall said, “I do wonder, are we sitting on something that could be possibly the next PS1?” referring to the MoMA-affiliated art space that occupies a former school in Queens. She added, “I would just hope that all this creative energy that’s in this place continues.”