Advertisement
Newsmaker

In West Baltimore, where rowhouses once stood, a nonprofit is working to build a cultural arts center

Todd Marcus dropped out of Loyola University Maryland 26 years ago to combat poverty in West Baltimore neighborhoods. He then helped establish the nonprofit Intersection of Change in West Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood in 1997.

“For me, it was an obvious decision. I had thought it through. I knew I wanted to be a part of the [West Baltimore] community,” said Marcus, the organization’s executive director.

Advertisement

Intersection of Change, which operates in Upton, Sandtown-Winchester and surrounding neighborhoods, is expanding.

The nonprofit has partnered with the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District, which promotes the cultural legacy and revitalization of West Baltimore, to develop a roughly 20,000-square-foot arts center called the Sanaa Center. The organizations are trying to raise $8 million for the project, with construction expected to begin in about a year and end in 2025.

Advertisement

The Arts & Entertainment District plans to have its headquarters in the Sanaa Center, which will also provide artists with studio space, workshops and a place to display their work, said Brion Gill, the organization’s executive director. Sanaa means art in Swahili.

The center will take shape in a vacant lot on Pennsylvania Avenue, where the city demolished 12 rowhouses in the 1990s, Marcus said.

The project is expected to cost roughly $10 million. About $2.7 million has been raised so far, including about $800,000 from the city and nearly $600,000 from the state, Gill said.

The nonprofit, which employs about 20 people, also is renovating a 980-square-foot, two-story structure on Presstman Street, Marcus said. That project is funded by a $75,000 grant from the Maryland State Department of Housing and a $55,000 donation from a private foundation. The nonprofit is trying to raise $250,000 more for it.

Todd Marcus, left, executive director and co-founder, and Clyde Harris, right, Founder of Intersection of Change, stand near their headquarters on the 1900 block of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The projects will increase the amount of space available for Intersection of Change, which provides a residential program for recovering women as well as an art program, workforce development and employment for formerly incarcerated people. About 2,000 people use the art program every year.

Gill said the reason she and Intersection of Change are working together to build the new structure is the organization’s innovative programs.

“They really have invested their time and talents in cleaning up the community and providing services that folks in West Baltimore definitely need,” Gill said. “They’re an organization that’s really [focusing on the] work.”

Diane Scott, a resident of Sandtown-Winchester, enrolled in Intersection of Change’s six-month recovery program in 2015 in an effort to treat her alcoholism. She finished the program that same year.

Advertisement

“I thank God for [the recovery program] because when I came here, it gave me my spirituality back. The structure is phenomenal,” she said. “I’m now accountable. I’m now responsible.”

Marcus, 46, a native of Haworth, New Jersey, lives in Sandtown-Winchester.

He met Clyde Harris, who founded Intersection of Change, while volunteering for Sandtown Habitat for Humanity in West Baltimore, where he worked cleaning and renovating abandoned buildings.

He stopped attending Loyola in 1996. In 1999, he graduated from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree in urban studies.

Intersection was founded in 1997 but wasn’t formally launched until five years later. Harris’ wife, Amelia, is a co-founder, too.

“The goal was to serve the needs of our community — look at what was not being addressed and provide services to our community residents,” Marcus said.

Advertisement

Harris, who is now a board member for the group, emphasized that Marcus doesn’t lead Intersection alone. Marcus collaborates with him to address poverty in West Baltimore, Harris said.

Weekend Watch

Weekend Watch

Weekly

Plan your weekend with our picks for the best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV shows and more. Delivered every Thursday.

“Our community doesn’t want to feel that a white man [one of Marcus’ parents is white while the other is Egyptian] came here to deliver us. No, it was Todd and I together. We reconcile as human beings, and we’re working together,” said Harris, who is Black.

Aside from his work with Intersection, Marcus is a working musician.

A clarinet player since the fourth grade, he plays bass clarinet and composes music. The Baltimore Museum of Art, Motor House and Keystone Korner are among the Baltimore venues where he’s performed in the past.

He said juggling his employment at Intersection and his career as a musician is difficult.

He now goes for evening walks at West Baltimore’s Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park ― a 10-minute drive from his home.

Advertisement

“It’s rough because there [are] only so many hours in the day,” he said.

This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at khigh@baltsun.com.


Advertisement