Non-profit group plans cultural arts center in West Baltimore

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BALTIMORE — Todd Marcus dropped out of Loyola University in Maryland 26 years ago to fight poverty in West Baltimore neighborhoods. He later helped establish the non-profit Intersection of Change in the Upton neighborhood of West Baltimore.

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

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 West Baltimore’s cultural heritage and revitalization, to develop an approximately 20,000 square foot arts center called the Sanaa Center. The organizations are trying to raise $8 million for the project, which is expected to begin construction in about a year and end in 2025.

The arts and entertainment district plans to have its headquarters in central Sanaa, which will also provide artists with studio space, workshops and a venue to display their work, said Brion Gill, the organization’s executive director. Sanaa means art in Swahili.

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

The project is expected to cost around $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, is also renovating a two-story, 980-square-foot structure on Presstman Street, Marcus said. This project is funded by a $75,000 grant from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and a $55,000 donation from a private foundation. The nonprofit is trying to raise another $250,000 for it.

The projects will increase the amount of space available for Intersection of Change, which offers a residential program for women in recovery as well as an arts, workforce development and employment program for those formerly incarcerated. About 2,000 people benefit from the art program each year.

Gill said the reason she and Intersection of Change are working together to build the Sanaa center are the nonprofit organization’s innovative programs.

“They have really invested their time and talents in cleaning up the community and providing services that the people of West Baltimore really need,” she said. “It’s an organization that is really [focusing on the] work.”

Diane Scott, a Sandtown-Winchester resident, signed up for Intersection of Change’s six-month recovery program in 2015 to treat her alcoholism. She completed the program the same year.

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

Marcus, 46, from Haworth, NJ, 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 up and renovating abandoned buildings.

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

Intersection was founded in the mid-1990s. Harris’ wife, Amelia, is a co-founder.

“The goal was to meet the needs of our community – look at what wasn’t being addressed and provide services to residents of our community,” Marcus said.

Harris, a member of the association’s board of directors, pointed out that Marcus does not run Intersection alone. Marcus is working with him to fight poverty in West Baltimore, Harris said.

“Our community doesn’t want to feel like a white man [one of Marcus’s parents is White, while the other is Egyptian] came here to deliver us. No, it was Todd and me together. We reconcile as human beings and work together,” said Harris, who is black.

In addition to his work with Intersection, Marcus is an active musician.

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

He said it was difficult to juggle his job at Intersection and his career as a musician.

He now takes night walks at Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park in West Baltimore, a 10-minute drive from his home.

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

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