St. Louis artist Sarah Bernhardt had no idea she’d be teaching children when she first moved into her Gravois Park studio. But that changed after a rock sailed through her window and she invited a teenager with a good throwing arm to come inside for an art project.
That was five years ago, in the early days of her Intersect Arts Center, 3636 Texas Ave. A $3 million renovation recently transformed the center, but the commitment to free art classes for local kids remains a cornerstone.
"I think we have about 120 students in the program right now,” Bernhardt said. “It’s just really grown over the years.”
'What’s going on here?’
The center is part of the Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Bernhardt is married to the pastor, the Rev. Robert Bernhardt. That paved the way for her to open her studio there in 2013.
It wasn’t long afterward that the rock shattered her window, and Bernhardt urged the young man to come in.
"[He asked me]‘What are you doing? Is this a school? What’s going on here?’” Bernhardt said. “So we cleaned up the glass and then ended up working on a mosaic project together.”
The project included shards from her broken window.
"When you’re coming from an art background, that’s the things you think about … using the materials around us to make meaning,” she said.
Bernhardt applied for grants to expand her offerings to local children, and rented studios to 10 working artists.
Last year, the church collaborated with several other groups to transform the center’s original building into an Eagle College Preparatory School and renovate another church building for the center’s use, at a combined cost of $6 million. Partners include the school, the Lutheran Development Group and RISE community development organization.
The center gained 14 more artist studios, a dance studio, music recording studio, a commercial kitchen and 4,000 square-foot gallery. Its first exhibition, Dave Moore's “Ebb/Flow: Artists of St. Louis” opened Feb. 3. Bernhardt expects to hold 10 exhibitions every year.
The church covers the center’s rent. The studios are all occupied, with rents starting at $200 per month. Another option for artists is to pay $35 a month to come in and use equipment for projects including ceramics and woodworking.
Bernhardt would like to expand the center’s offerings. In five years, she hopes to serve 500 kids annually. She envisions a culinary arts program and an outdoor sculpture park.
“Part of the way we've worked is to be very grassroots and kind of open-ended to responding to what the artists who come into our space want to bring in and offer,” Bernhardt said. “So we don't know exactly what the distant future looks like but we're excited to facilitate what comes our way.”
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