Back in November 2018, we traveled to Montreal with Trinity St. Paul’s, Faith and the Common Good and the Toronto Arts Council to explore how sacred spaces are working with arts organizations to transform their facilities into thriving spaces that serve the creative community. Montreal marks the third location of our research of faith and art spaces, a project supported by the Metcalfe Foundation and led by Kendra Fry of Trinity St. Paul’s/Faith and the Common Good. We traveled to Philadelphia and New York City prior to Montreal, and while these cities provided us with operating models from two very different American communities, Montreal offered examples of faith and creative spaces in a Canadian context.
We visited a number of churches in Montreal, but these three locations really stood out to us.
St. James United Church
A heritage church built between 1888-89 and a National Historic Site of Canada, St. James United Church has opened up their space for arts organizations to rent. Responding to high rental prices in downtown Montreal, St. James is opening their doors to the arts at a lower rate. They recently provided overflow space for Place des Arts with a remote screening of Yo-Yo Ma’s live performance next door. While they are still growing a creative rental audience, they offer Daweson Hall – a former Sunday School – as a rental space for arts groups, including a dinner theatre. St. James has also opened up The Churchill Suite which offers 5,000 square feet of office space specifically for cultural, social and arts organizations. Other rental spaces include the Sanctuary and outdoor Public Square located at the front of the church.
Part of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), Bourgie Hall is a former church turn into a 444 seat concert hall. Formerly the Victorian Erskine and American Church, it was designed by the architect Alexander Cowper Hutchinson in the Roman Revival style in 1894. Bourgie Hall is located beside the MMFA and is renowned for its chamber music performances, presenting their own programs and other chamber orchestras. The MMFA opened Bourgie Hall in 2011 as a response to a need for chamber music performance space in the City. The renovation of the former church also increased the MMFA’s exhibition space by 20%.
St. Jax Montreal
St. James the Apostle Anglican Church reopened its doors as St. Jax Montreal in December 2016. The 154 year old church closed in 2015 and remerged as both a church and community space. During the closure, pews were removed and the Sanctuary was fitted with new lights and a sound system. St. Jax currently has a 200 person parish and rents to other churches, community groups and organizations – including arts organizations. Through a space rentals program, the church created a stream of earned revenue to offset staffing costs and facility maintenance. Spaces in the church available to rent include the Sanctuary (used for banquets, conferences or smaller gatherings), Shatford Hall (equipped with a stafe, mirrors and used as rehearsal space), Basement, Chapel and Gardens.
The churches we visited in Montreal proved to be facing many of the successes and challenges our faith spaces and arts organizations are facing here in Ontario. While many churches are experiencing declining parish numbers, there remains an opportunity for faith spaces and the arts to support one another. Bourgie Hall is a unique example of how arts organizations can repurpose faith spaces – leveraging the former church’s natural acoustics to create a state of the art chamber music performance venue.
As we continue to answer the needs of our arts organizations with relevant programs, tools and resources, ArtsBuild Ontario looks forward to continuing our research of faith spaces and creative places, and how partnerships and/or adaptive reuse of faith spaces can serve our organizations with space solutions.