A place for art. A place for worship.

Intermedia Arts is a temporary home for two Lyn-Lake congregations

THE WEDGE — The start of spring was a time of transition for three organizations located near the intersection of Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street.

Lyndale United Church of Christ and Salem English Lutheran Church, two small but vibrant urban congregations, needed a temporary home while they remodeled the building they plan to share. Intermedia Arts, a community arts nonprofit hit hard by the recession, needed financial support while it retooled its operations.

A solution brought all three organizations together in April, when the churches became Intermedia Arts’ new tenants.

A procession through the neighborhood the morning of April 5, Palm Sunday on the Christian calendar, marked the beginning of the new relationship.

The Rev. Don Portwood of Lyndale UCC described a bittersweet moment as both congregations gathered at 810 W. 31st St., on the steps of the staid, red brick building that housed his congregation for 85 years. A short walk took them to a very different place: 2822 Lyndale Ave. S., with its unmistakable, mural-covered façade.

“It was just a very powerful experience to leave the building,” Portwood said. “But then to come into Intermedia Arts and fill that space up [was, too.]”

Theresa Sweetland, executive and artistic director of Intermedia, was waiting at the door when the procession arrived. In welcoming the churches, the 35-year-old arts organization took a big step toward recovery from a financial shortfall that forced significant cutbacks in December.

“It’s going to allow us a lot more flexibility to get our own programming back up and running, like getting work back in the gallery and opening the gallery back up this summer,” Sweetland said.

Forming a partnership

Salem and Lyndale plan to stay at Intermedia for about 16 months while the former Salem site at 610 W. 28th St. — kitty-corner from Intermedia — is redeveloped.

Both churches were in similar situations when they first formed a partnership several years ago. They were small congregations of about 60 active members apiece stuck in big, old buildings that were too expensive to maintain.

Said Salem church council President Paul Wharton: “Over the years the congregation has ebbed and grown, but it got to a place where we thought we’re spending way too much on heating in a building that is far too large for the congregation.”

In 2006, Salem moved into Lyndale’s West 31st Street building. That building went on the market last summer as redevelopment plans for the churches’ future space slowly progressed.

The March 31 sale of the Lyndale building to New Wine Church of St. Paul will help finance that redevelopment. Work on a mixed-use, affordable housing project and renovation of the original 1904 Salem building tentatively was scheduled to begin this summer.

In the meantime, the two congregations are homeless, in a sense. Wharton preferred to think of this interim period as “an invigorating vacation.”

“We’ve learned one thing from our exodus from the old Salem building, is that really you just need to keep as many things going as possible,” he said. “You have to keep doing what you know and doing what you’re doing well in order for the congregation to feel alive and connected.”

The Rev. Jen Nagel of Salem said members of both churches see this as an opportunity to connect with the neighborhood in new ways.

“It gives us a way to do church in a little bit different style, and to really be able to embrace and celebrate the arts community,” Nagel said.

A new start

Salem and Lyndale’s agreement with Intermedia gives them office space, as well as use of the theater and gallery on Sundays. Intermedia, in turn, gets some much-needed income.

Sweetland said rent from the two churches covered about half the monthly expenses for the building. It will free up more funding for staffing, which is key to restarting programs, she said.

The organization will retain a leaner administration, at least for a while.

“We’re looking at a different model of running the gallery, and more of a co-presenting [model] with Intermedia and the artists sharing some of the costs,” she said. “We already have some artists lined up to show their work this summer.”

Graffiti and prayer

The walls of the theater in Intermedia Arts are decorated in large graffiti murals, much like the sides and back of the building. For a more conservative congregation, that might pose some challenges.

Both Salem and Lyndale are proudly progressive organizations. Besides, Portwood said, when his congregation gathers to worship, the surroundings matter less than the people.

“The old building is back there,” he said. “But the church is still here, because we’re the church.”