Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center is new owner of the Archwood United Church of Christ building
Plain Press, August 2022 Archwood United Church of Christ (UCC) and Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center are celebrating a new use for a building that has anchored Archwood Avenue since 1929.
The former Archwood United Church of Christ building now belongs to Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center. The new owner is expanding on the programs it has been running there for four years, and elsewhere on the West Side since 1989. The Archwood UCC religious congregation, founded in 1819, will continue to worship there, too.
The two organizations celebrated the arrangement with a ribbon cutting and Sunday dinner on July 17.
They said the transfer of the building, which took place by quit-claim deed on March 23, is a welcome solution to both their needs. The small congregation – though active in feeding the community – had grown too small for the 20,000-square-foot main building at 2800 Archwood Avenue and the 1,700-square-foot parsonage next to it.
And Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center – a tenant at Archwood since 2018 and at other West Side locations before that – wanted a home with plenty of room to grow.
Archwood UCC, which turns 203 years old this month, had more than 1,000 members back in the mid-20th century, before interstate highways carved up the neighborhood. “We knew our congregation had become significantly smaller over the past 20 years,” said the church’s moderator, Judy Schumann, a lifelong member of the congregation. “How could we continue our ministry and help our neighbors when our membership and financial resources were not what they had been? What was the next new thing that God was calling us to do?”
Starting in 2014, the church undertook a detailed self-assessment, aided by the wider UCC’s
“New Beginnings” program. “For us here at Archwood, the mission itself was pretty clear,” Schumann said. “We wanted to continue to serve our neighborhood in significant and timely ways. We felt called to further develop our ministry around issues of food insecurity. But what else could we do and how could we make use of one of our best resources – our huge, historic building – a building that was definitely being underused?
“It was at that time that we began to explore the somewhat radical idea of eventually giving the building away to an organization that would be able to make use of this resource and use it to serve the community.”
The church engaged the Metro West Community Development Organization in a study of the property. Metro West suggested the church connect with the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center. In 2018, the Center became a tenant in the church building.
“Though it has only been four years since we moved into this building, it feels as if this has always been our home,” said Letitia Lopez, executive director of Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center. “And now we are so very grateful to call this beautiful neighborhood gem our forever home. From the moment we were introduced to this congregation, we knew that this was the right place and fit for us. We were welcomed in – not as tenants, but as partners in this journey that has led us here today.”
She said the center’s programming has grown “from two programs and two signature events each year to over 10 programs, dozens of workshops and six signature events annually.” A recent addition, she said, is “Unidos por el Arte, a much-needed artist initiative that now has a growing list of over 220 local Latino artists of all disciplines. … What was once the parsonage is now a home for our artists, where they can showcase their art, create in one of four studio spaces and develop their teaching skills by hosting workshops and talks. Last year alone we were able to directly support 38 artists in that space.” And the former church gym is now a dance studio with mirrors and ballet barres.
The church remains active – not only with worship at 11 a.m. each Sunday, but also with a low-cost produce sale in the basement twice a month and connections with other community organizations. It contributes meals, for example, for the varied programs of Denison Avenue UCC at West 99th and Denison.
And, meantime, the Archwood UCC congregation is glad for the historic building’s new vitality. “We have seen Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center offer a wide variety of arts programming to our diverse neighborhood and surrounding communities,” Schumann said. “There is life in the building once again – not just on Sunday mornings.”
“We have filled every bit of this building not just with our belongings but with lots of laughter, life and community,” Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center Executive Director Letitia Lopez said. “So much has been accomplished here, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.”
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