A nonprofit group is targeting a cultural arts center in West Baltimore


BALTIMORE — Todd Marcus dropped out of Loyola University Maryland 26 years ago to help fight poverty in West Baltimore’s neighborhoods. He then helped establish the nonprofit Intersection of Change in the Upton neighborhood of West Baltimore.

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

Intersection of Change, operating in Upton, Sandtown-Winchester and surrounding areas, 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 a 20,000-square-foot arts center called the Sanaa Center. The organizations are trying to raise $8 million for the project, with construction expected to start in about a year and finish in 2025.

The Arts & Entertainment District plans to have its headquarters at the Sanaa Center, which will also provide artists with studio space, workshops and a place to display their work, said Brion Gill, the organization’s executive director. Sanaa means art in Swahili.

The center will take shape on a vacant lot on Pennsylvania Avenue where the city demolished 12 row houses 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, Gil said.

The nonprofit, which employs about 20 people, is also renovating a 1,000-square-foot, two-story building 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 $250,000 more for it.

The projects will increase the space available for Intersection of Change, which offers a residential program for recovering women, as well as an arts program, human resource development and employment for ex-prisoners. Around 2,000 people use the art program every year.

Gill said the reason she and Intersection of Change are collaborating to build the Sanaa Center is because of the nonprofit’s innovative programs.

“They really put their time and talent into cleaning up the community and providing services that the people of West Baltimore definitely need,” she said. “They are an organization that is real [focusing on the] Work.”

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

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

Marcus, 46, a native of Haworth, NJ, lives in Sandtown-Winchester.

He met Clyde Harris, who founded Intersection of Change, when he volunteered for Sandtown Habitat for Humanity in West Baltimore, where he worked cleaning and renovating abandoned buildings.

He stopped visiting 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 address the needs of our community — look at what hasn’t been addressed and provide services to our community residents,” Marcus said.

Harris, a board member for the nonprofit, emphasized that Marcus does not lead Intersection alone. Marcus is working with him to address poverty in West Baltimore, Harris said.

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

Besides his work with Intersection, Marcus is a working musician.

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

He said it was difficult to balance his tenure at Intersection and his music career.

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

“It’s tough because there [are] just so many hours a day,” he said.

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