The First Interfaith Arts Community is Right Here in Washington, DC

Thanks to a generous $50,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, LISC is able to continue supporting creative placemaking initiatives in Washington, DC neighborhoods. This enabled us to make grants to organizations that are working to build community via arts and cultural activities.  We provided grant funding to two of our partner organizations, one of which is The Sanctuaries, the first interfaith arts community in the country.

The Sanctuaries was created in 2013 when Rev. Erik Martinez Resley, an artist, activist, and ordained minister, and twenty of his neighbors felt compelled to create a community that they couldn’t find anywhere – a community where differences in race or religion are not barriers to communication but rather bridges to community building. They were intent on having the sacred space be inclusive, welcoming residents that reflect DC’s diversity, artists whose work speak to social justice issues, and spiritual individuals seeking to be a part of something greater than themselves. The Sanctuaries is a safe space for passionate people to gather to promote social change in neighborhoods throughout Washington, DC.


The Sanctuaries’ mission is to empower people to live creative and soulful lives, building just communities through spirituality, diversity, and creativity.  The organization realizes their mission through two programs – The Community and The Collective. The Community is a diverse group of artists who meet regularly to work on projects, host discussions, and plan events to elevate historically marginalized voices.  Last year, LISC collaborated with a Screenprinting team from The Sanctuaries’ Community to implement the Ivy City Is  creative placemaking project.

The Collective at The Sanctuaries is a one-of-a-kind, intensive arts activist training program that equips interfaith artists with the support and tools needed to connect their spiritual life with their artistic practice in direct service of social change. Each year ten emerging DC-based artists receive training over the course of seven months and participate in a three month arts residency with a local organization or grassroots organization.  The Collective is so popular that the demand for the program exceeds the Sanctuaries’ capacity.

LISC’s $20,000 grant to The Sanctuaries will support its launch of a new initiative, the Arts Activist Bootcamp (AAB). The AAB will allow alumni of the program to become paid facilitators of workshops with organizations seeking to use the arts to help build strong, equitable communities in the Washington, DC area. In so doing, it will create a financially sustainable model for local artists to extend The Sanctuaries’ reach to a new group of partner organizations, including more community development organizations and those unable to participate in the Collective program, which is more time and resource intensive. Importantly, LISC is also providing technical assistance to The Sanctuaries to establish systems that will help this newly formed nonprofit grow in a successful and sustainable manner.

This summer, The Sanctuaries launched two pilot AAB workshops, one with over 50 Asian American youth from the Asian American Youth Leadership Empowerment Development (AALEAD), and the other with 30 Muslim American youth from Green Muslims. The Sanctuaries currently has another workshop scheduled with the 15+ service organizations that comprise the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

With the support of LISC, teaching artists from The Sanctuaries introduced the Asian American and Muslim youth to the principles and practices of narrative storytelling for social change through screenprinting, bookbinding, and freestyling. Guided by the mantra “If you don’t tell your story, others will,” participants experimented with creative ways of connecting their individual experiences of injustice, as well as their visions for a more just world, with the stories of their faith traditions, ethnic communities, public schools, and local neighborhoods. The arts engaged the youth in the complex process of claiming a collective voice that honors, rather than erases, their differences. The youth, in turn, discovered their power to make a difference in their local communities.

In the photos below, after using typography, poetry, and drawing to create four-panel narratives of their own life experiences, AALEAD participants had to figure out how best to weave their individual stories together into an accordion book that would tell the collective story of their group.









After having learned about water conservation in the Potomac River watershed, the following photos depict Green Muslims participants drawing from the teachings of their faith tradition to design environmental stewardship posters to be hung in their homes, schools, and places of worship.

While our nation continues to grapple with how to have the hard conversations about racism, bigotry and hatred, it is heartwarming to know that here in our nation’s capital, The Sanctuaries is an example of an organization that is fearless in its quest to build communities where inclusivity, diversity, and social justice are centered.


The Sanctuaries has created a model of people-centered movement building that should be replicated.  With the success of its pilot workshops, The Sanctuaries is well on its way to officially launch its Arts Activist Bootcamp this fall.  Our grant funding supports the costs of curriculum development, training, outreach, and start-up costs, including equipment to be used in the Bootcamps.

*All photos are credited to Rev. Erik Martinez Resly