The NGO Intersection of Change is working to build a cultural arts center

Todd Marcus left Loyola University in Maryland 26 years ago to fight poverty in the neighborhoods of West Baltimore. He then helped found the nonprofit Intersection of Change in West Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood in 1997.

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

Intersection of Change, which operates in Upton, Sandtown-Winchester and surrounding neighborhoods, is expanding.

The nonprofit partnered with the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts & Entertainment District, which promotes the cultural heritage and revitalization of West Baltimore, to develop a roughly 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 begin in about a year and will end in 2025.

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

The center will take shape on a vacant lot on Pennsylvania Avenue where the city tore down 12 row houses in the 1990s, Marcus said.

The project is expected to cost about $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, Gill said.

The nonprofit, which employs about 20 people, is also renovating a two-story, 980-square-foot building on Presstman Street, Marcus said. This project is being funded by a $75,000 grant from the Maryland State Department of Housing and a $55,000 grant from a private foundation. The nonprofit is trying to raise another $250,000 for him.

The projects will increase space available for Intersection of Change, which provides a residential program for women in recovery, as well as an arts, workforce development and employment program for incarcerated individuals. About 2,000 people use the art program each year.

Gill said the reason she and Intersection of Change worked together to build the new structure was because of the organization’s innovative programs.

“They have really invested their time and talent in cleaning up the community and providing services that the people of West Baltimore definitely need,” Gill said. “They are an organization that really is [focusing on the] work.”

Diane Scott, a resident of Sandtown-Winchester, entered Intersection of Change’s six-month recovery program in 2015 in an effort to treat her alcoholism. She graduated from the program that year.

“Thank God for [the recovery program] because when I came here it brought my spirituality back. The structure is phenomenal,” she said. “I am now in charge. Now I am in charge.”

Marcus, 46, hails from Haworth, New Jersey and lives in Sandtown-Winchester.

He met Clyde Harris, who founded Intersection of Change, while volunteering for Sandtown Habitat for Humanity in West Baltimore, where he did cleanup and repair work abandoned buildings.

He stopped attending Loyola in 1996. He graduated from Rutgers University in 1999 with a BA in Urban Studies.

Intersection was founded in 1997, but didn’t officially launch until five years later. Harris’ wife, Amelia, is also a co-founder.

“The goal was to serve the needs of our community — see what’s not being addressed and provide services to the residents of our community,” Marcus said.

Harris, who is now a member of the group’s board, emphasized that Marcus does not run Intersection alone. Marcus collaborated with him to address poverty in West Baltimore, Harris said.

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“Our community doesn’t want to feel like a white person [one of Marcus’ parents is white while the other is Egyptian] came here to deliver us. No, Todd and I were together. We reconcile as human beings and work together,” said Harris, who is Black.

In addition to his work with Intersection, Marcus is a working musician.

Fourth grade clarinetist, 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 in the past.

He said balancing his work at Intersection with his career as a musician was difficult.

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

“It’s rough because there [are] only so many hours in the day,” he said.

This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which features notable people in the Baltimore region who are making an impact in our diverse communities. If you would like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a brief description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at [email protected].

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