The Sanctuary’s creative space builds community

The Sanctuary’s creative space builds community

Mad River Union | October 6, 2016

By Erica Motter

What if there were a community space that served the creative needs of individuals, the way dental clinics take care of people’s teeth, garages fix cars, libraries offer information services and stores sell goods?

It’s a dream that two local artists, Katie Belknap and Solomon Lowenstein, shared: that a community resource ought to provide a space for artists to explore and create – so they founded The Sanctuary.

Located at 1301 J St. in Arcata, The Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization, is a large building outfitted with plenty of tools and materials for anyone to work on their art projects, share their craft abilities and collaborate with other creative minds in a common space.

Belknap and Lowenstein became fond of working alongside other artists in shared facilities when they attended Humboldt State, and enjoyed the energy that came from bouncing ideas off one another while tackling projects. For many years, the pair daydreamed about establishing a similar “community workshop” where art resources could be available for public use.

“We are really focused on the power of sharing, and the benefits that we all get from sharing,” Lowenstein said.

When they learned that an old church in their neighborhood was to be sold in late 2013, Lowenstein and Belknap saw an opportunity to turn their dream into a reality. They purchased the property, moved equipment and tools into the building, and opened the Sanctuary to the Arcata community in March 2014.

Originally built to house the Arcata Woman’s Club in 1916, the building was used as a church from the 1970s onward. Nowadays, the upstairs sanctuary room functions as a performance area to host art displays, musical shows, memorial services and other types of events. The walls of the room are lined with tall shelves filled with art- and music-related books, providing a reference library for visitors.

Since its opening, The Sanctuary has hosted art shows, music shows such as that demonstrating eclectic mixed-media “sound collages” by local musician Daniel Nickerson, as well as an “open door” conceptual art show that involved removing all the interior doors from their hinges – cupboards and all – in the spirit of openness and honest disclosure.

The downstairs of the building houses The Sanctuary’s extensive variety of tools available for visitors to utilize, including a printmaking room with silkscreening equipment, several sewing machines, musical instruments, a ceramics wheel, a bicycle repair station and many other general arts and craft materials. Three times a week, The Sanctuary holds open lab hours, when anyone can pay $5 per hour to use these resources, and also receive some guided instruction from skilled lab technicians who volunteer during the open labs. Attendees are encouraged to play, try out new things, repair items, explore and dabble, regardless of experience level.

And the more unique the idea, the better – past projects have included curtains made out of 35mm movie film and a plaster cast a woman made of her belly when she was pregnant with her daughter. “Oftentimes, people come in for help with a project that’s been on their mind for a while,” Lowenstein said. “We can help them to cross it off the list.”

Regular open lab hours are Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Sanctuary plays an active role in waste diversion, with its regulars working to distribute or preserve perishables from local food banks and assist in cleanup projects during student move-out season. Sanctuary visitors help tend to a garden on the property, keep bees to produce honey and often cook community meals in the mess-hall style kitchen. Belknap said that over time, The Sanctuary has become a sort of community center for people who live nearby. “Lots of neighbors have met each other by coming here,” she said. “People say hello to each other on the street now.”

In the future, The Sanctuary plans to host more thought-provoking and original events and to offer more specific art workshops to familiarize attendees with equipment and materials. Overall, Belknap and Lowenstein hope that the addition of The Sanctuary to the Arcata community will make the arts more accessible to everyday folks, and inspire people to spend more time working to turn their artistic ideas into tangible projects.

“You don’t have to grow up in a conventional way or have a specific type of employment,” Belknap said. “People think you can’t do art because it won’t make you money, but history has proven that people can survive on their creative pursuits.”

On Saturday, Oct. 8 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., The Sanctuary will celebrate the building’s 100th birthday, opening the space to the public and hosting art demonstrations to showcase the facility’s offerings. They will also offer food, games, music and a silent auction.

Anyone interested in learning more about The Sanctuary is encouraged to stop by the building during open lab hours, or to call the center at (707) 822-0898.

More information can also be found at

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