Art Sanctuary

Art Sanctuary, founded in North Philadelphia, uses the power of black art to transform individuals, unite groups of people, and enrich, and draw inspiration from the inner city.

Art Sanctuary hosted Passing the Baton at Community College of Philadelphia. From left, Lorene Cary, founder; Valerie Gay, executive director of Art Sanctuary; and Rachel Boesing from QVC. –PHOTO/ROBERT MENDELSOHN Phila Trib

The organization invites established and aspiring artists to help create excellent lectures, performances, and educational programs. In addition to regular monthly programming, Art Sanctuary annually hosts the Celebration of Black Writing festival, during which writers discuss their work with up to 1,500–2,000 students, and another 2,000–3,000 people participate in panels, workshops, a teachers’ symposium, Family Pavilion, main stage, and more.

I founded this organization in 1998 because art has been my sanctuary and sanctuary must be shared; and because arts excellence rises out of the inner city, and ought to cycle through it. We need our artists, thinkers, prophets, and seers.  Their presence among us heals—like using our own blood for a transfusion of wisdom and hope. To create a sanctuary for art, we use the best business we can put into practice—and then, with help from partners, funders, and friends, seek to improve every year.”

The last improvement I’m making at Art Sanctuary is to exit.  It’s been an orderly, planned transfer after a careful transition process: consultant Martin Cohen led board, staff and advisors in envisioning Art Sanctuary’s next phase; the search committee, chaired by OperaPhiladelphia’s David Devan and Philadelphia Academies’ Lisa Nutter, chose NY head hunter Sandy Haynes, and Haynes foundg Valerie Gay, from Temple’s College of Ed School’s Development Office, PNC portfolios, and an independent soprano soloist career! Perfect. Then the board invited her to join. Valerie and I met weekly for her first few months.

I’ll keep the Art Sanctuary page here for a season or so, because it has been such an important part of my arts and civic  life, and the people I worked with remain  my cherished community.  But the best gift I can give Art Sanctuary now is to show up when asked and to stand down when not.   Here is what I told the Philadelphia Tribune’s Bobbi Booker at our November 2012 Passing-the-Baton ceremony: “One should step aside and get out of the way. So I don’t have a role. My role is to be the founder. You should know when to lead and you should know when to serve, so I’m at [Valerie’s] service if she wants me, but I am not necessary.”



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