Art for everyone's sake

Art for everyone's sake

Porticos Art Space at St. James Methodist Church embodies a progressive and holistic vision

By Ellen Snortland 09/24/2012

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I  remember my Dad cluck-clucking every time he drove by a church saying, “What a waste of space!” Daddy, a man of the New Deal and the Great Depression, looked at the highest and best use for buildings and people. He thought churches were mostly not fulfilling their highest and best use by being empty most of the time, except on Sundays.
Enter St. James Methodist, on the border of Pasadena and Altadena. Being my father’s daughter, I am proud to say I know the minister, the Rev. Gary Barbaree, and became enrolled in his vision of community the instant I met him. Rev. Barbaree is leading the charge in the realm of “highest and best use,” and his parish is not just for Sundays!

In many ways, the good reverend and I are both missionaries in the most general use of the word: We both have missions. Besides his calling as a man of God, he sees his stewardship and the mission of St. James as that of a community center.

St. James is NEVER empty, as far as I can tell.
My mission is personal safety. On the hunt for a San Gabriel Valley home for our nonprofit, IMPACT Personal Safety, I was driving by St. James on Washington Boulevard and noticed the graceful porticos of the church. I loved the architecture, emblematic of Pasadena and Altadena’s romance with Spanish building styles. I thought, “What the heck,” I thought. “I’ll stop by and see if we can hold some kids’ classes here.” I rang the door bell. With no phone call and no appointment, I was swept into their offices as if they had been waiting for me.

Kids’ safety classes? “Why sure,” they said. “That’s great! We want kids to be safe.” Now, after a successful collaboration with two kids’ classes that were filled, I’m VERY excited to say we are “premiering” our first 20-hour Women’s Basics class starting on Wednesday at St. James.

We are thrilled to be included in the many goings-on at the Porticos Art Space, which is the name of the nonprofit arts umbrella at St. James ( Besides the school already in residence at the church — the Peace and Freedom Academy ( — there are also three resident companies: Arroyo Repertory Theatre, Nancy Evans Dance Theatre and Pacific Opera Project. There are performances of “Sweeney Todd” coming up (pie, anyone?), as well as the return of Kelley Williams’ solo theater piece, “Lovin’ Chocolate,” recitals, art, cooking, graphics and sewing classes. I get breathless just looking at everything they have to offer the community.

Heartbroken every time I see art budgets slashed in schools, I often wonder where young people are going to learn the things I took for granted in public schools. I’m appalled at how few people now play instruments, hold a paint brush or know how to cook a meal. Porticos Art Space goes a long way toward providing those things in education that enrich and enliven us all.

I also consider the art of setting a boundary essential to a full and productive life, which is why IMPACT Personal Safety is a good fit for Porticos Art Space. Are you afraid to say “no” when you mean no? Are you terrorized by a simple sound at night? Are you afraid a lot of the time? The 20-hour basics class can transform the quality of your life, essentially turning a fear-based existence into one of courage, full expression and, yes, art! Over the years, we’ve had post-class reports as varied as colors being more intense, scents more vivid, enjoyment of walks enhanced and sports, hobbies and performing arts reclaimed. Participation with, and appreciation of, a wider variety of people and activities are an outgrowth of learning how to set and maintain boundaries.

After virtually begging a friend of mine for years to take our Women’s Basics class, she finally admitted she was afraid to go out at night, even to attend the class! She had to transcend the very fear that drove her to take the class in the first place. Now she goes where she wants, with awareness, of course.

Are there classes you want to take or a performance you want to produce? Check out St. James. Your opportunities may be in your own backyard, a backyard that features the lovely arching Porticos of St. James, where all the space — and the people within — are fulfilling their highest and best use.

P.S. — Jump in! The nonprofit IMPACT Personal Safety Women’s Basics class starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Porticos Art Space, St. James Methodist Church, 2033 E. Washington Blvd., Pasadena. You must be pre-registered to join the class. See class rates and register by visiting n

Ellen teaches writing in Altadena. Contact her through


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