St. Mark’s church is a historic center of faith, arts, and movements for social justice. Our mission is to build upon the history of the many generations buried here, the generations slave and free who have worshipped God here, and the visionary artists who have found a home and inspiration on these grounds.
Christians believe that God created the world and is still creating today through us: in sciences, technology, creativity of all kinds and even in other spiritual practices. We at St. Mark’s have been intentional in creating an environment within which emerging artists are supported.
Support for the arts is an integral part of St. Mark’s community-based mission. Poetry, theatre and dance have co-existed at St. Mark’s providing a neighborhood and national forum for original and provocative performances. W.H. Auden, William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg have taken part in poetry readings. Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham danced at St. Mark’s, and Sam Shepard produced his first plays here. Today three innovative projects are housed at St. Mark’s.
* The Poetry Project www.poetryproject.org
* Danspace Project www.danspaceproject.org
* Incubator Arts Project www.incubatorarts.org
The Rev. Dr. W. Norman Guthrie, Rector of St. Mark’s from 1910-1937, believed that the arts were a tool for engaging the modern person’s spiritually. He was deeply influenced by his maternal grandmother, famed abolitionist and feminist Frances Wright. While rector he invited Isadora Duncan to perform and thus began a tradition of the performing arts within the sanctuary space. Dance luminaries such as Martha Graham performed at St. Mark’s. This arts vision was controversial at the time, and created an enduring legacy of dance at St. Mark’s that continues to this day through the danspace project.
In 1966 Allen Ginsberg and his colleagues lost their meeting place at the Telegraph bar and asked the then Rector of St. Mark’s if they could meet in the church. The poets were enthusiastically welcomed which eventually sparked the formation of the Poetry Project. Hundreds of writers and performers have appeared at St. Mark’s over the years including: Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, Patti Smith, Yoko Ono, Sam Shepard, and John Cage.
The Incubator Arts Project grew out of the Incubator, a project of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater. In 2010, the Ontological-Hysteric Theater announced that it would leave its permanent home, St. Mark’s Church, and that the Incubator would take over the space and operate year-round. Beginning in 1993, the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, in addition to its primary support of the work of Richard Foreman, opened its doors to emerging, independent artists. Since 1993 the emerging artists program at the Ontological took many forms, including the Obie-winning Blueprint Series for emerging directors. In 2005, the OHT reorganized the programs under the name INCUBATOR, creating a series of linked programs to provide young theater artists with resources and support to develop process-oriented, original theatrical productions. By 2010, the program had quadrupled in size, involving a range of artists and increased support. The programs included the centerpiece Residency program for premieres, two annual music festivals, a regular concert series, a serial work-in-progress program called Short Form, and roundtables and salons aimed at keeping Incubator artists involved year-round. In May, 2010, the Incubator received an OBIE grant.