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Mt. Zion Baptist Church partners with OHIO’s CoArts to host NEA rural design workshop

Published: November 18, 2019 Author: Staff reports

One of Athens’ most historical and cultural buildings, the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, has been selected by the National Endowment for the Arts as one of three national sites to host a rural design workshop to restore and preserve an endangered building that has made a major impact on the black community in the region for over 100 years.

Ohio University’s new Ohio Valley Center for Collaborative Arts (CoArts) will partner with the Mt. Zion Baptist Preservation Society to bring University resources to help restore the church and cultural hub.

Part of the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD) program, a national initiative that aims to support rural communities through hands-on training and other events, the workshop will focus on the efforts to preserve and reimagine the use of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. This century-old church founded in 1872 is one of the only remaining examples of architecture in Southeast Ohio that was built by free-born and formerly enslaved black artisans. The church acts as a catalyst for discussion about social justice and the cultural and economic landscape that surrounds it.

Today, there are few remaining historical buildings dedicated to black enterprise and development, though numerous plaques scattered throughout the region commemorating these buildings’ extinction.

The workshop, likely slated for summer 2020, will focus on the work of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society and its partners as they envision the architectural rehabilitation and revitalization of the church as an economic engine and as a hub for black history and culture in Athens. It will be transformed into a space that fosters community and growth.

“Mt. Zion Baptist Church is one of the only remaining public traces of African American architectural history and heritage in the region, so it is a priority of ours to restore and design this building as a place for racial equity and community building,” Sam Dodd, director of CoArts and member of the Preservation Society’s grants committee, said. “CoArts is working to connect resources at the University, including faculty and student research skills, with the Society’s important work of defining and protecting Mt. Zion for all community members, particularly Ohioans of color. We are looking to align experiential learning opportunities for our students with the community-led goal of creating a robust and inclusive black cultural hub that encourages people to come together.”

With the goal of using creative thinking to address issues unique to each community, CIRD workshops seek to empower local citizens to explore creative solutions with assistance from design, economic development, and creative placemaking professionals. In addition to providing competitive funding to support workshop expenses, CIRD also provides support through webinars, digital resources, and customized follow-up materials.

Dodd continued to explain that the expertise the CIRD partners will bring to this project will allow for an incredible convergence of their experience working with and applying participatory design methods and design justice frameworks with the embodied expertise of the Mt. Zion team.