National News

How Catholic Artists Support Each Other, Find Performance Spaces

Claire Kretzschmar (left) and Erin K. McAtee each said her Catholic faith has grown deeper as a result of working on Arthouse 2B. (Photo: Courtesy of Arthouse 2B)

HARLEM — When the pandemic hit and the world went into lockdown, the artistic community was among the groups hit especially hard. Actors, singers, and dancers lost the chance to perform for audiences, and visual artists found themselves without exhibition spaces. 

But two artists — ballet dancer Claire Kretzschmar and painter Erin K. McAtee — stepped into the void and created Arthouse 2B, a project to bring New York’s Catholic artists together as a community to perform, pray, and support one another. 

In August 2020, Arthouse 2B held its first gathering, a Mass for Artists at the Church of the Annunciation in Harlem. Approximately 30 people showed up to attend Mass and enjoy performances and art exhibitions in the parish hall. 

Kretzschmar and McAtee tapped into something lasting — the desire of artists to be part of a community. Arthouse 2B is still going strong today, even though the pandemic is in the rearview mirror. 

The two founders organize about a dozen events a year, including concerts, dance recitals, art exhibitions, film festivals, and panel discussions and have built a community of more than 100 participating artists. 

The project’s name, Arthouse, symbolizes the goal of providing a spiritual home for artists. The 2B in the title comes from the number of the apartment Kretzschmar and McAtee were sharing at the time they started the venture. The two women met in 2019 at a retreat in Pennsylvania sponsored by the Theology of the Body Institute and became friends. 

It’s no accident that the initial 2020 gathering took place inside a church. “I think it was important from the start of Arthouse 2B to have the sacraments to be a part of it and the Eucharist be at the center of it,” McAtee explained. 

“Hospitality is very important to us,” Kretzschmar said. “This idea of creating not only the space for the artists to feel elevated and supported and for others to experience that artwork, but giving people that atmosphere of hospitality was important. And we wanted to always keep Him at the center.” 

Kretzschmar, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, performed at that first gathering. “It was the first time in a while that I had performed. This was still the middle of the closures during the pandemic. I was excited to dance again for people instead of just dancing by myself,” she recalled. 

McAtee’s paintings were among the artworks displayed. “They were things that I had been working on at the beginning of the pandemic, mostly portraits of people from a homeless shelter that I volunteered at,” she recalled. 

Organizing the events has taught Kretzschmar and McAtee to think outside the box. 

“When you’re putting on a show, whether it be an art gallery show and/or a live performance element, you have to understand the space and practical things — like where the outlets are and how do we house the people? How do we show them where to go and offer them food and drink and make sure that they’re catered to?” Kretzschmar said. 

Both women have managed to pursue their own careers while devoting time and energy to Arthouse 2B. 

McAtee, who grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, performed missionary work for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), taught art for several years in Connecticut and moved to New York in 2020 after receiving a residency at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture. 

“And there, I was able to carry out a project that I had had on my heart for about a year or so before I left FOCUS — to do artwork with homeless shelters and youth centers,” she recalled. 

She has worked with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, the Missionaries of Charity, and the Sisters of Life and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in fine arts at Brooklyn College. 

Kretzschmar spent more than a decade as a dancer with the New York City Ballet. She grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and wanted to be a dancer ever since she was a child and saw “The Nutcracker.” 

She spent several summers studying at the School of American Ballet in New York. In 2010, she was hired by the New York City Ballet as an apprentice and was promoted the following year to the position of corps de ballet. 

In 2018, she was named a solo dancer. “When I was promoted to soloist, it was like a spark,” she recalled. “You get to be the artist that you want to be or that you’ve been longing to be. I think when I got to do more featured roles, it sparked that desire to grow in artistry.” 

Kretzschmar retired from the New York City Ballet in 2021 and became a choreographer. “I didn’t really see myself as an artist until I started choreographing dances,” she explained. 

Kretzschmar and McAtee are grateful to see how Arthouse 2B has grown. “Did we ever think we would still be doing this three years later? No, we didn’t,” McAtee admitted. “Everything has organically blossomed. But we know that God is working on it and that He’s crafting it.”