Since its establishment in 2017, the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition (KNAC) has been actively working to preserve history while cultivating an innovative and creative community in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The coalition, formed by local artists, musicians, and community members, is dedicated to the preservation of the iconic First Baptist Church building in downtown Kalamazoo, transforming it into an affordable, collaborative workspace for nonprofits, artists, and start-ups.
Historic Landmark with Renewed Purpose
Constructed in 1853, the First Baptist Church is not only the oldest church but also the oldest public building in Kalamazoo, holding a significant place in the city’s history.
Throughout its existence, the church has been central to the downtown region and is one of the few surviving buildings that Abraham Lincoln would have seen when he spoke in Bronson Park in 1856.
The church building, which boasts approximately 30,000 square feet, includes sanctuary space capable of seating 450, offices, event and meeting rooms, studios, and workshop areas.
Over the years, it has served as home to a variety of community organizations, from Kalamazoo College and the Ladies’ Library Association to Can-Do Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo RESA Head Start.
In 2017, due to declining membership and extensive building costs, the church leadership decided to rent space to community groups.
This decision allowed the historic structure to continue serving the community while simultaneously giving birth to the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition.
After careful planning and deliberation, the church facility was gifted to KNAC in 2021, marking the beginning of a new era for the landmark.
Vision and Mission
KNAC’s mission is to ensure the sustainability of the historic First Baptist Church building, celebrate the arts, and enhance the livelihood and culture of Kalamazoo.
Its vision is to provide affordable, quality spaces and services so that artists, entrepreneurs, and community organizations can thrive in this iconic piece of Kalamazoo history.
The coalition’s values, which include equity, arts and culture, community, historic preservation, diversity and inclusion, creativity, and innovation, guide its activities and help shape its future.
KNAC actively seeks tenant groups and performers who also advocate for and practice these values.
Inspire Access to Arts and Innovation
In 2022, KNAC launched its Inspire Access to Arts and Innovation $7-million capital campaign, aiming to transform the First Baptist Church into a vibrant, collaborative setting for the arts and innovation.
This initiative combines private donations and public funding to renovate the historic building, making it not only a hub for creativity but also a self-sustaining entity.
With the success of the Inspire campaign, KNAC envisions the completion of significant upgrades and renovations that will make the facility safe, efficient, and accessible.
This includes the development of a multi-venue performing arts center featuring a world-class, 450-seat performance hall, dynamic office and shared workspaces, and complete preservation of one of downtown Kalamazoo’s most historic and beautiful buildings.
By removing barriers for local start-ups and performing artists, particularly those that are BIPOC and women-led, KNAC aims to create an environment that fosters arts and innovation and allows individuals and organizations to achieve their dreams.
This mission reflects the coalition’s commitment to inclusivity and its dedication to creating a community where everyone hasthe opportunity to thrive.
The Inspire campaign is not just about restoring a historic building; it’s about breathing new life into Kalamazoo’s rich cultural and entrepreneurial legacy.
Once the renovations are complete, the First Baptist Church building will serve as an incubator for small but growing arts and social justice nonprofits, alongside for-profit entrepreneurs and innovators.
The revitalized space will inspire world-class performance and innovative discovery, serving as a testament to Kalamazoo’s vibrant arts scene and innovative spirit.
Community Impact and Beyond
The Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition is more than a preservation project; it’s a symbol of community resilience and a beacon for future generations.
By repurposing the historic First Baptist Church building, KNAC is contributing to the sustainability of Kalamazoo’s cultural and creative sectors, while preserving a significant piece of the city’s history.
As of 2024, KNAC has not only met but surpassed its Phase One goal, raising $320,000 to address urgent repairs and life-safety updates to bring the building up to code.
These updates included improvements to the roof, addition of emergency lighting, and other essential amenities, all of which lay the groundwork for the building’s transformation into a collaborative hub for arts and innovation.
Through the Inspire Access to Arts and Innovation campaign and other initiatives, KNAC continues to champion the arts, uphold its values, and strive toward a future where the First Baptist Church building is a vibrant, collaborative setting that fosters arts, innovation, and community development.
By preserving the past and creating an innovative future, KNAC is not only shaping the landscape of Kalamazoo but also setting a precedent for other communities nationwide.
The Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition is a unique and inspiring example of how communities can leverage their historic landmarks to foster creativity, entrepreneurship, and social impact.
By transforming the First Baptist Church into a dynamic, inclusive space, KNAC is contributing to the cultural, economic, and social vitality of Kalamazoo, and, in doing so, is preserving its history for generations to come.