The redevelopment of Sts. Peter and Paul Church is an ongoing journey full of highs and lows—from our first efforts to stabilize the church to our recent RACP award and fundraising efforts. With each step, we get closer to bringing an impressive architectural gem and community landmark back online and to productive use for the community.

One of our early partners in this project was the mother-daughter duo, Brigette Bethea and Christine McCray-Bethea, behind the Pittsburgh-based leadership consultancy ULEAD. Back in 2018, they led a community engagement process to help us understand the community’s hopes and dreams for the church. The process centered around a series of church “Walk and Talk” tours and an Arts Town Hall event where community members and artists gathered to share ideas for how they would like to see the site re-envisioned. What they heard was that the community wanted a multi-use arts and event space, the likes of which we are now working to bring to fruition with the help of the Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group.

Today, ELDI is happy to be collaborating with ULEAD again. This time, they are building on their previous work and engaging with local arts and cultural organizations to better understand how this arts and events space, as well as the proposed attached black box theater, can be utilized and managed. They will also help us develop an effective request for proposals (RFP) to find an organization that can facilitate operations at the church.

Now that the project is underway, we thought it would be a great time to catch up with Brigette and Christine to hear more about the approach they are taking, as well as their uniquely personal connection to the neighborhood. Dive in below.

Christine McCray-Bethea (left) and Brigette Bethea (right), the mother-daughter duo behind the leadership consultancy ULEAD. ELDI has brought them on to lead arts and cultural engagement for the Sts. Peter and Paul Church project.

What is ULEAD’s origin story? Was there an “aha!” moment where you knew this was what you wanted to do?

Brigette: ULEAD’s story starts with my military background. I was in the Army for around eight years as a military intelligence officer. In that role, I spent a lot of time being very observant, critical, and interested in leadership—how people motivated other people, how people built strong teams, how folks felt connected to mission, vision, goals, etc. I grew a love for and an interest in leadership and building community capacity.

When I left the army in 2012, I knew I wanted to go to grad school, and I got accepted to Georgetown’s Master’s in Leadership program, which is housed in the McDonough School of Business. The program had an interesting marriage between what I loved around leadership and the business aspect of it. As I was going through my studies, I decided that I wanted to focus my efforts on Pittsburgh and the organizations and initiatives that were creating positive outcomes. I would go back and forth from D.C. to Pittsburgh to interview people in local organizations or sit in on talks. I decided in those moments—that was around 2014—that I wanted to start a business focused on building leadership capacity throughout diverse communities, and that I wanted to do this work in Pittsburgh. At the end of the program, we had a chance to create either a regular thesis or a business plan. I wrote a business plan, and I focused on building leadership capacity in Pittsburgh. The plan won the award for best project in my cohort. I thought it was really cool that a lot of people connected to something very local in a whole other place and space.

How did you start working with your mother, Christine McCray-Bethea?

She came on in 2018 during the first Sts. Peter and Paul engagement process. I always say we are two sides of the same house. I’m the CEO and lead strategist of the company and she’s my creative strategist. Oftentimes, we find ourselves in between arts and cultural outreach and bridge building/liaising. My mother is an artist/arts administrator and a current art commissioner for the city. She has owned her own antique store. She’s been in the game for lots of years. When it comes to these types of projects, I can’t do them without her. I keep the ship moving, making sure we’re strategized, on time, paying attention to the leadership aspect of the capacity building and relationship building, etc. My mother, on the other hand, understands the nuances of arts and culture and what that means and looks like. She can see where the gaps are and where the need is. She also has great relationships, and that’s been a huge value-add to the company.

“To help develop a major piece of real estate like this is thrilling, because now I’m involved with the development of the community that I love, was born in, and have always had great hopes and dreams for.”

What is ULEAD’s connection to East Liberty?

Brigette: We’re East Libertarians. It’s almost like when have we not been connected to East Liberty. My mother has been part of the fabric of East Liberty for many years. In the early 80s, she ran the East Liberty Chamber of Commerce. She’s currently a deacon and member of East Liberty Presbyterian Church, and she did some art installations and worked with them for a number of years. Not to mention, my mother and a couple of other colleagues used to run the East Liberty Alive Arts Festival when the East Liberty Presbyterian Church put that on. She also spearheaded the naming of Gene Kelly Square which ultimately led to creating the name for the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

My history obviously comes vis-a-vis hers, but I have my own as well. My spiritual upbringing was at East Liberty Presbyterian Church. My first job was at David’s Shoes, so I knew a lot of the business owners and street vendors and ate at a lot of the restaurants. We have been around in East Liberty for the transition, and we’ve seen a lot. I currently live in Highland Park, so I’m still in East Liberty all the time. My office space is in East Liberty. I work and play in East Liberty. In short, we have lots of connections to the neighborhood, both past and present.

Christine: What is really interesting is that I’m sort of coming full circle. I’m East Liberty born and bred. I grew up here in the late seventies, so East Liberty has always played a big part in my career. As Brigette mentioned, I was the director of the East Liberty Chamber of Commerce, my church is East Liberty Presbyterian Church, and all of my children were born in East Liberty. I also served on the board of ELDI in the early 90s. I’ve always had a love and affinity for East Liberty, and now to help develop a major piece of real estate like this is thrilling. Now I’m involved with the development of the community that I love, was born in, and have always had great hopes and dreams for.

Christine and Brigette in front of Sts. Peter and Paul Church

So you witnessed the whole arc of East Liberty, the rise and fall, we often talk about in our communications.

Christine: Absolutely. I’ve seen East Liberty at its lowest, when businesses and people started leaving, when the Pennley Park Apartments were torn down that extended over Penn Avenue, when the Selma Burke Art Center moved out. I’ve seen all of it—when almost every store was boarded up. When I was the chamber director, there was nothing in East Liberty. I would give events and there would literally be three people on the sidewalk clapping. It was tough back in those days to get people out and interested in the community, but things turned around after former Mayor Richard Caliguri came out for my opening of Gene Kelly Square and tap danced with an umbrella.

Gene Kelly Square Dedication
The ceremony to dedicate “Gene Kelly Square” in East Liberty on April 29, 1987. Former Mayor Richard Caliguri is visible at the far right of the podium. Caliguiri performed Gene Kelly’s famous umbrella dance from Singin’ in the Rain at the event.  Photo: Marjorie Spector, courtesy of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

ELDI has brought you on this time around to coordinate outreach to small arts groups and gauge their need and support for the Sts. Peter and Paul arts and events center. What will the outreach process look like?

Brigette: First I’ll talk about our process before, because I think that lends itself to how we’re doing things now. We were brought on in 2018 to do community outreach. We worked with Kendall Pelling [ELDI’s former director of land recycling] at the time, and ELDI was interested in what the community and neighboring communities thought about what the Sts. Peters and Paul site could become. The way we approached that was pretty grassroots. We did door-to-door surveying and asked questions. We visited local community and housing group meetings. We also did a series of what we called “Space Walk and Talks,” where those residents and community members had a chance to walk the space, learn about it, and give feedback. Additionally, we hosted an Arts Town Hall in the church where we had a couple of small performances from musicians, live painting, and more so that people could see the space lit up and activated. We also participated in a design charette hosted by Partners for Sacred Places, which included round table breakout sessions that helped refine the community’s vision. That whole process yielded data that showed that the community wanted a multi-use space for events, shows, family gatherings and activities, etc. The community also wanted to maintain the space. They liked the graffiti and its general look and feel. They wanted to be able to use it as a community asset.

Fast forward to today: When we’re thinking about the process and how we’re approaching it, it’ll be similar but different in the sense that ELDI is really interested in reaching out to small to mid-size arts and cultural groups. They are specifically interested in BIPOC and underrepresented arts and cultural groups and understanding what their needs might be. At this point, they have a better idea of what the church may look like moving forward, but they still want to get a sense of, operationally, how it could be used and be useful. Now we’ve gone from, “Hey, this is what the community wants’ to ‘The community wants this, but who could actually do it? Who could actually fill the space? What does that look like?”

Pictured (left to right): ELDI Deputy Director Skip Schwab, Founder of ULEAD Brigette Bethea, President of the Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group Tom Rooney, and Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council CEO Patrick Fisher on a site tour of Sts. Peter and Paul.

“We’ve gone from, ‘Hey, this is what the community wants’ to ‘The community wants this, but who could actually fill the space?'”

How will the process be structured?

Brigette: We’re taking a two-fold approach. The first part is creating a questionnaire and some outreach materials for arts and cultural organizations. With my mother’s connections, we have an extensive network, and we’re excited to draw on our relationships as well as develop some new ones. We’ll both be gaining feedback from engaging with folks that we think could be great collaborators as well as folks who could share valuable feedback about the space.

At what stage are you now?

Brigette: We have done a walk-through with Kelly Strayhorn Theater Executive Director Joseph Hall and board members as well as the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council CEO Patrick Fisher and received some critical feedback. Additionally, we already have some groups that we want to reach out to directly and will be scheduling Space Walk and Talk tours with them in August, September, and October so that they can take a look at the space and give feedback in that way as well. We suspect we will be done with outreach sometime in October. Right now, we are creating a process for getting feedback from organizations, and then that will move us into the process of creating the RFP we’ve also been tasked with creating to try to find folks who might be interested in partial operations or management of the space.

Christine: I really applaud ELDI for doing this. When they originally started the process with Sts. Peter and Paul, it was about what does the community want? What does the community think? Now, they have an opportunity to think about design and what things will look like, and again, they’re asking, “What will the people who are going there need or would like to participate in?” That’s something that a lot of developers and organizations don’t take into consideration. They just build it and think that if they build it, they will come. But then it’s not designed exactly how it needs to be, or it doesn’t have a strong thought process into how the space could be used. It’s more about the vision of the developer in that case. In the case of Sts. Peter and Paul, it’s the inspiration and opinion of the community that will rule the ultimate vision. ELDI has been very clear that they don’t want to be dictatorial in what this looks like, nor do they want to ultimately be the people running it. They want this to be very community-based and community-focused. This is that next step.

“The inspiration and opinion of the community will rule the ultimate vision. ELDI has been very clear that they don’t want to be dictatorial in what this looks like, nor do they want to ultimately be the people running it.”

Pictured (left to right): Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council CEO Patrick Fisher, ELDI Deputy Director Skip Schwab, President of the Rooney Sports & Entertainment Group Tom Rooney, and ULEAD Creative Strategist Brigette Bethea on a site tour of Sts. Peter and Paul Church.

There were some questions raised about the B’nai Israel synagogue site in Garfield, because the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation is working on redeveloping the rotunda into a similar facility for arts and events. ELDI’s community planning committee suggested looking at the bigger picture to coordinate these plans into an extended arts overlay district. Will that factor into this process?

Brigette: Absolutely. I can say that we definitely want to work together. I had a very brief conversation with Rick Swartz [executive director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation], and he agreed that there’s plenty of room for everybody, so I think there will be a lot of collaboration in creating a whole new field for East Liberty and the East End.

Christine: People forget that East Liberty was a hub for entertainment in its heyday. At one point, there were nine theaters in East Liberty. There’s no reason we have to think about this in a singular mode. It happened before, and it made the district great because there were so many kinds of venues to attract people. I think this is a good thing. Basically, we’re just coming back to our roots.

Is there anything else you want to share?

Christine: We’re just happy to be working on something that’s going to bring East Liberty one step closer to its previous greatness. The potential is there, the people are there, all the creatives are there. It should be a really great experience once it’s completed, putting that whole vibe together for the new East Liberty.

➡ ELDI is currently seeking name-in-title and founding partners to help bring the Sts. Peter and Paul events center to life. Reach out to and for more information.

➡ If you are a local arts and cultural organization that would like to know more about this project or be added to the email distribution list, please contact

➡ Learn more about the church redevelopment process.