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Art needs the church: How to create artisan communities

By Gavin Richardson

When you create a piece of art, you experience a hint of what God may feel. This helps us understand and love God even more. An artisan community may be the perfect way to facilitate this experience and bring all generations together in one ministry.

Genesis 1 tells of God creating magnificent creatures and colorful landscapes. God created humankind in "God's own image." However, despite God's beautiful example, many people push aside the arts in their spiritual lives.

Artisan communities help people exercise a freedom of expression that moves them beyond religious customs and unwritten codes and rules that may bind them.

How can you cultivate an artisan community in your church?

1. Organize a few artisans to start the process. This should be a shared effort, but as with any new initiative, it needs a leader who knows the "why" is as important as the "how" and "what" of the ministry.

2. Take time to determine the "why" and "what" of the ministry. Why do we need to encourage creativity within the church as well as in the community at large? What arts do you wish to cultivate? Photography, painted arts, writing, improv/theater, filmmaking, dance, design, graphics, ceramics and sculpture are possibilities. The group can look at active communities, such as Art House America, Artisan Church or Imago Dei Community as examples from which to draw ideas.

3. Decide how the community will interact and work together. This could be a gathering of artisans from all disciplines or groupings by discipline. Your facility and the material needs may dictate how you organize. When might your groups meet? Creativity does not start and stop during an hour on Wednesday night, so you may not need regular meetings to create or practice an art. Participants might want to gather to share their work and to discuss individual projects. Workshop settings might offer a helpful week-to-week reason for gathering. If artisans are coming together to work, be sure your space has good natural light for people to paint or sculpt or that you can provide the right setting to pursue other arts.

The environment you offer will clearly tell artisans how passionate the church is about starting the new community. Designate and design your room/rooms according to what is needed. An improv or dance group needs open space. Painting and drawing tools and furnishings would be helpful for a visual arts group. A computer with appropriate software installed may be helpful for those groups pursuing photography and graphics arts. Room colors, lighting and displays can help provide inspiration.

4. Decide on some introductory efforts for the church. Here is a list of ideas to run with:

  • Create an art gallery for Holy Week or Advent.

  • Work with a local restaurant or coffee shop to display visual arts.

  • Work with a theater or coffee shop (that has a stage) to host a poetry reading.

  • Work with your city's public works department to do beautification projects around the community.

  • Collect short stories or memories of the church and create a print book.

  • Use the group's photographs of the community to create a photo book about the community.

  • Bring in guest artisans to share their talents with your own community.

  • Work with the pastor/s to have a sermon series with artistic elements used throughout.

  • Integrate the artisan community into worship: painting during the service, using photographers' images for PowerPoint backgrounds or sermon illustrations.

  • Make videos of each ministry within the church.

  • Share poems, improv or music with older adults or those imprisoned as part of the church mission.

  • Have family photo days where families from the community can benefit from some creative images.

  • Create works of art for new home owners you might know through Habitat for Humanity or participants in programs for battered women and/or those in recovery programs offered by the church.

  • Create public art projects for your community.

  • Offer scholarships and grants for artists within the community.

  • Collect donated equipment or supplies to support and build participation.

  • Have each of the artisan group participants come up with a grand idea to involve everyone in a common effort. Then let the whole group vote on or choose one idea to support financially and physically (similar to the concept of KickStarter or HopeMob).

  • Work through The Artist's Way, a workbook that helps experienced and non-experienced artists re-capture their creative side.

5. Promote the new community within and outside the church. While they might not be looking for a home church, artists may be seeking community with others pursuing their art. Promote your community at coffee shops, art stores and through other local arts groups. Digitally you can advertise your group through Facebook, ArtChain, IAM : International Arts Movement, Poets and Writers, and MeetUp.

6. Gather ministry leaders at the end of the initial efforts to assess the highs and lows, to plan new projects and to support the community that has emerged.

Creativity transcends age. If your church has a solid culture of ministry divided by age groups, your artisan community may be the perfect way to introduce multigenerational ministry. For example, if your artisan community originates with the youth or young adults, have them, if they are willing, specifically invite several older members to join them as participants rather than only as an audience for the created works.

Inspiration from Cokesbury
Good Taste, Bad Taste, & Christian Taste - While grounded in history and theory, this book asks practical questions like: How can one religious community accommodate a variety of artistic tastes?
Art & Soul - Here the best teaching on Christianity and the arts during the past fifty years is digested and reapplied, supported by a wealth of quotes from artists, critics and Christian thinkers.
Wesley Creative Teaching Aids - For children of all ages!