22 June 2011

Church Patronage of the Arts - a follow-up

As you know, I had a little article about church patronage of the arts published in Comment a short while ago. In preparation for that article, I contacted many artists and churches to ask about their experiences. Some replies are still coming in, so (with permission) I'll be posting those responses here. Your comments are welcome either here or over at Comment. This response is from:
Paul LeFeber
Associate Director of Worship Arts
Blackhawk Church

You will notice how his advice ties in with the suggestions I received from many other sources.

PLF: Every year we do a project called "The Artist Showcase." Artists are invited to create a new work around a given theme. This last year our theme was "Love Where You Live." The types of works range from visual art, music, dance, and spoken word. The event centers around a one night gallery showing and performance. The visual works stay up through Sunday services.

IA: Who initiated the project, the church or the artist?

PLF: The project is initiated by our worship arts staff. None of us are visual artists, but we feel the visual arts are an important and often underrepresented medium in our churches, so we've worked to bring them to the forefront. All of us are songwriters, so the music side comes more naturally to us.

IA: How much creative control did the church have over the project?

PLF: We give all creative control to the artists. Meaning they do their work entirely on their own. However, we do have a jury process where we ask to see the work ahead of time and not everyone is guaranteed a spot in the show. We rarely turn people away though. We also help with the hanging of the works to ensure that everything hangs well together in our space. In the case of music we did spend some time with individual songwriters to coach them through some potentially weak parts of their composition. We also put together a house band to accompany the artists on their songs.

IA: How was the show used; in a worship service, in the church building, or in some other way? Did the pastor announce or discuss it from the pulpit; did he incorporate its themes into his sermon?

PLF: The theme "Love Where You Live" was picked because it a big theme that we've used in our teaching all year long. So there was a strong connection to the pulpit in that way. It was also talked about and announced from up front. We've found it's important for the speaking pastor to endorse the event and cast some vision.

IA: Were the artists paid for their pieces or performances? If so, just for time/materials, or the going sale value of the work?

PLF: The artists are not paid for this event. It's entirely volunteer.

IA: What advice would you give to artists seeking church commissions?

PLF: I'm not sure I have any advice here. Perhaps maintain a servant heart. If you can develop an attitude of wanting to serve the church and what the church needs or desire that will go a long way. Also, start with your home church. That's going to be the most natural connection.

IA: What advice would you give to churches looking to work with artists?

PLF: I would encourage churches to give artists lots of time. Often artists work better if they've got the time to really develop their work. I would also encourage churches to have a compelling theology of the arts. Meaning they should take the time to discuss and study why it's important and what value it has to a community of Christ followers and to people's spiritual lives. I would encourage churches to remain open to artists. Often times artist feel as though they're not welcome in church. Perhaps the biggest thing is that I would encourage churches to no simply think about what artists can "do" for them. How can they "use" the artists. Rather I would encourage churches to think about how they can disciple and develop artists, how they can create a creating environment for artists to flourish.


Annelise said...

I love that last comment especially. Using this kind of ministry to nurture and encourage the artists, as well as letting them serve the church- such an important part of discipleship in general! I think that once this is happening, the church's theology of the arts will fall naturally in line with what God Himself is doing there.

Annelise said...

I read something written by a friend tonight, where he said: "I think that all kinds of churches everywhere should be writing their own songs. I have been disappointed that it is such a rare thing to walk into a church with their own songs. It shouldn't be just up to one person or one church to generate songs, art, culture, but for all people everywhere to discover and awaken creativity to share, for all people groups to express their culture, for every individual to express who they are creatively."

I thought you'd like that... It brings up a thought that's related to the conversation you've been building, perhaps extending it in a different direction. Churches should certainly be supporting artists as they create art within the church. So, what does it look like if that moves from the personal level to that of community, with church groups using culture and the arts as an interwoven space for their worship together? Composing work creatively, yet with 'one voice' that the whole church feels ownership of?

This is something that happens spontaneously in almost any cultural group I think, and it would be interesting to see how it works- and can be strengthened- especially in local churches. It should always remain a point of connection with other churches, but also a way for each local group of Christians-actually-together to celebrate and share the uniqueness of what God is doing with them.

Though there might be a risk of confusing our expressions of culture with the nature of the church itself, of seeming exclusive to people who don't think or worship in a certain way, or of removing the church from the artistic/cultural conversation and concerns outside the church... I still think this sort of thing could be God-honouring. An emphasis on this sort of expression within and between the churches could be quite amazing, in its place.

Rosie Perera said...

Great response to a great article, and Annelise, I like your comments, too!

I know of a great little church in the Seattle area, Church of the Beloved, which has songwriters within the church who write most of their music for worship. I also heard Angie & Todd Fadel from The Bridge Christian Church in Portland, OR, speak at an event in Vancouver last summer called "Immeasurably More: Artists and the Church: Exploring New Models of Patronage" (I'd been meaning to blog here about it at the time, but never got around to it) about how their church rarely sings songs written outside their community.

Iambic Admonit said...


Excellent points! You have put your finger right on some of the potential strengths and potential dangers of more church-art involvement.

I like the idea of having churches compose their own music, but the problem is that those composers need to be top-notch. There are plenty of churches that let some kid with a guitar get up and mumble or squeak his own "songs," but they have no connection to historical tradition, they exhibit no musical craft, they ignore vocal technique, and they are unlearned. This does not honor God. But there's no reason why we can't train young people in our church to grow up and be, if not Bach, at least Telemann in our age!

Annelise said...

So interesting. It's hard, because you're right! You can lose authenticity in worship, form cliqueish groups who focus on skill above maturity in leadership, and forget that quality in the ability to communicate worship and faith can only exist at all if they submits to simple discipleship at heart. Still, you're right that tradition, craft and understanding are genuinely valuable in Christians' art.

The place to address these things mustn't be in the nature of the art itself so much as in the place that art occupies in the whole sphere of church life. You can have an emphasis on innovative, technically beautiful, attractive and expressive work coming out of the church while still allowing others to grow and be perfectly involved who can't attain to that artistic level. You can still focus on God rather than on the facade of culture, as long as the arts take exactly the right place within the way the Holy Spirit is moving in the churches. The form they take should work itself out with that inspiration, and this is something to pray for a lot. Before creating anything we should pray that it will actually honour Jesus and show sincere, inclusive and effective love. Whether or not this happens will probably be a matter more of the churches' heart than simply of the nature or high standard of their creative work.

On a different note, I began reading Taliessin through Logres a couple of days ago... It's stunning.