I’d like to report the results of a meeting held last week at the Actors’ Chapel in New York City. Ten artists – members of the Catholic Artists’ Society, parishioners of the Actors’ Chapel, and friends – met to discuss visions for the arts in New York. Disciplines represented included theatre, visual art and architecture. At the end of the meeting, we decided to share the ideas with the wider arts community, to see if anyone else has been thinking along similar lines. So, if any of the following resonates with a call you’ve been feeling, please get in touch.
The ideas suggested included a Catholic artists’ network, an online database which churches and other patrons could use to commission artworks, retreats and prayer workshops for artists (using especially St Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, which emphasize the use of the imagination), small “support groups” to help artists talk through issues they’re facing in their careers with fellow Christians in their discipline, and training to help Christian artists be more confident in owning their faith publicly. In addition to these ideas, the idea of a residential artists’ community was proposed, which would function as a chaplaincy and “hub” from which multiple other ministries to the artistic community could operate.
This community would have a set of long-term residents whose mission would be to continue to work in their arts, while also spending part of their time in service to their fellow artists, whether Christian or non-Christian. One major form of service would be the provision of low-cost housing within the community for artists new to the city, for up to a year, so that they could live in a supportive community setting with brother and sister artists while they found their feet. The community could also host times of prayer, in addition to meetings, art events, and lectures, as well as offering an “open door” to artists in search of friendship and encouragement.
But the most important service that such a community could provide is not practical support, much as support may be valuable, but the witness of a group of artists living their artistic vocations with integrity, balance, and love. One of the most common criticisms I have received to this idea is the question, “But aren’t artists crazy? I wouldn’t want to live in a house full of artists!”
Yes, artists are crazy. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy being around them. But Christian artists are also Christian – grounded first in Christ through faith. We dream of the power of a community of Christian artists giving witness to how an artist can live – their work fueled by prayer, nurturing warm and stable relationships with other people, entirely dedicated to the beauty of the work and the love it expresses rather than isolating themselves from society or frantically running other people off the road in a desperate chase for a “successful career.” Such a community could help its members support each other in making of their lives a work of beauty, brilliant with virtue and compassion.
Such a life of stability would provide a counterpoint to the stressful, anxious lives most artists lead, worried about getting their “big break” and suffering pressures to conform to the stereotype of an “artist’s lifestyle” (e.g., drugs, alcohol, casual sex). Most of all, it would say, “You can be fully human and a full artist, too.” But most importantly, the existence of such a community of working artists would say, “You’re welcome here. We’ve been there, too. Let’s walk together on this journey.”
What role could such a simple ministry of presence play in the life of an artist who feels pulled to drugs, sex, or other addictions to fill the loneliness and fear endemic to an artist’s life? I pray we may have the opportunity to put such a ministry into practice and see.
Anyone interested in learning more about plans for a residential artists’ community in New York, or to discuss the idea of such a community forming elsewhere (or the establishment of any other of the ministry ideas mentioned in this post), please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cole Matson is a third-year PhD student in the Institute for Theology, Imagination & the Arts. One of his most powerful experiences in the theatre was seeing the world premiere of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in New York, directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. RIP.
Image Credit: St. Malachy’s – The Actors’ Chapel. (c) Scott Beale / Laughing Squid (Source). Shared under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.