Introducing a Week on Art and Mission

The arts have often found an uneasy place in the area of mission.  When so many issues are at stake in mission work, how can we justify spending time on the arts?  Can the arts be used to the benefit of mission work?  Is there anything intrinsic about the arts that makes them suitable for reaching people in missional contexts?  Can the arts be used for discipleship?  How might artists flourish?

Generally speaking, the arts and mission share a fundamental distinctive: they are inherently incarnational. Mission work is grounded in hands-on engagement with people in particular cultural contexts, and works of art are, by nature, particular artifacts of culture created in a hands-on way by people.  However, in spite of the similarities, there have been a number of obstacles which have, at times, kept mission and the arts from seeing one another as allies.  But it must be recognised that there have also been occasions of rich and dynamic partnership.

This week, we’ll hear from academics and artists alike on some of the questions, concerns, and joys of working with the arts in mission:

Tuesday, 6 March: John Franklin, executive director of the Canadian arts organisation ‘Imago’, will introduce our week by looking at why there is a reluctance to bring arts and mission together, and asks the question, “How might we engage the arts in a missional task?”

Wednesday, 7 March: Linda Wells, a dancer and missionary with Operation Mobilization, tells about some of her experiences using the arts in mission work and explores how the arts help us “feel” in a way that benefits people across cultures and contexts.

Thursday, 8 March: J. Scott, a painter and non-traditional missionary in a creative access country, highlights the importance of the process of artistic creation when ministering to people who have experienced oppression, trauma, and marginalization.

Friday, 9 March: Tanya Walker, a PhD Candidate at St Andrews and co-founder of the NYC Tribeca Arts Project, discusses her experience working with young artists of faith to create, collaborate, and dialogue with others, through art.

We look forward to this week and hope that you will contribute to the conversation about this important topic.

1 Comment

  • Jonathan Evens says:

    This is an important and much needed debate to which I’d like to contribute by sharing a little of the approach to the issue taken by commission4mission.

    commission4mission (http://commissionformission.blogspot.com/) aims to encourage the commissioning and placing of contemporary Christian Art in churches, as a means of fundraising for charities and as a mission opportunity for the churches involved.

    We have briefly explained how we see the Arts contributing to the mission of the Church in and through our work in terms of:

    • speaking eloquently of the faith – for example, we think that our commissions and the work included in our exhibitions does this;
    • providing a reason to visit a church – for example, we have created an Art Trail for the Barking Episcopal Area (http://www.chelmsford.anglican.org/barking-art-trail.html);
    • making links between churches and local arts organisations/ initiatives – for example, in organising a study day on public art in Harlow we brought together local churches and the Harlow Art Trust; and
    • providing a focus for people to come together for a shared activity – for example, organising community art workshops.

    In writing of the “passionate and intelligent understanding of the arts in the service of the Church” that was demonstrated by Bishop George Bell (Bishop of Chichester, 1929 – 1958), Canon Keith Walker set out a model for an ‘ideal’ relationship between church and artist. Bell argued that: “the Church should dictate the subject-matter whilst the artist should decide the style;” “today’s artists to be employed to paint in our churches not in a style imitative of the past but in the idiom natural to them;” and the Church … must be prepared to trust its chosen artists to begin their work and carry it through to the end as the fulfilment of a trust, the terms and circumstances of which they understand and respect.”

    In this regard we have often quoted our patron, the Bishop of Barking, who has said:

    “I agree with Rowan Williams that the Church needs more artists and ‘that artists are special people but every person is a special kind of artist.’ I think that there is great scope in the Church encouraging creative expression in everyone as this is a way of helping us to be fully human – made in the image and likeness of our creator God.”

    For a recent and much fuller presentation on our work and the thinking behind it, see: http://commissionformission.blogspot.com/2012/02/exploring-nature-of-christian-art.html

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