Sacred Street Art and the Soul of a Community

Street art and the sacred might seem like an odd pairing at first blush. But for Artist and Methodist minister Ric Stott the act and activity of creating art in abandoned, almost desolate, spaces is one of creative hope. For some time now Stott has been exploring the role of art in making community and drawing together the people who call Sheffield home. He works for the Methodist Church in Sheffield as a Pioneer Minister where he also has a studio. In this role as a minister and an artist he is exploring ways in which creative arts can enrich peoples lives and communities – spiritually, emotionally and socially.

Last year, after seeking permission from the owners of a run-down bingo hall that borders a busy (but droll) roundabout, he stood and painted the work below during daylight hours.

What happened as he painted surprised him. Passers-by stopped and talked with him. People asked questions, offered suggestions and shared their concerns for the neighbourhood. As he continued the piece, some were even worried that he’s been sent to cover it up.

Stott describes the process that led him to creating pieces in public space.

I used to just paint with oils and acrylics but over the last year or so have been working on installations, environmental art and street art. I’m interested in how art can inspire and bring life to communities and so more and more am working outside, particularly in urban areas so the work isn’t mine – it belongs to the community and is a result of my listening and being in that place. It’s important to me to seek beauty and the sacred in ordinary places, places that people would often dismiss and give up on: the day to day concrete spaces of offices and multistory parks and council estates. I’ve been profoundly changed and challenged by making art in these places and have been overwhelmed by the way passers by open up to me and talk about quite intimate aspects of their lives. So the process of art making somehow opens up a space where people can be in a different way – I would call this sacred space. [1]

You can read more about the reaction of passers-by and Stott’s own feels of vulnerability here and here. And here he discusses the practical challenges of painting on breeze blocks.

Stott created a second piece (left) as part of the Art for Advent project, this time on the side of an old garage. He describes the interaction with those who came upon him as he created there. Of this piece he muses:

The puddle right in front of the wall that I fell foul of several times as I stepped back to look at the image, mud sliding underfoot and oil from the paint making rainbow patterns on the water.

The roughness of the stone and the way the paint picked out the cracks and crevasses.

The keen December wind whisking the paint away from the surface before it had chance to make a mark.

And then the image itself emerging on that abandoned, burnt out shed round the back of a pub;Vibrant colours amidst the brown and grey, hopeful and fragile, beautiful life in an ordinary place. [2]

The large pieces of street art that received such response and interaction and interest (including from the police) has inspired Stott’s newer project “Soul of Sheffield,” which explores the role of art and creativity in the building of community. Stott is working with a group of artists from South Yorkshire to explore the stories of the people and communities that make Sheffield and how they relate to the place.

We have found a large open plan office and, over a couple of months, will be inviting artists, community groups and passers by in to help build a model of the city as well as recording something of the participants stories. The model will be huge and sometimes I worry about this being one of those creative endeavours you set out on not knowing whether or not it will be an amazing success or a glorious failure! [1]

You can follow the progress of the project: www.iaskforwonder.com.

I’d be interested in hearing about other projects like this.

Do you know of any?

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[1] Read full interview with Ric Stott on Goannatree.

[2] Street Art Adventures 4 by Ric Stott

All image are used with Ric Stott’s permission. You can find more of Ric’s work on his website: www.iaskforwonder.com

3 Comments

  • paul says:

    What an interesting piece of work, well done to Ric, I certainly hope to see more from him in the future.

  • Marilyn Leider says:

    I loved the article and the art. I even visited his website and watched him give a great interview! I’d love to hear updates from time to time of his work.

  • Cole Matson says:

    This is fantastic, Anna. Thanks for sharing. I’m passing this post on to a professor in the U.S. who’s an advocate of locally-created, locally-relevant art.

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