The By/For Project: An Experiment in Church Patronage of the Arts

Will churches patron artists? And, if they do, will artists give some of the art back to their community? The By/For Project came about in response to these questions and has shown that church patronage of the arts is possible; art freely given can benefit patrons, artists and the broader culture. By combining artist residencies with regional tours, By/For has defined a simple, repeatable model that enables churches to patron the arts. By/For is based on three reinforcing ideas that hopefully will produce great art. The first idea is that churches must patron artists. The second is the great art is created in community. The third is that great art begins as a gift. I will explore each in turn.

Church art patronage has a long history, intertwining with and inseparable from the history of great art itself.  But, what does patronage mean for today’s local church? The By/For projects focus on several key ways patrons give to artists, specifically the gifts of time, space, and audience.  By/For residencies take place over a several week period in a space that is intentionally chosen to spur creativity.  The art created during the residency tours at the patron churches, as well as being shown to the local arts community. These gifts of time, space, and audience combine to be both the reason and the means for the creative process.

The second pillar of the project, artistic community, is knitted into the very fabric of the residency.  In each project the artists work in proximity to each other, eat together and relax together.   By sharing space, the artists are able to interact at key stages in the creative process. While artists create their own work, the work is richer for the encouragement, critique and questions raised by other artists taking the work of their peers seriously.

The third idea is that art begins as a gift. In each project, the artists gift the digital artifacts of the project back to the community through a creative commons license.  This gifting element fits perfectly with churches who tend to work on a donation and volunteer model.  And while gifting goes against the grain of the old, copyright-centric creative model, creative commons is playing a large role in new emerging models of music and video distribution. Through the By/For website, the art is made freely accessible to the wider church and artistic community.

In addition to the gifted digital artifact, every By/For project also has physical artifacts for sale. The proceeds are split between the hosting venue and the artist and create a way for artists to be compensated for their work and patrons to recoup their costs.  Beyond the financial benefit, the physical artifacts allow for individuals inspired by the work to engage with it at a deeper level and to allow for many to take the first step in collecting art.

The Vancouver Project II: In the Making shows how these elements come together in a three-dimensional art project. The project was patronized by three Northwest churches, Regent College and Laity Lodge, a Christian retreat center. The patrons as a group contributed about $10,000 which enabled six artists, Ginger Geyer, Roger Feldman, Nancy Rebal, Matt Whitney, Kathy Hastings and Shannon Newby, to create original art during a two-week residency at the Binney Studio at Regent College. The artists were selected by Brian Moss, a songwriter and pastor, who curated the project.  The artists were free to create whatever art they wished and worked in a wide variety of materials, from traditional paint and wood to more exotic porcelain, wax and sail.  The art created during the residency then toured at the patron churches, opening at the Lookout Gallery at Regent College in Vancouver BC, then moving to two stops in Seattle and finally stopping at Laity Lodge in Kerrville, TX, outside of Austin. At each stop, an artist reception engaged at least two of the artists in a dialogue with the patron communities.  In both Vancouver and Seattle, the show was part of a larger featured community art event, engaging both the patron and the work with the broader local artistic community.

Ten art pieces sold during the tour, which recouped about $3,000 for the patrons and $3,000 for the artists. The artists donated digital images of the work, which can be downloaded for free under a creative commons license. All unsold works were returned to the artists. In total, the art was on display for over 14 months in three major artistic communities in two countries. For several of the artists, the project has led to further collaboration with the patron churches and with subsequent sales to collectors who learned of the artist’s work through the project.

The By/For Project has proven that churches can patron artists, for the benefit of both church and artist.  Hopefully the structure and format of the four completed projects thus far can provide a helpful place for worshiping communities to continue the long tradition of church patronage of the arts.

Lance Mansfield works with the By/For Project.

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  1. says: David

    What an inspiring project!

    The church I’m involved with in NC facilitates community groups, led by volunteers within the church. Each group has a specific mission focus; one operates a clothing donation and distribution center out of the church property, another focuses on providing transportation and encouragement for children in poor neighborhoods to play in community athletics, a third has focused on starting community gardens. I have been brainstorming ways to create a community group that focuses on the arts, connecting local artists to the church but also to the community. This is extremely valuable information you have shared for starting this community group! Thank you, Lance!

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