I made it a point to walk by the five-story-high scaffolding. One of our congregation members, Eric, sat on the first level, taking his lunch with the rest of the team of artists. Behind them, a flock of gigantic birds had begun to emerge on the brick wall. Eric and his team are part of an ArtWorks project to bring great art to the public places of the city.
The big idea behind ArtWorks is that art is a creative and economic engine.
Let that thought linger for a moment. It pushes back against the customary idea of art. You know the idea. It goes like this. Art dwells in museums and galleries. Art is a rarified, hard to understand discipline that only appeals to “creatives” and “intellectuals”. If you’re a Christian, art is a little suspect. Best to keep it in its museums and study the historic masters. If it’s modern, it’s weird. That about sums it up.
ArtWorks is re-framing the way we think about art. They’re doing this by putting enjoyable and accessible art out in public places. Since 1996, they have installed 56 murals all across the Cincinnati area. These murals provide the backdrop to the drama of our lives, evoking whimsy, nostalgia, inspiration, and contemplation. Artworks wants to improve the public space of the community so that businesses in the community can prosper and thrive. This mission has produced murals, public art installations, programs in hospitals, and other ways of enriching the Cincinnati community.
However, ArtWorks is an employer as well. They employ working artists (like my friend Eric), who mentor students as part of the summer mural program. The most rewarding moments for these artists come in guiding a high school student in the technique and craft. We are made for relationships, after all, and one of the ways that art brings us together is through making art together.
Which ultimately brings me to why Christians should care.
Often, the Christian community (at least the evangelical Christian community) takes a standoffish posture toward the artistic community. This is a terrible mistake. ArtWorks is an example of the creative community reaching out to the broader community, making relationships, drawing people in. ArtWorks is building ties among people and sparking conversations. They are showing Cincinnati that they care about the quality of life in the community.
Isn’t caring a significant part of the calling of the Christian? Isn’t that a bit about what “salt and light” is all about? Could it be that involvement in a venture like ArtWorks can be a great opportunity for a Christian to bless the larger community? I sure think so. This seems to be what Christianity Today is talking about in their This Is Our City series.
That’s why I’m thankful for my friend Eric. He’s a Christian who happens to be called to the vocation of artmaking. He makes really good art. He works with ArtWorks to bless the broader community, and in so doing, he’s building relationships and getting in conversations with a wide variety of people. Simply put, he doesn’t withdraw into a little churchy subculture. He follows the call to ArtWorks and to the broader community.
Where are you called into the community?
Soli Deo Gloria