When I was in college studying art, I usually kept the “Christian side” of me separate from the “artistic side” of me whenver I stepped into my art building. I wasn't embarrassed about Christ or the fact I grew up in a Christian home. I just had no idea how to connect my faith and my art, or that it was even important to connect the two. When I walked into the art department, I left my faith outside the door. I was still a Christian, but the people inside the art department didn’t know it.
I attended the Urbana Missions Conference in 1987 and was challenged to think of my Christian life more holistically and less compartmentalized. I began to understand that I could and should integrate my Christian faith and my art. God also challenged me about what I was going to do with the leadership skills that I had been given. I was drawn to ministry and wanted to work with college students. What I thought would be a two year internship with InterVarsity has turned into 22 years on staff in various capacities, the most recent being my appointment as the Director of InterVarsity’s Arts Ministry.
Arts and Leadership
As Director, I am excited to lead the Arts Ministry in working with artists. I have always had a love for artists, especially as an artist myself. Artists’ crafts influence our society. They do so through music, movies, visual art, theatre, dance and more without even really thinking about it. Even Time magazine’s list of the most influential people in the world includes many artists. But who/what is influencing their soul? Does their soul match the beauty they are creating?
I feel a call to work with the artists who are influencing our society today. We see beautiful people on the silver screen but learn every day that their private lives lack the same beauty. Their brokenness is often made into front page headlines. I want their souls to match the beauty they create and to match the beauty of the God who has created them.
Bringing artists to a better understanding of who they are in the eyes of the Creator has a profound impact, and impacting those who influence society can truly change the world. I believe that artists are a prophetic voice for our society and are often misunderstood. Part of InterVarsity’s mission is to develop world changers, and artists are world changers who need to be developed.
Artists also have a way to share the gospel that is unique and inspiring to the listener. This is why we created The Story Project. It is a piece of art that was created by artists to be used by artists to engage others in spiritual conversations. To watch artists lead in evangelism in this way is a beautiful thing!
A Word to Campus Staff
Understanding that artists are a particular group with their own special needs, I would like to offer some insight to CSMs working with art students. Artists are not flakes. They are carrying a heavy load with school beyond core classes. Artists must complete studio classes, performance classes, or rehearsals, most of which are not counted for in the course load (a student in a studio class that lasts 3 hours may only be receiving 1 course credit). When a visual art student is given a project, they will work on that project until he or she gets an A, which may mean doing the project multiple times. When they get a critique on a piece and it sounds like the teacher doesn’t like it, they do it until the teacher does. If an art student is planning to do further study, perhaps graduate school, the student can’t get anything less than an A in every class. If an art student gets a B, then their dreams of graduate school are pretty much gone.
Art students are under a lot of pressure and the grading scale is very subjective. When asking an art student to get involved in a group that meet 3 or more times a week, the art student won’t be able to because he or she can’t give that much time to something that isn’t related to their studies. The same is true for performance artists. A theatre student in a production may have rehearsal five nights a week after classes. A dancer may be required to spend hours and hours in the studio correcting a technical flaw that could prevent a career. These students know the work it takes to work as a professional and don’t take a moment of time for granted.
When asking an art student to get involved in the chapter, be aware of what is being asked of the art student. Often artists are only asked to create and contribute and are not often invested in or developed themselves. We have to be aware in our campus ministries that we aren’t just using our art students for their talents, but that we are also developing other skills in them. We want to help our art students learn, just as I had to learn, you can be an artist and a Christian. If you are a CSM and you have a heart to reach art students, please contact InterVarsity Arts Ministry. We would love to resource and coach you.
A Word to Artists
If you are an artist, I want to tell you first and foremost that you do not have to choose to be a great artist or a Christian! It is possible to be both. God showed us this is possible by creating a universe that is so beautiful. You may feel like you have to leave the “Christian side” of your life at the door of your art building, but God is already doing something in your arts department. God is redeeming the arts through your arts department. You can join God’s redemptive plan by leading a Christ-centered community inside your art department for your friends to explore God’s love and beauty.
Resources for Christian Artists: