Embracing Our Identity As The Church In The New Sojourn Gallery

Michael Winters has overseen The 930 Art Center at our Midtown Campus since 2006, and is Sojourn’s Visual Arts Director. Michael is my guest blogger this week at DanielSojourn.com:


Yesterday, the post here was about looking back at The 930 Art Center.  Today’s post is about looking forward to the new Sojourn Gallery at St. Vincent’s, which will open on Saturday, August 25 (God willing and construction continues smoothly) with a big open house, and then with first church services on Sunday, August 26.

The gallery nearing the end of construction

How are we going to choose what to show?

The new space is a new opportunity to rethink vision for our arts ministry and slightly shift the gallery’s emphasis.

We don’t ask “What will we not show?” and then make a list of do-not’s for artists – do not show nudity, do not show violence, etc.

Instead we ask, “What art is best for us to share in this time and in this place?”

I now believe that finding the best work for our context requires a full embrace of our identity as the church.  The church is something very different from any other institution or group.  The church is not a museum, business, government, social service agency or a school.  Why do we then so often adopt the methods of these other institutions?  When working with art in the church, we don’t need to borrow the rules and regulations of the fine art world.  We need to more fully understand who we are as the church and allow relationships and practices to be formed from that identity.

In Sojourn we describe our identity as the church through these aspects: Worshipers, Family, Servants, Learners, and Missionaries.

So when thinking about mixing visual art in the life of the church, is there art out there that affirms, challenges, or otherwise encourages us to embrace those identities?  If we can’t get our hands on art like that, can we make it?

I think our tentative schedule for first exhibits at The Sojourn Gallery will encourage us to embrace these identities.

Gene Schmidt walking I Corinthians 13 through the streets of Philadelphia. Photo by Alicia Hansen.

Lovetown, PA by Gene Schmidt and photography by Alicia Hansen

Over the past few years Gene Schmidt’s work has moved out of the studio and onto the streets in a series of projects he calls urban pilgrimages. Combining elements of performance, pilgrimage, and sculpture, the projects are often inspired by, or are meditations on, biblical texts in the context of an urban environment. While these projects are done in public for anyone to see and respond to as they wish, for the artist they are spiritual journeys and lengthy prayers with physical weight and dimension.

I think this project is a fascinating example of an artist embodying the missionary identity.
Who is Shelby Park?

This exhibit will use photography as an entry point into learning our new neighborhood.  Though it’s only a couple blocks from our previous location, this is a new place to explore with new people to meet.  Photography can help us sharpen our understanding of who we are by deepening our understanding of where we are.

We made this for you
This exhibit will invite artists to embody our identity as servants by giving the gift of art to designated individuals and organizations.

Picturing Genesis
As we recently studied the book of Genesis over the course of a year, Sojourn artists illustrated an image for each section of sermon text.  These illustrations were made for the purpose of coming alongside the worship life of the church.  Bringing them all together as nice, big prints in the gallery will be an act of worship too.

Juried: Art by Christians in Higher Education
This exhibit will invite Christians in colleges and universities to submit their best work.  This will hopefully reveal a survey of the kinds of artwork Christians around the country are making.  This will help us get to know one sector of the larger body of Christ family from across the country.

So, my prayer for this new venture is that our church members, artists we work with, and visitors of all kinds will be transformed by the gospel as we embrace our identity as the church and share the best artwork we can get our hands on (or make with our own hands).

You can keep up with Sojourn Visual Arts through sojournvisualarts.com and facebook.com/sojournvisualarts.

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