So... I just came from a meeting with an ecumenical colleague who is REALLY energized about bringing to birth our own "Faith and the Arts Festival" here in Pittsfield. For a few years - especially after exploring the festival in Greensboro, NC - I've sensed that Pittsfield is ready to take our interest in the arts to a deeper level. There is a vibrant arts presence active in the redevelopment work of the town after decades of stagnation. And we have created a successful monthly "arts walk" that showcases local artists in new and creative ways, too.
Now it seems like we might be able to begin a conversation linking local artists with the rest of the community to show how art created for the common good brings healing on multiple levels. I saw some of that potential once again at our "Beats 4 BEATS" concert this past Sunday. For too long, the creation of art has been seen as the isolated work of discrete individuals who are seeking ways to "express their personal vision." But as both Nicholas Wolterstorff (Art in Action) and Bruce Ellis Benson (Liturgy as a Way of Life) have observed, when an artist and their works of art exist in a rarefied environment where the subjective is supreme, art loses its role in nourishing and healing the soul. It becomes an incidental distraction for the wealthy or eccentric.
What we are striving to express is a very different encounter with art:
First, we make music and share beauty, truth and joy cooperatively. We are not just a random collection of individuals doing our own thing, but a loving albeit loose community of artists joining together to care for the common good. We not only love and respect one another, we invite others to join the creative process by actively entering the music. On many levels, our message is: we are in this together. We are young and old and in-between, we are male and female, gay and straight, rich and poor.
Second, we actively choose to share our music in ways that encourage transformation. One-time acts of random kindness have their place, but they rarely sustain social change. That's why we partner with community activists and raise funds as well as spirits. Our mission is to help those who both perform and participate experience what healing feels like for our songs touch the heart as well as the mind and soul - with a little bit of booty shaking, too.
Now I am down with Bono saying that music really can't change the world - but I would add: it can help. It can touch people in ways that words or images can not. It can model listening and responding creatively to the call for beauty, goodness and truth. And it can energize in ways that are playful, joyful, soulful and hopeful. Andy Crouch puts it like this:
We who are privileged enough to live in North America live in a world that is forgetting both pain and play. Our popular culture offers us endless diverting amusements that fall flat and well short of real celebration. Our so-called serious culture offers us endlessly difficult dead ends. Who will be the people who can play gracefully, unusefully, in the world? Who will be the people who turn unafraid toward the pain? Who will be the people who believe in beauty without being afraid of brokenness? (For the Beauty of the Church)
We live in a town - and time - that might be able to raise these questions AND point to some of the ways faith and art matter. So, as the summer unfolds, we'll be doing more to see how our own Festival of Faith and the Arts may come to pass. I can't wait!
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