Lutheran parish programs celebrate the arts
Two congregations, one urban, one suburban, take different approaches.
Two ELCA congregations in the Minneapolis area are using art as a means of reaching out to their communities. Their approaches are dramatically different.
Lutheran Church of the Reformation in St. Louis Park, after going through a consultation on revision of its ministry, was looking for new uses for its architecturally-significant, contemporary style buildings along Highway 100.
In a partnership with the Friends of the Arts in St. Louis Park organization, the congregation has experimented with using its bright and airy fellowship space and walls of the sanctuary for art exhibitions. It’s calling the plan “Habitat for the Arts.”
Calvary Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis also pursues art as a means of outreach to a neighborhood in transition. Calvary’s sprawling educational wing bustles with activity when the Urban Arts Academy is in session.
Encouraging the arts along with academics is the goal of the Urban Arts Academy at Calvary. Under the direction of Dee Henry Williams, the program, which started in 2001, offers a wide range of choices for elementary and middle school students.
That includes everything from break dancing to ceramics to gospel singing.
In the beginning the school-year program aimed to recruit students at Bancroft Elementary and Folwell Middle schools in the south Minneapolis neighborhood near Calvary’s worship center. Students now come from Powderhorn Elementary and Banneker Middle schools as well.
About 50 students are currently enrolled in the Urban Arts Academy. Summer camp sessions are more independent of the schools, with students recruited from the neighborhoods including Phelps Park, across the street from Calvary Church. The Academy expects 30-40 students to enroll in next summer’s program. Students have also come from Bloom-ington, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center.
Williams, a part-time employee of the program, commented that her “strong connection to the arts community” is a help in recruiting “teaching artists” or mentors for the program. The Urban Arts Academy is funded through grants from the Crossroads Foundation of Calvary Church and other foundations, as well as with private donations. A new venture in fund-raising was a gala event in the fall of 2003, an effort which exceeded its goal of $10,000.
Paid teaching artists in the program are assisted by volunteers, several of whom come from Augsburg Col-lege in Minneapolis. Wil-liams said the academy “presents an opportunity for many of these students who are education majors to learn about urban culture.” Wil-liams said that for students from rural communities, this is their first exposure to urban culture.
Among collaborators in the program are the staff at Phelps Park and Two Rivers Gallery and Migizi Communication, Inc., which provides equipment for a digital mixed media class.
Williams herself is a multi-talented person. In addition to being a commercial photographer, and an artist who paints with acrylics on canvas — and one who creates decorative wreaths — she has hosted a Saturday morning radio program on station KFAI for the past 18 years.
An annual celebration of the academy’s accomplishments is called “Takin’ It to the Streets.” This year’s version is scheduled for May 14.
Reformation congregation hosted its first art exhibit in the spring of 2003 and has plans for another exhibit in May of this year. Pastor Dennis Ormseth says the artists group and the congregation work together in seeking out artists who are “expressing admiration for some aspect of creation.”
In order to house the art exhibits, Reformation in-tends to use two spaces. The church’s fellowship space will be called the “Gallery of the Commons,” a room intended for community use. The sanctuary walls will be reserved for expressions of the “relationship of art and faith.”
In both locations, special lighting is a need. The fellowship space has huge windows for natural lighting in the daytime but needs proper lighting for evening events. In the sanctuary space, to be called “The Imaginarium,” a side and rear wall are available for art. Here a light focused on the art can be turned off by remote control to avoid distraction during worship services.
Ormseth, who has been at Reformation nearly 13 years, works with the artists group on exhibits, along with Carsten Slostad, the church’s music director, and other members. The pastor said of his congregation’s adventure, “We are a small, feisty congregation in transition. We’re seeking new ways of connecting with the community.”
He says that, in opening its buildings and grounds for this purpose, the congregation’s purpose is threefold.
* First, provide support to people who find the arts inspiring, engaging, provocative, memorable and transforming, and who will, consequently, associate that kind of experience with the church.
* Second, provide an environment in which the arts and religious faith can be in creative dialogue.
* Third, integrate the arts into its program of outreach to the children of the multicultural community in the congregation’s neighborhood.
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Those interested in the Ur-ban Arts Academy program may contact Williams at the church: 612-827-1641 or by E-mail at email@example.com. For more information about Refor-mation’s “Habitat for the Arts,” contact Pastor Ormseth at 952-929-0439 or by E-mail at: dormseth@reformationslp. org.