CIVA (Christians In the Visual Arts) Conference 6/09

CIVA held its bi-annual conference in Minneapolis June 18-21 at the beautiful campus of Bethel University and Seminar.

CIVA has been around for 30 years, but I first heard of them about 10 years ago during a research trip to the Billy Graham Museum art archives in Wheaton, IL. The archivist gave me some of their wonderful catalogues with full-color reproductions of member’s work. It was exciting to see that there was such high quality faith-based art being produced, and an organization was working to promote it.  I finally joined a couple years ago and have found the CIVA newsletters and resources valuable and inspiring.

The Conference

I had come from the “Wonder” Art’s Conference at Willow Creek Church near Chicago just a few days before heading to CIVA, and I knew there would be a marked contrast between the two events.  Willow is big into media, drama and music… not so much painting, sculpting or installations. Willow likes to rock their worship with a full band, several singers and a decibel level that makes it hard to talk to the person next to you. The CIVA folks go for a more contemplative approach, this time having Brian Moss lead sensitive and sweet worship with only his piano. And the CIVA event was intentionally more intellectual and philosophical, with opening speaker Miroslav Volf, and others giving our brain cells a run for their money.

It is thrilling to see what God is doing in the arts, in different movements that have distinct styles. Even though my lack of sleep made it sometimes difficult to follow the intense featured talks, I felt very at home at the CIVA conference. The organization is relatively small, around 2,000 I believe, and I recognized many names and faces.

A few of Miroslav Volf’s thoughts that hit home included encouragement for us to be artists that promote and facilitate “human flourishing”, or as Dallas Willard calls it–knowing how to live well in the world.  He said, “If God IS love, then His love is not determined by what it encounters. MY love is elicited by the features of the object I encounter. God IS love. We flourish when we know we are loved and enjoyed by God.” My experience is that when I GET that I am loved and enjoyed by God–I mean really get it—I do flourish in every area. That is an essential concept for artists who are Christians to get,  so we can truly be a vessel for that Divine Love.

This was my third time to hear Mako speak this year, and as I’ve said before I’ve come to really enjoy his illuminating thoughts. This time he spoke about the concept of an estuary, like the Hudson River, where fresh and salt water meet, forming a diverse, complex, catalytic mixture that flows both ways.  He thinks as an arts movement we want to be an estuary in the culture. When an estuary is working it gives strength to those who want to swim upstream and spawn.

This year’s conference feature workshop tracks of: Art and Design, Art, Worship and the Church, Art Education, Museum and Gallery Professionals, Scholars and Critics, and Spiritual Formation for Artists.  I skipped around the tracks and classes and enjoyed everything I attended, though I hit a mental exhaustion wall a few times. Many others did, as well. I think my favorite workshops were Kevin Hamilton’s “Orientation” with author and critic Dan Siedell and Mako Fujimura. They discussed the rise of provisional, non-permanent art and the culture behind it. Lots of clear insightful thinking floating around the room, thanks in large part to moderator Hamilton.  The final workshop “Developing a Vision for Arts & The Church”, led by Bobbette Rose, was the culmination of my pilgrimage to this CIVA conference.  There we many good thoughts and observations, and I was compelled to bring up the concept of the artists relationship with God as the key to a New Renaissance of art in the church. The conversation took off as we talked about the possibilities, the hopes, the healing that needs to happen in us as we get past how we’ve been hurt and rejected–often by the church– in the past. And how the integration of the arts into the church is essential for the maturity of the Body of Christ. Come Holy Spirit! Revive and restore your church through the arts!

Given the academic tendencies in CIVA, I was pleasantly surprised to feel the strong presence of the Holy Spirit during the conference.  Yes, He is present inside us, but this was a palpable physical awareness of His nearness. I was aware of this during the final workshop, during worship with Brian Moss on Saturday morning, at lunch with artist Bryn Gillette, and during the final Late Late Show art presentation. Things are stirring at CIVA!

The People

I met so many wonderful people at this conference! Sandy Ceas from Colorado became a friend as we sat in some sessions and exchanged ideas. Chillon Leach shared what she is doing to serve Alzheimer’s patients with the arts, and how she’s developed an artist in residence program in churches. I was thrilled to win one of her paintings at the auction. Jessie Nilo, director of VineArts the arts ministry at fellow Vineyard Church in Boise, spent some time talking about the future of the arts in the Vineyard Movement. I met Barbara Nelson and Joan Bohlig at breakfast and both became enthusiastic supporters of the book. Joan has been with CIVA since the beginning and is full of life, enthusiasm and talent. It was so fun to see all these folks unique and beautiful work up close at the auction, especially after I had come to know them in person. Bryn Gillette and I began what will become a long and fruitful friendship over lunch, Corrigan Clay and I spent a workshop and dinner together talking about how the Holy Spirit is moving in the arts, and his incredible ministry in Haiti. Scott Calgaro, who drove 16 hours from Pennsylvania to bring the Hearts and Minds bookstore to the event, and I got to hang out for lunch. This is the 4th event we’ve both been to this year, and I’m enjoying getting to know him. Other special people I connected with included Steve Scott, Brian Moss, Mako, Albert Pedulla, Sandra Bowden, Kevin Hamilton, Helen and Peter Beck, Linda Stratford, Jeanette Bakke, and many others.

About CIVA

(From their website)

Christians in the Visual Arts exists to explore and nurture the relationship between the VISUAL ARTS and the CHRISTIAN FAITH. Founded in 1979, CIVA first met to consider the place of the Christian artist in the church and in the world-at-large. The success of this initial gathering led CIVA to establish a vision for activities which are now making an impact in a variety of ways.
It is our purpose to encourage Christians in the visual arts to develop their particular callings to the highest professional level possible; to learn how to deal with specific problems in the field without compromising our faith and our standard of artistic endeavor; to provide opportunities for sharing work and ideas; to foster intelligent understanding, a spirit of trust, and a cooperative relationship between those in the arts, the church, and society; and ultimately, to establish a Christian presence within the secular art world.

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