“Artists are actively creating culture. The commercial world understands this best, investing billions in appealing, creative storytelling (branding and advertising) to capture people’s imaginations, their wallets, and arguably, their souls,” says Steffen Janzen, marketing director of WeMakeStuff. “Meanwhile, much of the evangelical church still regards artists and the arts with suspicion and confusion. Many artists have largely abandoned the church, if not their faith.”
WeMakeStuff Volume 01 is much more than a book. It’s an emerging community of Christ-centred artists, an introduction to the intersection of faith and arts and a platform for sharing stories with fellow Christians and artists. The aim is “to make [artists] known to the body,” says WeMakeStuff’s originator David Vandas, a film director.
The eight-year journey to publication began when Vandas’s wife, musician and visual artist Anna Vandas, had a vision of the words “Holy Sacrifice” pasted in cut-out magazine letters. Interpreting the vision became “an excruciating burden.”
Vandas felt called to gather Christ-centred artists together. Others had attempted it before, but mostly through online content.
The process of creating a book allowed for a cross-pollination of artistic ideas and friendship. It was a chance to reach out to artists who had felt unsupported in the church.
A sense of belonging
Now, 16 disparate groups of Christian artists in the Greater Vancouver area are working together to create friendships and a sense of belonging.
“They found their community and realized they’re not alone in this tension of creativity and Christianity,” says Janzen. “The one thing they all have in common is a Christ-centred life,” says Vandas.
Bev Ellis, a painter, sculptor and jeweller who has enjoyed serving alongside her husband, a pastor in Mennonite Brethren churches for the last 22 years, speaks of finding “her tribe” through WeMakeStuff.
The book gave Ellis new opportunities to participate in workshops and art shows. “This contributed to ‘filling up’ a God-created need in me: to see things differently, to feel deeply, to create and connect uniquely with others and my Creator.”
A bridge to understanding
But community wasn’t just built among artists – their friends, families and church communities are enriched through the WeMakeStuff project.
One artist’s mom phoned him in tears, saying that the book helped her finally understand her son.
“That was the hope of the book: to bridge understanding,” says Vandas.
“Artists by their nature are not boundary-based people,” says Fiona Moes, a Vancouver-based visual artist. “They question and they’re curious, and sometimes the church can feel like an unsafe place to voice doubts or questions and other perspectives.”
The collaborators of WeMakeStuff Volume 01 say artists need space to be who they are in the church context. Janzen encourages churches not to see artists as another “program to be developed,” and to go beyond hanging art in the foyer or showcasing one of their films during a service.
A calling to nurture
“Artists need to be nurtured in their calling,” says Janzen. “Like teachers, musicians, doctors and tradespeople, we all have an important contribution to make to the world and to the church.”
Ellis values when churches take initiative; she’s been asked to paint during worship services and feels affirmed when congregations offer to pay for her supplies or purchase the painting afterwards.
“In the same way that a doctor can’t provide free medical care to all the members of a church, don’t expect artists to always volunteer their professional skills for free,” says Janzen. “They also need to earn a living.”
A two-way street of vulnerability
“We need to continue to be bold in knowing each other in community. This means the two-way street of vulnerability,” says Ellis.
A new friend at church told Vandas, “I don’t understand you at all, but I trust the Jesus within you.”
“If we are willing to get to know people outside our group,” says Ellis, “to foster a culture of care, understanding and dialogue, to cultivate affirmation and acceptance in the body, all people will thrive in our relationships and gifts.”
WeMakeStuff is “a permanent collection of what God is already doing,” says Moes. “An eye-opening, wonder-filled experience of what God is doing through artists.”
For information visit www.wemakestuff.ca.
—Heather Pauls Murray is a wedding harpist living in Chilliwack, B.C., with her husband and two small children. She attends Sardis Community Church.