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Exhibiting God’s creative image

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Fraserview turns its walls into a gallery

Can you imagine five men rushing into a gallery to be the first to see the artwork – in a church? Barb Bowen doesn’t have to dream; she saw it with her own eyes.

Bowen is curator of The View, an art gallery at Fraserview (MB) Church in Richmond, B.C. Nearly a decade ago, when the artist, photographer, and teacher began attending Fraserview, she looked at the looming bare walls in the foyer and had a vision to “unite people with the beauty that is behind all beauty.” She wanted to bring artists’ work into the church to celebrate God’s creative image in people.

She approached pastor Jerry Giesbrecht who didn’t hesitate to encourage Bowen to make the display happen, even though art was a foreign field to him. The church’s expansive foyer was designed to be a familiar, welcoming space, with couches, and a coffee bar at one end. Adorning it with artwork takes the relationship-fostering space to a whole new level, he says. “The artwork creates an atmosphere of safety.”

“The gallery is a way to connect people to God,” says Bowen. “There’s a feeling of majesty when you enter a house of worship that has been adorned with our best offerings.” As the meeting place for two congregations and many a midweek program, the Fraserview building acts as a centre for the community; many people view the gallery as they pass through.


Church first; gallery second

But Fraserview is “a church first; gallery – not even second,” Bowen says. No prices are posted, and she “asks the Lord for his help with getting the artists he wants me to show.”

There’s no requirement for an artist to identify as a Christian, because “God can use it all for his glory.” Though she doesn’t shy away from art that may be challenging – like her first exhibit, Helen Broadfoot’s oil paintings of war-affected children – Bowen always considers that the art will be viewed by children.

Every six weeks, Bowen reskins the foyer with the work of a new show, also profiled on the bulletin covers. The Sunday morning service “opens” the show with an artist introduction and presentation of flowers, followed by a reception with food to encourage lingering and conversation after the service. The artist “has the opportunity to enter the doors of a church, and sit through a service,” and God has opportunity “to orchestrate all manner of connections and grace,” says Bowen.

Artist Clare Scott was so moved by the experience of opening her first photography show, she told Barb, “I feel as though I’ve had a spiritual awakening!” Not a regular at any church, she found the baptism stories “very powerful,” the music “incredible” the morning her exhibit opened at Fraserview. She was honoured by the invitation to show her work, and the whole morning experience– “made me feel like part of the community, made me feel connected.”

“I do this more for the artist than the viewer,” says Bowen. “A first show (of which I have done plenty) can be very encouraging.” Not only does the gallery create impetus to finish and prepare work for public viewing, it’s also an opportunity for artists to sell their work; Richmond does not have a single commercial art gallery.

“The ministry to the artists has been exceptional,” says Giesbrecht. Artists from within the congregation have also had the opportunity for the first and possibly only showing of their work. “Churches can be wonderful places to celebrate the creativity that is so abundant in people – both saved and unsaved,” says Bowen.

Those from the art community who’ve dropped in at the church gallery during the week have had the most profound spiritual response, says lead pastor Dan Unrau. “People who’ve never gone to church have strong views of what the Bible is, what church is; any time we can open the window to understanding, it’s a kind of evangelism.”

Calligraphy, mixed media, photography, paintings, quilts, and even sweaters have covered the walls of the gallery in six-week rotations over the seven-year history of the gallery. “People are drawn to it: the days when she takes it down, it’s just awful; bare; boring,” says Giesbrecht.

The gallery “creates a sense that the expression of faith is more than just hymns and worship and preaching; it’s contributed to an understanding of wholeness of faith,” says Unrau, who fashioned a sermon series around one show.

“Play and art speak to things much larger,” he says. Even with “not ‘traditionally spiritual’ themes [like the car photographs that drew men at a run], people get that art is part of who we are in faith and life and spirituality; being made in the image of God.”

—Karla Braun

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