As an arts student, Daniel never expected to walk through an art gallery accompanied by an experienced scholar and writer like Walter Hansen. He was even more surprised when Walter asked for his opinion on the stimulating art that surrounded them. Walter was genuinely interested in Daniel’s work, and his ability to listen well to young creative people was the motivation behind this meeting. Their relationship and friendship continued to grow through similar conversations.
The arts influence culture in a profound way, and young artists need to learn more than just trade skills in their media. Our arts schools often prepare students to be proficient at pursuing their art work, but leave them unprepared emotionally and spiritually for life after graduation.
Furthermore, arts students with irregular, demanding, and performance-oriented schedules often find it difficult to fit into traditional InterVarsity communities. They face high expectations to succeed academically and live with pressure from studio professors who tell them what to do. For these reasons, connecting students like Daniel with mentors like Walter is significant.
The Making of the Arts Partners Group
The InterVarsity Arts Partners Group is a group of professional Christian artists who volunteer their time and resources to develop young Christian artists so they may flourish both as experts in their work and as influential culture-changers.
Karen Mains, a writer and former InterVarsity Board Chair, spearheaded the creation of the InterVarsity Arts Partners Group out of her love for discipleship, along with the help of many friends of former Arts Ministry Director Dick Ryan. These friends enthusiastically volunteered themselves to mentor Arts Ministry students in order to create opportunities for students to engage in conversations about life and art.
For the past five years, InterVarsity Arts Ministry has connected members of the Arts Partners Group with students in Chicago’s School of the Art Institute (SAIC), Roosevelt University, and Columbia College. These connections motivated a variety of activities with the volunteer Arts Partners. Every few months, members of the group host dinner meetings for students in their homes in downtown Chicago. One member, a professor of music at Northwestern University, hosts monthly prayer gatherings in his studio. Another member hosted a festive Christmas party. Many of the professional artists have attended the students’ musical performances or gallery showings.
All of these events have a bottom line commonality. They all create a Christian community for the students in which their well-being and development is encouraged. These spaces provided by the Arts Partners allow students to engage in conversation about how art, life, and faith intersect. In addition, these volunteer mentors understand the students because of their shared identity as Christian artists. This spiritual support system inspires students to break beyond the technical mold and step into their arts departments as the salt and light of Jesus.
The Next Generation of Leaders
Dick Ryan observed, “I believe we are in the beginning of a revolution across the country. Arts communicate feelings and a sense of well-being. God wants to send art students out into the world to talk about His truth and beauty and justice.”
We want to be a part of God’s revolution in the arts. Our vision for InterVarsity Arts Ministry is “to develop serious artists, with a serious faith, to lead witnessing communities inside their art department or art school, and then go on to be influential leaders in the arts world.”
By successfully connecting arts students and volunteer arts professionals, the Chicago model is a template for other top arts departments nationwide. In line with our vision, we hope that similar relationships and communities can develop future generations of influential arts leaders within the Christian community.
Interested in becoming an Arts Partner? Contact Henry Lucey-Lee, National Director of Arts Ministry for the next steps.