December Update: Different Kinds of Gifts

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I love this time of year, especially since it's finally cold here in Dallas and feels like Christmastime. Here at the Art House, we kicked off the season with our annual Stories and Songs December concert on Saturday night featuring Derek Webb. Our guests for the sold-out show packed into the Munger Place coffee lounge where they were surrounded by beautiful Christmas decor, holiday music and warm drinks in hand. Derek took requests from the audience, shared the stories behind each song, and even played a few songs from his earlier days in Caedmon's Call. It was a special evening for me not only because I have been listening to his music for so long, but also because Derek has a long history of involvement with Charlie and Andi at Art House America. It was a little bit of a full circle moment:  I remember sitting next to Derek the first time I ever visited Art House in Nashville at an artists retreat 3 years ago. Little did I know then that, three years later, we would have an Art House in Dallas and Derek sharing about the role that Art House America has played over the years in his life as well as in the life of his wife, Sandra McCracken. 

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I had a similar moment last Tuesday when we hosted Jeremy Cowart, who was also present at this same artists retreat in Nashville three years ago. In the time since I had first met Jeremy at this retreat, he has had amazing opportunities to photograph everything from top celebrities to Africans receiving clean water for the first time. He spent time in Haiti creating portraits of hope and also created a non-profit called Help-Portrait, a worldwide movement of local photographers taking portraits of those less fortunate and instilling dignity and hope to individuals and families. Last year, the Dallas location of Help-Portrait was the largest in the world. We hope that this year will be no different, and Art House Dallas is pleased to once again be supporting this incredible opportunity to have photographers, make up artists and anyone with a heart to volunteer to give their time on December 10th for Help-Portrait 2011. 

photo courtesy of Alisha Ippolito

photo courtesy of Alisha Ippolito

One of the great joys working for Art House Dallas is exposing our creative community to folks like Jeremy who serves as an incredible example of someone using their creativity for the common good. It was a treat to have him share the stories of how he is using his talents in Africa, Haiti, New York and Los Angeles with almost 50 Dallas photographers who gathered at Reel F/X Studio for our fourth Dinner with Friends this year. We also loved having Dallas native and phenomenal photographer, Esther Havens with us at Dinner. Esther not only served as our host for the evening, but also as another great example of someone using their talents to tell good stories. While interviewing Jeremy, she shared how her experience taking pictures in 45 different countries for organizations like TOMS, Warby Parker, and Hello Somebody have shaped the way she uses her gift of photography. 

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It's so easy during this time of year to focus on the gifts we'll receive, but hearing Jeremy, Esther and Derek over the last week were welcome reminders that God has given each one of us creative talents to offer as gifts to one another. Whether it's the gift of creating an incredible meal for friends and family, decorating a home full of comfort and joy, singing Carols or writing Christmas cards, there are a million ways to give. I hope that you can find a couple ways to use your creativity to love the people around you and more importantly, be reminded of the incredible gift we were given more than 2000 years ago in the form of a child born in Bethlehem. A gift that would change everything for us.

Blessings to you and yours this holiday Season.

Jenny

Shot and edited by Dexter Evans, Music by Derek Webb

All photos courtesy of Matt Knisely except where noted.

November Update: A Timely Place

Hello friends. 

I have just returned from Nashville where the Art House America team celebrated 20 Years of Artful Living. Considering I didn’t even know Art House existed until 3 years ago, it was particularly inspiring to spend time with folks who have been uniquely shaped by Art House over the last five, ten or twenty years of our history.  The original Director, Nick Barre, shared with me about getting to work alongside one of his heroes in the early days of Art House. “It was a dream-come-true to work alongside Charlie,” he remembers, “even if it meant he lived in the cedar closet for a year.”

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During the crisp Fall evening gathering, Matthew Perryman Jones talked about walking into the Art House for the first time 12 years ago and the conversations that led him to pursue music as a full-time vocation. After hearing him croon the crowd-favorite “Save You” along with a powerful cover of Emmylou Harris’ “The Pearl,” we witnessed firsthand the beauty of someone utilizing their creative potential. 

One of the most powerful moments of the Anniversary event was hearing Sara Groves perform “Why It Matters” and remind all of us “Why our thinking and creating // Why our efforts of narrating // About the beauty, of the beauty // And why it matters.” She prefaced her song with a story about how she would’ve left her music career to become a nurse or teacher had it not been for conversations with Charlie and Andi at the Art House. It’s wonderful how Sara has not only continued to create incredible music over the last ten years, but also creates lyrics that tell true and good stories.

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Art House not only encouraged her creativity, but inspired to partner with International Justice Mission where her music “protests the darkness.” Now, her passion for nurturing other artists has led her and her husband Troy to start up an Art House North in St. Paul, MN. We can’t wait to see all the exciting things that are going to happen in the Twin Cities as a result of their presence with the creative community there.

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Perhaps the biggest thread in all of these happenings is the reminder that we are all part of a larger story. This story takes time to develop, as stories often do, but surprises us with its beauty as we look back through all the twists and turns, the hills and valleys.  

After celebrating Art House Dallas’ one-year anniversary last Thursday here in Texas, it blows me away to think about what might happen in our community over the next 20 years. There are plot lines yet to be revealed and characters we have yet to meet:  men and women who have a role to play not only in the story of Art House, but in the story of our Creator “making all things new.”

In Charlie Peacock’s intro to the celebration, he announced, “Art House is a timely place. And if you are here, it’s your time.”  The entire Art House Dallas staff greatly anticipates hosting you in our new location at Munger Place, and until then we hope that you’ll take advantage of our upcoming events around town. After all, there’s a chance that it’ll be you standing up twenty years from now, remembering how Art House led you down a path you hadn’t ever dreamed of. It’s your time.  

Take care!

Jenny

All images courtesy of Kristin Sweeting Photography

The Discipline of All Things Beautiful

A sunset. A picturesque, well-carved coastline meeting gently crashing waves. The stars as they hang in the sprawl of a moonlit sky. The innocent smile of a beautiful girl lost in the comfort of the day. A painting. A song. A verse.

All things beautiful have a rhythm, a reason and discipline to them.

Nothing is quite as important as the soil of our hearts. For from it comes the best of who we are and will be. It is our essence, truly. 

As an artist, or more accurately, creator, the best and most lasting strokes of your brush, imagery of your lyrics, notes in your song, structure of your sentences, life in your photographs and work of your hands will be from the depths of your heart, where your soul is as healthy as the soil in which it rests.

No artist constantly produces lasting, meaningful and influential art from sheer spontaneity. A process happens which may be a strict formula or developed, proven strategy. The more disciplined the artist, the greater the chance for beauty and authenticity to shape the work of her hands. 

Contrary to any impulse or worry that discipline means sacrificing the possible genius and purity of spontaneous creation, consider the beautiful and lasting work of Michelangelo at the famed Sistine Chapel, or the enchanting echo of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Neither of these, nor any other work of relative greatness, is defined by the time it took to create them. They are defined by the heart of the artist, encapsulated forever in their lasting beauty. 

The beauty of the art is recognized, but we cannot overlook the discipline of the artist who created it.

Late nights lonely in thought but wanting to be nowhere else, early mornings working before the day moves and burns bright, in moments of free time an artist is appropriately obsessed with creating. The speed in which she creates is not nearly as important as the pace she keeps. It is a diligent approach set on creating, not a desperate one searching for validation or attention. The quality is nearly always dependent on the health of the soil out of which it blooms. 

How can you keep the soil of your heart healthy, not depleted from creating? Read. Hear. See. Value.

Your hands must be dirty, colored and covered with the soil of your heart as you continually dig deeper and nurture those seeds and dreams buried so purposefully there. Like a gardener who daily tends to what is visible, as well what soon shall be, the artist must regularly develop, nurture and feed her craft. 

Our tendency is to desire genius to happen on demand, and when it does not the supposed genius is diminished. Creativity choked and the artist, that creator set upon releasing the work of her hands to the world, recoils in the shallowing soil of her heart. 

We must tend to and cultivate the soil of our hearts. Push the dirt around. Let the air of experiences and influences wrap around and push through the loosened ground, establishing a good seedbed for ideas to grow. 

Creativity too often is tightly packed in time and the lure of instant gratification to satisfy the constant need of validation, assuring and reminding us that we matter and we are unique. But making us important is not the reason for art or creativity.  Expression, purpose, message and display are worthy reasons, pure enough to preserve and elevate art.

As artists, the soil of utmost importance is developed in observing one masterful Creator whose hand spread beauty across what once was nothing, null and void. The beauty in life that inspires and provokes a unique reflection and response is a product of process, discipline and order. Spontaneity gives way to planning and planting within the soil of our hearts. All that we absorb, sinking into the dirt we continue to cultivate. Lasting and consistent expression blooms. Art and all things beautiful held together and matured through discipline, the habit of keeping a heart healthy.

Guy Delcambre dreams a bit more than does, has more starts than finishes and often thinks too much.  A few things constant, grace, family, mountain biking, the outdoors, writing and wanting to own a cabin in the mountains some day soon. 

Cameron Ernst Cranks the Volume on the “Love Is Louder” Campaign

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I never knew that one song could change my life. When I wrote the song “Love Is Louder” (in support of the movement started by actress Brittany Snow, MTV and The JED Foundation), I was just an inspired singer/songwriter who had to channel that through music. Little did I know that it would lead to taking my music into high schools and middle schools and speaking to thousands of young people about the message of love. Now, I'm leading the Love on the Road Tour in schools across the country, during which I get to use music, media and my personal school experience to encourage, motivate and inspire others.  

A lot of people ask me if I was bullied as a kid. Why else would I care so much to write a song, plan a tour, and go into schools and talk to students about how love is louder than pain, fear, loneliness, bullying or anything else? One might think I've been through some rough times in my life and want to pay it forward now to a younger generation. I won't lie, I was bullied here and there, but it was never extreme and I actually felt very loved by the people around me while growing up. And that is why it tears at my heart to hear about kids who don't feel loved and want to end their lives because they feel alone and hopeless. I believe that everyone deserves to be loved and told that love is so much louder and bigger and stronger than the struggles and obstacles of our lives. 

The Love on the Road Tour has already been to several schools in three different states and continues to grow. The reaction from kids at assemblies is always overwhelmingly positive because the assemblies are positive. I don't lecture or throw out stats about bullying. It's an upbeat, interactive concert, and a positive message combined with pop music and media from a young singer/songwriter is extremely fresh and rejuvenating.

Not only do students leave the assemblies all jazzed about loving others and singing “Love Is Louder,” but they are often touched by how deep this message resonates. On the slightest off chance that they are not connected to bullying (and I believe everyone is, in some way or another), they are reminded about how love covers all imperfections and no one is perfect, including themselves. That bit of comfort in the power of love has made my Facebook page explode with stories of hope from people of all ages. I recently got an email from two parents who told me about their daughter coming home after an assembly and proclaiming the message of love, which ended up being an encouragement for the whole family. Love is powerful and it can do wonders…

Which is why I'm staying open to the possibilities that lie ahead with Love on the Road. When I wrote this song, I certainly couldn't have predicted that I'd be doing all of this, and so I don't plan on predicting where it will be in six months or a year from now. I do know that it will live on and grow because all good things do. In the meantime, I will stop at nothing to get into as many schools as I can, and I hope others will join me in helping spread the love with music.

More about the Love Is Louder campaign: loveislouder.com

Download Cameron's single “Love Is Louder” for free: noisetrade.com/cameronernst

This article originally appeared on ASCAP.

Art House Local: Searching For Wildflowers

We sat in my living room sipping wine, sipping Boba tea, eating the accoutrements of a small group gathering — cheese, hummus, strawberries. An embattled air conditioner fought the villainous August heat. Strangers — introverts no less — had ventured into one home together. We gathered because we were artists.

Photo: Clint Brewer

Photo: Clint Brewer

For this first meeting, we had read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible to discuss. It had been formative in Charlie Peacock’s artistic and spiritual journey. Would this new Art House — Art House Dallas — connect with it as well?

I read the two essays contained in the pamphlet several years ago. My first impression: meh. Foundational, yes, but I had the advantage of thirty years of work burgeoning from Schaeffer’s basic thesis on art, culture, and the Bible. I had Jeremy Begbie and Steve Turner. Since then, I’ve read David Taylor and Andy Crouch and Rowan Williams. I’ve written scholarly articles and lay essays. For my second reading, I came prepared with philosophy and theology, ready to build upon Schaeffer at times, and at other times, question him: is all postmodern art necessarily unable to be Christian, for example, or should we even call art “Christian”? I had degrees! I had awards! I had experience! I was an expert.

I was humbled. But you knew that was coming. It happens in every story: pride comes before a fall. While my six-month-old slept, I read. About art as doxology, about God’s concern for beauty, about the fact that God sees the artist. And I wept. The degrees, the awards, the contests were several years ago, a lifetime ago — my son’s lifetime. Lately, I create in silence and obscurity, minutes pilfered during short naps, dried pureed carrots coating my keyboard. In this place, Francis Schaeffer ministered to me. He told me about God’s concern for beauty even in the wilderness when the Israelites wandered in the same shoes for 40 years. He told me God saw and preserved David’s art created when David worked as a shepherd or ran from the king or repented from sin or built a kingdom. In this silence and obscurity, I learned that my art matters because beauty matters to God — because God sees me.

In essence, this was why we met that day in my living room: because beauty matters to God and because, as the body of Christ, we testify to one another that God sees us, that our work matters.

There was some venting, yes; there was philosophy; but above all, there was connection. In the sprawling Dallas metroplex lined with suburban brick homes, school zones, and shopping centers, visual artists, musicians, and writers assembled. We peeked into the crevices of our landscaped society and found wildflowers. In this August drought, something beautiful blossomed when carefully planned gardens failed. God saw fit to decorate a wilderness of concrete with wayfaring blooms.

Photo:  Pewari

Photo: Pewari

In our meeting, we talked about the freedom we found in Schaeffer’s pages to create art that didn’t feature praying hands. We talked about the presumptions from Christians and non-Christians about what it means to be both Christian and artist. But mostly, we talked about bringing art into the sphere of corporate worship. For this is our heart: worship. Art is our means to glorifying God. As Schaeffer puts it, art is doxology. We discussed how we can introduce art into the liturgy of our churches and how to practice art as spiritual discipline.

Before we left, we prayed for one another, for our art, and for our churches — prayers of refreshment in the heat, watering the wildflowers. Visual artists, musicians, writers — in this communion of saints, we partook of God’s love for beauty.

Heather A. Goodman practices art in bits and pieces these days, mostly while listening to her son protest nap time. Or while waiting at a red light. She blogs at L'Chaim and at The Master's Artist.

October Update: It's Our Anniversary

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Dear Friends: 

October is a big month of celebration for all of us in the Art House America family. For starters, this month marks one year since we launched Art House Dallas. As I look back on the last year, I echo David’s sentiments from Psalm 143:5: “I remember the days of old. I ponder all your great works and think about what you have done.” 

I can attest to the fact that God has certainly done a lot through the passionate hearts and willing hands of our programs director, Marissa Miller, our hard-working interns, the Creative Council and numerous volunteers. I’ve been so grateful to have their help over the last 12 months as we have hosted more than 1,000 attendees across 21 events, launched a new website, and taken huge steps towards the creation of the new 6,500 square foot Art House in East Dallas. 

While I’ve watched in amazement as the Art House Dallas community grows without a space of its own, I can barely contain myself to think of its future at the new Munger Place location. We are still in the early stages, but I was thrilled to view a 3-D model of the space last Friday. In the near future I’ll release a preview of the projected floor plan so you can share in our excitement about the potential of this place, one that will allow creativity to shape a community, and ultimately a city, for years to come.

The original Art House in Nashville, Tennessee is one of the best examples I have seen of a physical place shaping the creative spirit of a community. Later this month, our team will return to headquarters and Sara Groves, Matthew Perryman Jones and others will lend their voices as we look back at the amazing ways God has used Charlie and Andi’s home and service over the last 20 years. Read Charlie’s blog post to learn a little more of Art House America’s history and consider joining us for the 20th anniversary festivities! Here’s your chance to tour the original Art House and hear from co-founders Charlie and Andi Ashworth, as well as Art House North co-founders Troy and Sara Groves.

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As I “ponder all [His] great works and think about what [He has] done” in the last 20 years of Art House America, much less the last year of Art House Dallas, I can’t help but be full of hope and expectation for what is to come. Thanks for being a part of the community and making this last year such a good one.

Here’s to another year of artful living and creativity for the common good.

Jenny

Artful Living: More Than Dues And Don'ts

Our likes say so much about us. I’m not talking about Facebook “likes”, I mean the real ones, those things in life that bring us joy.

In everything there is a revealing, and likes are no different. They give us direction when direction can’t elsewhere be found. They bring us together in friendships and set us apart in uniqueness. They are essential to our identity. 

Sometimes, though, we forsake our likes. Creatives are no different than anyone else. When money and time are in short supply all of us tend to cut the things that most enrich our lives. Regardless of who you are, art is often one of the first things to go.

We rail about city councils and school boards slashing funding for music and art programs, but when our own budgets are tight, how many of us think to take in a show or head to the latest exhibit?

I have a feeling that a lot of us who say we’re creatives aren’t really living artful lives. We stop seeing the beautiful in the everyday. We stop communicating the truest truths. The choice to actively produce comes hard to some caught up in a culture of consumption.

In an attempt to guard against the loss of my likes, and to keep my creativity freely flowing, I recently decided to make a change. I sprung for a membership to a local art museum.

I know what you’re thinking, how cliché, but the decision was not made lightly. How you spend money is a reflection of your priorities. For me, purchasing a membership represents a commitment to remain connected to the local arts scene.

Within weeks of joining, the member’s welcome packet arrived. A professor of mine used to say there are worlds beneath blades of grass. The world that rose up from my meager membership due was astounding.  Beyond simple museum admission, there was so much that I, as yet, had not been privy to. The member’s-only magazine made mention of galas and balls, host committees and chairs, VIP receptions and after parties, auctions and fundraisers, and names…so many names.

This was not what I expected. While I enjoy and try to appreciate fine art, it is one of my likes, I don’t much care for all the uppity trappings that so often accompany it. I get that arts organizations have bills to pay, but there’s a bit of difference between helping to cover costs and looking to update or overhaul one’s social status by affixing a decal on a windshield. Good art should be inclusive and available to all, not something that has a tone of exclusivity or an air of inflated importance.

I wanted to stay connected, but instead I got a little closer to the connected, and in doing so, missed my mark.

All of this got me to thinking about the accessibility of art. Is it a luxury only a few choice folks are privileged enough to enjoy? Might one live an artful life without knowing the right people or paying the right dues?

Paintings and sculptures are good, symphonies and operas as well, but there is a piece of art that is more accessible than any other, one that doesn’t require dues, though it was bought for a price. 

There is one work of art that is completely available to you, because it is you.

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C.S. Lewis said that being like Christ “is more like painting a portrait than obeying a set of rules.” What a radical notion, that we are all artists, insomuch as we are writing our own stories and painting our own portraits.

You don’t have to step foot in the finest museums around. You don’t even need to be able to draw a straight line. Every choice you make is a brush stroke and the Christ-like-ness of your daily decisions will dictate how beautiful your finished product.

Return to the likes God gave you, and allow them to enrich. Don’t settle for the man-imposed, exclusionary aspects of beauty or the best art–every moment you live you are advancing the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Darkness. You are constantly creating on an eternal scale. 

When your budget is a shoestring, when beauty is in short supply, keep a Christ-like concern for others and witness the un-matched beauty of His great love.

Joshua Seth Minatrea is a Dallas-area thinker and creative. His aim is to gain and give space, time and direction for creation. He has never been bored. Real books, espresso-based beverages and pocket-sized reporter Moleskines are a few of his favorite things.

My Semester As An Art House Intern

Twelve months ago if you had told me I would be interning at Art House Dallas, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Actually, my first response probably would have been, “Huh? What’s Art House Dallas?” Then I would have found out about Art House and their awesome purpose and vision, and thought to myself, “Wow, I hope I can work with such visionary people someday.” If you had told me six months ago that I would be interning at Art House Dallas, I would have said something along the lines of, “Thanks, but I think you have me confused with my artsy and light-years-more-creative best friend.”  

Three years ago Art House Dallas didn’t exist, but that’s where my story begins. In October of 2008, I attended a concert at a church in the Dallas area, and my life course began to change. It was my freshman year of college. A new friend invited me to a concert he knew about through his interest in International Justice Mission (IJM). The concert was part of the 2008 Art/Music/Justice tour, a group of artists using their music to spread awareness about global social injustices. I’ve always had a heart for missions and all things international, so I decided to tag along. 

I enjoyed the concert as I sat and listened to Brandon Heath and Derek Webb sing and talk, and overall I was glad I went. Then Sara Groves came on stage and played some of her songs, and shared a story. The story was about a young girl who had been rescued from a terrible life of sexual exploitation, and through the efforts of this organization, had found healing and restoration–she found Jesus. 

August Art House Exchange

August Art House Exchange

I still so clearly remember standing outside the church building after the concert, talking to my mom on the phone. Tears streamed down my face as I told her just how much the stories impacted me. I remember saying out loud to myself, “I have to do something about this–to fight for the people who can’t fight for themselves. This is what I was made for.” 

It’s been a bit of a crazy journey since that night, and I’m so glad that the story doesn’t end there. Since then I’ve taken part in a few different anti-human trafficking efforts, and my love for organizations that love others and take part in the community around them has grown tremendously. Here I am, in my senior year of college, and after a few months of prayer, direction and putting out feelers for an internship over the summer, God just about dropped one in my lap. I became a member of the Art House Dallas team in August, and it’s already been such a fun ride! 

My fearless leaders wasted no time getting me acquainted with the Art House ways–my first day was the same day and night as the August Art House Exchange! We spent the day gearing up for the event, and that night I met a bunch of new people and had a great time talking about art, life, and our community. I have to say, it was the perfect introduction. 

Then came my first event flying solo representing Art House at Gather, a local art event. Art House Dallas paired up with a church in the area to promote the church’s photography showing. Any hint of nervousness I had going into the night was completely gone by the time I left. The night was filled with amazing photography and amazing people, and quite a few people learned for the first time about Art House and what we do. You never know what can happen when people come together to enjoy art and each other’s company. I met some great people, and was so refreshed and renewed to get the chance to talk with people I had only just met about their passions and dreams. 

GATHER Event at Church of Incarnation

GATHER Event at Church of Incarnation

Feedback was that same week, and it has probably been my favorite Art House Dallas event thus far. The concept is so great: singers come and perform a song in front of a small group and get helpful feedback. As I sat in the beautiful Munger Place coffee lounge listening to one talented musician after another make themselves and their music vulnerable to other artists, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I have the coolest internship ever.” 

The September Art House Exchange was a special one. We had a great crowd show up to the social media lab with the talented Kelli + Vanessa that took place before the actual exchange. These two ladies shared some great tips for using tools like Twitter and Facebook to their fullest–especially as a musician. I knew more of what to expect this exchange, and I got to chat with some really awesome people. I chatted with actors, musicians, art lovers, even a few writers. In talking with those who attended, I can really see the fruit of the Art House vision in action, and it’s inspiring to see and hear of all the life-giving, community-building uses of art in and around our city. 

Art House FEEDBACK :: Songwriters

Art House FEEDBACK :: Songwriters

I’m sure you’re wondering why I would start my story with a bunch of sappy details just to finish it off with how the past few weeks have been. But my story isn’t over yet! After my first couple of weeks at Art House Dallas, I was chatting with Jenny White, our director, about another member of the Art House family, Sara Groves. I told her the story of the first time I heard Sara play, and Jenny was delighted to share with me that the one and only Charlie Peacock headed up the Art/Music/Justice tour. We both had one of those goose-bump-moments when we realized the crazy circle of events that led to my becoming a part of this awesome team. It was at that moment that I knew, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

I’ve only been at Art House Dallas for a few weeks now, but just being surrounded by creative, driven people has already been so uplifting. The people associated with and involved in Art House truly are culture makers who encourage others to live imaginative and meaningful lives. I have already been so blessed to be a part, and I can’t wait for all of the adventures and discoveries still to come!

— Courtney

Courtney is a senior at SMU studying Sociology and Womens and Gender Studies. After graduation, she hopes to work for a nonprofit that loves people and is a positive presence in the community. Courtney spends her spare time finding new music and buying anything cute that comes in the color grey. If you are what you eat, then Courtney is a delicious chai latte.

Contagion

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Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is almost oppressively gloomy. Overcast skies, dim lighting, drab clothing, strict stylization. You can practically feel a cold, biting wind blowing off the screen as you sit and watch.

But I need to specify that I say almost—Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is almost oppressively gloomy.

For some, the distinction will be minimal or almost non-existent, and I really can’t fault you for that. As the titular virus spreads across the country and around the world, humanity appears to break down entirely. Burned out cars litter the streets like crushed soda cans. Shattered glass glitters on the floors of empty convenience stores, grocery stores and practically every other kind of store imaginable. Leave your car unattended for just one second and it becomes the target of thieves, or at least someone desperate enough to siphon your gas tank.

And yet, even as civilization descends into chaos, there are flashes of hope–a cross in the background, a nun tending to a sick man, both conscious ingredients of the film’s mise-en-scène. True, they’re brief, but they contextualize Soderbergh’s filmed world, situating it within a broader social history marked by the tenets of Christianity and still effected by them through the simple choices of the movie’s characters.

The biggest name in Contagion’s long list of high-profile performers is Matt Damon. He’s eclipsed, though, by Laurence Fishburne, the film’s standout performer. Fishburne plays Dr. Ellis Cheever of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He and those around him are tasked with the great burden of studying Contagion’s virus, getting to know it, and creating a vaccine to stop it.

He’s also invested in mentoring a field agent, Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), who’s traveled to Minneapolis to research the virus’ beginnings. This leads her to Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), the husband of the woman (Gwyneth Paltrow) who brought the sickness home from a business trip to Hong Kong and was one of its first victims.

All of this unfolds briskly, at a pace underscored by a driving electronic score by Cliff Martinez, with other figures popping up along the way, notably Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes of the World Health Organization, and Jude Law as Alan Krumwiede, a blogger who believes the government actually has a cure for the virus but is refusing to release it. Alan’s theory proves to be just as contagious as the bug that’s going around, and he’s soon of particular interest to the government.

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There are more wonderful players to mention—Elliot Gould, John Hawkes, Jennifer Ehle, Chin Han—but their roles in the story are limited. In fact, part of what keeps Contagion from being more than merely a very good Hollywood picture is that the script spreads itself too thin. One minute we’re in Hong Kong, the next we’re in Minneapolis, New York, or London. All of this is great for creating a sense of authenticity and scope, but the connections we’re able to forge with the characters are diminished as a result.

Soderbergh should’ve taken a lesson from one of his own films, Traffic. Like Contagion, Traffic had a large cast and interrelated storylines, this time with drug trafficking as the focus. Each storyline was restricted to one location and was given it’s own distinct look to boot. The overall effect was a more rooted, more impressive story.

But even if Contagion may feel a little thin, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to like, respect, or even admire certain characters. Fishburne’s Dr. Cheever and Ehle’s Dr. Ally Hextall stand out for their poignant moments and small acts of heroism. Their sacrificial decisions starkly contrast with the chaos around them, preserving the image of God in humanity. They are proof that when the going gets tough, it’s not a matter of kill or be killed. It’s putting the needs of others before yourself that will ultimately save the world.

To what degree movie audiences will be moved by these shimmering moments of compassion, I can’t say. Personally, I was. They are what made Contagion gloomy, yes, but only almost so.

Andrew Welch has published reviews with Relevant magazine and Books & Culture. He currently lives in Denton, where he’s working on a master’s degree in film studies at the University of North Texas.

Harry Potter, Pop Culture and the Affections of the Heart

A Conversation with Leigh Hickman

Texas native Leigh Hickman is a Christian scholar who is interested in unique topics relating to literature, media and the arts. An adjunct professor of English at Dallas Baptist University, she has long applied her love for both Christ and the arts through academic rigor, writing and speaking. She is drawn particularly to artistic expressions—books, films and plays—that have captured the popular imagination, and perhaps more so to those popular expressions which have largely been rejected by Christians.

Though the subjects she studies (Jesus Christ Superstar, the Twilight saga and Wicked among them) may court theological controversy or feature vampires, monsters or magic, she sees in their popularity an indication of deep longings in the human heart—specifically, a longing for Christ. It's a belief about popular culture that has long driven her interests. “I knew instinctively,” she tells me, “that if there is a cultural phenomenon, [Christ] is going to be at the heart of it somewhere, bringing glory to himself.”

This is perhaps most deeply true of what may be her greatest pop cultural passion and area of expertise—Harry Potter. Hickman has been researching Harry Potter since 2001 and has collected “virtually every book in print” as well as every academic paper and article she can find on the subject. Though she has a particular passion for the topic of the Christian community's response to the books and films, her focus encompasses “pretty much all things Harry.”

“I knew that this was worthy of a good conversation,” she says, regarding her obsessive dedication to her research, “and I wanted to be as well-versed as possible on it.” Though the study of Harry Potter is a scholarly pursuit for Hickman, it is born of a deep love for the books themselves. “I do it because I love the story,” she tells me, “I'm a fan first and foremost.” As her passion and expertise have led her into “many good conversations” about the boy wizard, she is currently expanding her focus to begin publishing and speaking about him as well. The story of Harry Potter is something that has affected her deeply and she has developed a unique, important voice about this cultural icon that she clearly desires to share with others.

Given the amount of vociferous criticism that has been leveled against Harry Potter over the past 15 years—from TV preachers to talk radio hosts to pastors, teachers and other voices of influence across mainstream Christian culture—one might expect Hickman to be alone in her quest. Not so, she responds, citing such works as The Gospel According to Harry Potter by Connie Neal and John Granger's Looking for God in Harry Potter, which she says “blew my head off” by more deeply opening a positive Christian reading of the books. “Overwhelmingly,” Hickman tells me, “I have read more Christian scholarship about Harry Potter affirming its merit than vilifying it. The people that do vilify it, however, get the most press.”

These critics, Hickman is convinced, represent “a very small minority who have a very large megaphone.” In her experience, the complaints coming from this loud minority have sprung largely from ignorance. “99.999% of the people who have a problem with it,” she tells me, “haven't cracked a page. I've never known anyone who was against Harry Potter who had read the book.” As Hickman sees it, the real problem is a “dualism and anti-intellectualism,” which assumes that “someone else needs to do your thinking for you” and has spawned mass avoidance of Potter among Christians.

When asked why such vitriol has arisen against the series, Hickman replies, “My first instinct is that we're very concerned about false Christs and that we're very concerned about false prophets. It's an old-time fear that some false god will displace the authority of Christ.” But this view is rooted, she says, “in a fundamental distrust of the Holy Spirit's work in another's life and a fundamental distrust of God. The people who are most afraid of Harry Potter, in my opinion, are the people whose God isn't very big. If J.K. Rowling can overthrow Jesus Christ, then Jesus Christ isn't all that powerful.” Because of this, she says, the popular Christian campaigns against the Potter books and films are “symptoms of the very thing they claim to treat – which is a lack of discernment. They are manifestations of a lack of discernment in the Church.”

It is for this reason that Hickman feels there is still much work to be done in recasting this conversation within Christian culture. The damage done by the hostility leveled toward Potter by Christians, she tells me, amounts to a failure to fulfill the cultural mandate of the Church. “When Christian culture abandons one of the primary narratives of our time, that's not well-disciplined stewardship of Creation. If it is capturing the hearts and minds of our generation, then [by not discussing it] we're losing a great opportunity to enchant hearts and minds for Christ.”

Instead, she says, the popularity of the series—along with its clear focus on affirming a Christian worldview—begs for a positive Christian dialogue. “J.K. Rowling,” she explains, “has gift-wrapped this for Christian culture to discuss.” Hickman is quick to note, however, that while the Gospel is clearly mirrored in Harry Potter, the story must not necessarily be construed as an evangelistic work. She refers to Rowling as “a person who doubts and struggles” and a “very human Christian.” But while the series may be “an outgrowth of [Rowling's] own questions and doubts more than her certainties and convictions,” Hickman says, “It does evangelize my heart.”

When it comes to researching a topic as deeply as she has Harry Potter, Hickman says, “I think that's always my primary motivation—whether I can better see what I love the most through it.” And see it she has—not just in the series' ultimate conclusion, where even mainstream journalists noted the Christ imagery, but from the first time she picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and read of the titular hero as an orphaned baby being placed on his relatives' doorstep. “From chapter one, Harry's dropped off at the Dursley's and doesn't know how special he is. He doesn't know that he's the chosen one. You've got this child out in the elements in the cold, dark night who's come to inhabit this place. And he's incredibly special and yet [living] in the limitations of the normal and the everyday. It was so beautiful that I actually teared up. Literally, I have a note in the margin of my book: 'Insert manger scene here.'” 

This kind of engagement with the arts and pop culture that is open toward and responds positively to ideas and images that are in harmony with the Gospel, wherever they may be found, is as much about what we see and hear as it is about having the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the intellectual discipline to notice something deeper. All truth is God's truth, revealed through all Creation. Therefore, we may very well find the truth and goodness of God in places we would otherwise consider unlikely. As Scott Higa, writer of the blog “The Christian Nerd,” recently noted, “Because God created the world, the truth about his heart and character is revealed all throughout, even in places we would least expect to find it. So when we see God’s character revealed in a movie, a sunset, a book or a piece of technology, we should be moved to reflect upon who God is and the endless wonder of his character.”

Hickman agrees, referring to Jesus' acts of opening the ears of the deaf and the eyes of the blind as a metaphor for the Church's need to open its eyes and ears to the heart of God reflected in the popular voices of our culture. “We are the people who claim to see,” she says, “and yet we are blind.” But Hickman sees hope in the breadth of expressions available to us, suggesting that a renewed perspective might allow Christians to follow their innate interests into greater engagement with their culture.

“There are so few workers in this field, and yet there is so much to glean out of it,” she says, stating that we are all called to some form of interaction with the conversation of our culture. “You don't need to look at thirty different narratives. Just look at the ones that matter. Some Christians are called to certain narratives because God speaks uniquely to them through that story.” She encourages others to find what draws them and “glean in that field. Because more than likely, the reason that your affections are in that field is because you need to speak to people who are in that field with you who love it. You're uniquely called to speak to those people. … Share Christ through what has grabbed your heart and your affections.”

For more information on Leigh Hickman or to book her as a speaker, please email her at profleigh7@gmail.com.

Kevin C. Neece is a pop culture columnist for New Identity Magazine and founder and editor of undiscoveredcountryproject.com, where he writes and speaks on Star Trek from a Christian perspective. He also writes and speaks on other topics at kevincneece.com.

The Tree of Life

My wife and I were in line for tickets at the Plano Angelika when I saw it. Printed on plain white paper, it was a sign just like one that had appeared in other theaters across the country, warning moviegoers about Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. But the warning wasn’t about the movie’s content as much as it was about the movie itself.

“We would like to take the opportunity,” it said, “to remind patrons that The Tree of Life is a uniquely visionary and philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional, linear narrative approach to storytelling.”

The sign went on to encourage moviegoers to do their homework before buying a ticket, and to “please go in with an open mind.”

Having seen The Tree of Life twice, the first time as a member of the press and the second as just another paying customer, I can understand the controversy. While “uniquely visionary and philosophical” is a description I would agree with, there are plenty who would just as easily consider it just plain old unintelligible.

I can understand this position, to a point. It’s true that Malick’s movie is meandering and even feels a little bit messy, with images that don’t always have a clear connection to what came before and a thematic focus that seems a bit wobbly.

But I’m not sure it’s fair to dismiss The Tree of Life just because it doesn’t have the tightest of plots. We’ve come to expect movies that move at a break-neck pace, with not a single moment or frame to spare on useless beauty or an artfully composed shot that comments on theme.

The same is true even of many art house films, which are supposedly more experimental but are still playing to a carefully studied market, just like your garden variety blockbuster.

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But in The Tree of Life, we have a chance for something different. Malick’s camera creates a past and a present that is unmoored from time, bringing eternity into the present and giving us a view of human experience that feels almost godlike. One second, we are with the O’Brien’s, Malick’s main characters, experiencing their joy and their grief, and then the next we’re in the void that has yet to become space, watching gaseous swirls of color coalesce into stars, suns, and planets.

Malick even takes us into a vision, metaphorical though it may be, of life beyond this world, where past and future selves coexist alongside loved ones who have long since passed on. And in between, there is the great struggle of living. A little boy named Jack (Hunter McCracken) struggles to understand his stern father (Brad Pitt), who can be so tender and loving one minute, so cruel and cutting the next.

If there’s little in the way of plot in The Tree of Life, it’s because Malick has something else in mind. He wants to take small, fleeting events in the life of his main characters and transform them into a picture of our relationship with God, who can seem as mysterious to us as that father is to little Jack.

This requires an eye and a creative mind attuned to something other than delivering thrills or forcing us to feel a particular emotion. Malick doesn’t want to force us in a single direction, he wants to create a meditative atmosphere, one powered by our own memories, our own questions, our own doubts, and our own faith.

In an industry dominated by so many voices dedicated to selling mindless entertainment, his is a refreshing voice in the wilderness, calling us to pay attention to the world around us, and even to look closer at who we are. But more importantly, he challenges us to be humble before a God who can feel so very near to us and yet so very mysterious at the same time.

Andrew has has written reviews for RELEVANT Magazine and Books & Culture, and he's currently at work on an MA in critical-cultural studies at the University of North Texas in Denton.

September Update: What's Inspiring Us

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Two weeks ago I sat in a circle of new and old East Dallas friends for the first ever Art House LOCAL. After months of talking about how we could better connect the Art House community via smaller groups, the idea thrillingly came to fruition. As we gathered to encourage each other and discuss Francis Schaeffer’s essay Art and the Bible, it was powerful to sense the solidarity of groups meeting simultaneously across the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The response affirmed for us the need for a more intimate connection our larger events can’t provide.

The response to the intimate environment provided by FEEDBACK has been equally positive. There, songwriters have been given the chance to play their most recent creation in groups of six. Art House’s FEEDBACK in July sold out so quickly that we decided to add a facilitator and open up an extra group of six for our September gathering. Even with this expansion, the coming event has filled up and has a waiting list.

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The thirst of these musicians to grow creatively and communally continues to affirm our desire to create a new Art House location where individuals can come to connect and be equipped. One of my favorite parts of this job has been to work alongside our new architect to dream up the rooms you all will inhabit when Art House Dallas’s space is completed. Last month, Brad Reeves and I headed to the original Art House in Nashville with our fantastic architect, Cliff Welch, to experience first hand the incredible place that Charlie and Andi have created. It didn’t seem right to have him complete a design for our Dallas location before seeing the very place that has inspired so many over the last 20 years.  

While our location will be uniquely designed to meet the needs of Dallas’s creative community, our hope is that it will be similar to Nashville in that everyone who comes through our doors feels at ease, and everyone who walks away feels inspired. We can’t wait to get our plans finalized over the next month, and have you play a part in bringing these plans to fruition.  

More to come!

Jenny

Hope Spread Through Film

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I have seen so much of our world over the years, but each new trip brings more understanding that there is so much left to see, experience and understand. 

As a Photographer I am drawn to the creative, the inspiring, the moments in life that draw people out of their shells and reveal their true character. But when I come in contact with something that is not pretty, happy or easy to swallow, the way I react is changing. I don’t want to pass it off and let someone else deal with it simply because it is not my area of expertise. I am now incapable of standing idly by.

The problem with being an artist is that, many times, a painting, film or photograph doesn’t actually help someone. It can paint a picture of reality, but if no one sees that picture, what is the point? It can be skewed so that people see the depravity of the world, or it can show the hope and redemption that await us. 

I don’t want to be an artist who makes images of depravity, who shows the worst of the world in the most beautiful of ways. Have I done this before? Absolutely. But those are not the images I am proud of, the images that tell the true stories. If I come to believe that just showing poverty and pain will lead to any sort of change, I am dead wrong and, quite frankly, wasting my time. 

As artists and creatives our responsibility is to use our abilities to tell a story that moves the viewer, a story that transcends the moment the image was taken and shares the potential for joy, love and life. 

Along with a friend I am planning a documentary that will focus on the rampant issue of sex trafficking, specifically in Nicaragua. Throughout the past year we have been exposed to this issue in recent trips to Central America and have come to the conclusion that we must act and use our gifts to tell a story. Not a story of pain and despair, though these feelings may come, but of the hope and redemption that can rise out of these horrible circumstances. 

We have decided to film primarily in Nicaragua because of the unbelievable stories of heartbreak and redemption we have found there. In 2008, there were only two human trafficking convictions made, an increase from zero convictions in previous years. 

Nicaragua is a country plagued with political turmoil, natural disasters and poverty. It is the least developed nation in the western hemisphere. Most women are uneducated, and when a husband leaves or dies, they are forced to fend for themselves and take up prostitution to support their family, many times even selling their own daughters into the sex trade to help pay the bills.

What’s more heartbreaking, children five years old and younger are being sold by their families into this industry. These young girls are rented to men to be raped and abused. I have met girls as young as six who were chained to a wall for months because they refused to have sex with a man. This is not uncommon to these victims; it is something that the world needs to understand.

So why this project? Why in Nicaragua?  We don't feel it's right to see evil like this and not take action against it. What we do is make films, so we are making a film to paint a picture of the reality these victims face. We want to make this film to help support and rescue the women and children who are literally and metaphorically chained to this life.  

We have found that in the middle of the poverty, despair, pain and anguish there are things at work that are changing not only the lives of the women involved, but the very system in which sex trafficking takes place. There is an organization in Managua that is successfully rescuing women and children from a life of prostitution, empowering them to survive and support their families by means other than selling their bodies. They are giving women not only skills, but Hope.

This is a story of heartbreak, horrible fear, unimaginable pain, and hope. Sex trafficking is an issue that can be solved and is being solved, one individual at a time. We just need to keep fighting the fight.

We ask you, please consider sponsoring this project. We only get funding if we meet our goal 100%, and we feel this is a story that needs to be told. You can help. You can help by talking about this with your friends, doing your own research and helping fund this film. But I know that the work only starts if the funding starts and we start filming. We need support and encouragement to come alongside the women and tell their stories of Hope.

www.InChainsFilm.com 

August Update

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"He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul." Psalm 23

It's not often I stumble upon the "still waters" David spoke of in Psalm 23. Finding the time and place for my soul to rest usually takes a little bit of effort–or a lot. 

Last August, Charlie, Andi and I actually set aside a week on our calendars and went looking for some rest at a place called Malibu Lodge. Our friend who organized the retreat told us we only needed to fly into Vancouver, BC. The lodge would take care of the additional travel arrangements. Had I known then how much effort it was actually going to take to get to Malibu Lodge, I might have wondered if it was worth it. 

It turned out that the "additional travel arrangements" required to reach the lodge in Princess Louisa Inlet began with a 1.5-hour drive to a ferry outside Vancouver, followed by a 1-hour ferry ride, and lastly a transfer to another hour ride in a small pontoon boat. 

After hours of traveling by land and sea, our pontoon boat slowed to cruising speed and finally stopped to allow us to take in the beauty of our surroundings. The narrow inlet we were traveling opened up to give us our first glimpse of the Lodge and the majestic white-capped mountains towering behind. It was nothing short of glorious. I knew in that moment that the long journey was well worth it. It was the still water moment I longed for.

The Goff family welcomed us as if they knew us our whole lives. The visual beauty we were exposed to moments earlier was just a precursor to the beauty and warmth we experienced through the hospitality and love shown to us over the days that followed. Our souls were restored through the comforts of delicious home-cooked meals, warm beds, study of God's word and heartfelt conversations.

Throughout or time there, our fearless leader Bob led us on capers like jumping off cliffs and showed us how to walk through a powerful waterfall without dying. Our friendships were deepened by the risks we took together during the day, as well as the heartfelt conversations we shared at night. We felt alive. We felt restored. Our time at Malibu Lodge was amazing because of the place and the people. Take away one and it wouldn't have been the same experience.

When I think about our plans for Art House Dallas, I am inspired to try and recreate a place that offers this kind of rest for your souls. A place where you can come together as a community to grow spiritually and take risks creatively. A place to sit down in a big, comfy chair and take a deep breathe from the demands of your day. A place of still waters. 

There are still so many details to be figured out regarding what Art House Dallas will look like, but we are excited to be working with a fantastic architect who is keeping all these ideas in mind as we design this space together.  

The good news is you don't have to wait for our building to be completed to find rest and encouragement. On August 16th, we plan to provide you with a place + people a little closer to home through the launch of Art House Local. We hope you'll sign up and join one of the 8 D/FW locations hosted by incredible men and women excited to connect and learn with you in small groups. It may be the closest we can get to still waters here in the crazy city of Dallas. 

Whether it's Art House Local or another event you attend, I hope you are having a great summer and taking some time to rest. I'm happy to report that I am taking my own advice and heading to Florida. Look forward to seeing y’all soon!

Jenny

And If You Draw Pictures

I blew past the so-called crisis of realism that typically marks the end of drawing fun for most 8 to 12 year olds. I didn’t get much better, but I didn’t stop either. I’ve always enjoyed having something tangible to show for the units of time whirring by.

So I’m drawing the city skyline in black ink on a lined sheet neatly torn out of a pocket-sized reporter Moleskine as the green line whisks several of us work-weary commuters from downtown Dallas to the northern suburbs. I’m outlining a tall tower, a row of buildings, and a crescent moon rising up behind them when I pause, raise my head, and look around.

No one else is drawing, and at first glance no one seems to mind that I am. Then out of the corner of my eye I see it. The woman beside me is staring at my notebook.

Commuter culture is pretty established and it’s unusual for someone to break rank and look at anything besides 1) a phone or tablet, 2) a real book, fake book, or newspaper, 3) eyelid backs, or 4) the window. So when my seatmate peered over my shoulder, I was a little surprised. Then it occurred to me: I shouldn’t be.

In five years of commuting in and out of downtown Dallas via train, bus, automobile and occasional airplane, I’ve only seen a handful of folks actively creating in or on their way to the city center. I wondered why.

Just how many people are creative? I asked myself.

Creativity is complicated. A decent working definition refers to the making of something new and valuable.  Humans, though, are “creative” only by metaphor. God creates, in the truest sense of the word, out of nothing.

I revised my question. Who among us are gifted in the arts? How many of my fellow passengers can handle a brush-tipped artist’s pen, or jangle a bright G major on an acoustic guitar, or grand jeté over a puddle in the city street?

You’ve heard of IQ, we need a test for one’s creativity quotient (CQ). Somewhere around 1 in 10 working-age Americans are employed in the creative industry, a vague term that encompasses advertising, architecture, art, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, R&D, software, toys and games, TV and radio, and video games. But what about the non-vocational creative, the average nine-to-five man on the street, or more specifically, woman on the train?

There just isn’t enough information to answer. But it is important to ask, and here’s why.

The Fort Worth/Dallas metro area is the fourth largest in the country. Dallas’ bourgeoning arts district alone has the city poised to become something of a great art town. There must be creatives spread all across North Texas, each with a gift, each responsible to a giver.

Vocational and non-vocational, active and reserve, all creatives are responsible to God to use their gifts to bring into being objects and instruments of responsible action, to bring about shalom, to create the world that ought to be.

In other words, if you have it, flaunt it. If you can draw, then draw. And not just when you’re alone, but out in the open. Bring your gifts into the light. Let your seatmate on the train look over your shoulder. Asking the question helps us to identify and hold accountable those God has singled out as responsible servants in the arts.

As active creatives bring their gifts into the light, something extraordinary happens. Friendship often begins with “What, you too?” What if the passenger who saw me drawing was an active creative herself? We’d have an immediate commonality, a foundation upon which a friendship could be fostered.

Artists need to know they aren’t alone, that they are part of something larger than themselves, part of a plan. Friendship built on any commonality is the beginning of community, and community makes and shapes culture. Asking the question helps us connect with others like ourselves, establish friendships, provide encouragement, build community, and affect change.

Harvey Pennick, one of golf’s greatest teachers, wrote a book filled with practical wisdom from a lifetime in and around the game. He routinely autographed copies of his Little Red Book “to my friend and pupil.” When asked how he could write such an intimate inscription for people he barely knew, Pennick replied, “If you read my book you’re my pupil, and if you play golf, you’re my friend.”

A different author shared this bit of encouragement in a letter to his friends: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.”

Look around. Do you see anyone actively creating? Are you? If you draw pictures, you’re my friend. Meet me at Art House Dallas and we’ll talk.

Joshua Seth Minatrea is a Dallas-area thinker and creative. His aim is to gain and give space, time and direction for creation. He has never been bored. Real books, espresso-based beverages and pocket-sized reporter Moleskines® are a few of his favorite things.

July Update: Ways to get involved this Summer

Time is flying; I can't believe it’s already July. One year ago today, I sat down at my makeshift home office for my first official day on the job, and took the first steps towards expanding Art House America to Dallas. 

When I think back to all the hopes and ideas I had when we were starting up, Proverbs 16:9 comes to mind: "In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps." While there are still quite a few "steps" we need to take in raising funds and building the physical location, God has been more than faithful in establishing a strong community of folks here in Dallas committed to the vision of Art House.  

If you had asked that day what I thought Art House Dallas would look like on July 5, 2011, I probably wouldn't have pictured having a Programs Director working next to me in our office or two interns working diligently across the hall. Our small team has worked hard to create opportunities for you to connect with others and be encouraged. The updates laid out in our July newsletter are just a few of the upcoming events where we hope you'll join us. For those of you who have been coming to Art House Dallas events for a while and are looking to go deeper in relationships and conversation, I want to encourage you to sign up for Art House Local. Not only will you have the opportunity to discuss Francis Schaeffer's essay Art and the Bible, but you'll develop relationships with folks you can connect and create with right in your neighborhood.

If you have yet to attend an Art House Dallas event, the easiest way to jump in is to attend the next Art House Exchange, our casual pub gathering on July 28th. Right before the Exchange, we'll be hosting our next Dinner with Friends with special guest and Artist Development expert, Michael Blanton of Be Music & Entertainment.  Michael got his start almost 35 years ago doing A&R with Word Records developing a young, unknown musician named Amy Grant. Full of enthusiasm and wisdom, Michael will be coming in from Nashville to share some of the strategies he has used to take talent from a creative hobby to a full time vocation. In order to keep the environment conducive to conversation and questions, space is limited to only 25 guests, so sign up today to reserve your spot at the table!

I am particularly excited about our first Feedback event for Songwriters coming up later this week. Starting out with only 14 spaces available, this event quickly filled up with musicians hoping to meet other songwriters and receive peer review on their latest song creation. For those of you who are looking for peer feedback in an area other than songwriting, stay tuned; we'll let you know about more Feedback gatherings in the Fall.  

For now, we hope that your week is off to a great start and that you had a wonderful Fourth of July weekend. In my opinion, it's hard to beat being out on the lake all day, eating BBQ and watching fireworks. I admit that I often take for granted how incredible it is to live in the United States, but this weekend reminded me how much I have to be grateful for. Among the numerous things I am blessed with, I am especially thankful for your continued encouragement, prayers and support. Here's to another amazing year with Art House Dallas as we plan our course and wait for the Lord to establish our steps.

Jenny White

Executive Director, Art House Dallas

June Update: Art House is Going Local

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Dear Friends:

Over the last couple months, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to fulfill our mission of encouraging and equipping ourcommunity to live imaginative, meaningful lives. There is no doubt that our monthly pub gathering, the Art House Exchange, continues to encourage (friends and attendees) by connecting them to new friends and encouraging casual conversations abouttheir creative interests.  I am also confident that last months’ Dinner with Friends series kick-off served as an important equipping moment for musicians to learn how they can more effectively market themselves. As event after event fills up, we become more and more aware of the thirst within Dallas artiststo connect with others pursuing a God glorifying, creative life. This thirst is for more than casual conversation; they long for True community.

I consistently have conversations with and receive emails from people who are so encouraged to hear about Art House because they have felt isolated. Occasionally, they tell me it’s lonely because of the solitary nature of their creative process, but most of the time it’s the fact that they rarely connect with other Christians within their craft.  I think that many of these people would agree with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s feeling that “the physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”

Art House Dallas hopes our community would be a group who inspires creativity AND strengthens each other to be the kind of people that Jesus calls us to be in this world. In an effort to pursue this model of community, we are pleased to present you with a new opportunity to get involved at a deeper level through Art House Local.

After six months of casual conversations at our Art House Exchange, we realized that it was time to create an additional time and space throughout the year for more intentional gatherings where folks can come together to explore the intersection of faith and vocation. Art House Local will provide a more intimate environment to explore deeper conversations, while connecting with people who are pursuing the “Artful Life”-- in your area of DFW and beyond.  In light of the reality that you all lead very busy lives and are not looking for an additional weekly small group, Art House Local will be held quarterly with room for each group to create additional gatherings as they see fit.  Each Local group will be facilitated by two co-hosts who will help guide the discussion around brief excerpts from classical essays foundational to Art House America’s core values. We’ll kick off the first Art House Local with discussions about Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and an introduction by Charlie Peacock.

I am thrilled at the idea of groups meeting together all over DFW on August 16th for our first Art House Local. It's going be beautiful to watch how God uses diverse groups of individuals with various vocations and gifts meeting under one roof to grow together. We hope that Art House Local will be an avenue for unity of purpose similar to Bonhoeffer’s description of community in Life Together: “the more genuine and the deeper of community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.”

We would love for you to join us in this endeavor and also pray with us that this next step for Art House Dallas would bring about new relationships, fresh creativity and a place to know Jesus more deeply.

Reflection on Dinner with Friends

Dinner with Friends connects artists to insights and each other

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I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the Molly Maguire’s in East Dallas Thursday night. Weeks before a friend mentioned Art House Dallas was putting on an event for musicians on marketing and self-promotion. That topic, along with the prospect of good food, was enough to get me in the door. After four hours of challenging presentations, stimulating conversation, and soul-restoring fellowship, I was sold. I felt like I’d finally found my people.

The dinner was the first of it’s kind. Art House Dallas launched the program series to engage and equip local artists in a variety of vocational interests. They began with a focus on the music community, and the response was impressive. The sold-out event hosted a variety of musical artists from songwriters to band members to beat builders. The combination of beginners, established artists, and industry pro’s proved a perfect formula.

Trey Bowles of Trivate Entertainment and Vannessa Warren from Butterfly Sparks were kind enough to stop by and share a wealth of information. They spoke authoritatively about understanding music as a business, provided insights into booking and management, stressed the importance of brand and story, encouraged the use of social media in online marketing, and reminded attendees to make good art and foster relationships with fans.

Following the presentations, tables were bussed, doors were opened, and even more area artists poured in to attend the no-cost Art House Exchange. I wound up in a lengthy conversation with a couple of musicians, one a singer/songwriter/band leader, the other a worship band member, about how aging churches maintaining cavernous facilities in transitional communities could team up with bands looking for venues outside of the traditional club circuit. Had the three of us stayed till midnight we were fully convinced we could have solved all the world’s ills.

That’s what Dinner with Friends offers area artists: the chance to connect with valuable insights from industry pro’s, and each other. The only surprise is how quickly the event achieved its aim, and then exceeded it.

No one wants to be alone. We’re all made for relationships. One could contend that creatives need even more chances to connect with their peers than those outside of the visual, performing, and literary arts. Navigating the grayish waters at the intersection of art and faith can be tricky, and it’s tough to go it alone. Art House Dallas’ intentional effort to cultivate community with outreach like Dinner with Friends is guaranteed to get results. 

Dialogue such as this may be happening at a hundred other places on a random Thursday night in Dallas, but if it is, I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know what the next Art House Dallas event is going to be, but I am certain of this: I will be there, and I hope you will join me.

Joshua Seth Minatrea is a Dallas-area thinker and creative. His aim is to gain and give space, time and direction for creation. He has never been bored. Real books, espresso-based beverages and pocket-sized reporter Moleskines® are a few of his favorite things.

The Art House Dallas Song Project: a Recap and Reflection

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Art House Dallas recently hosted a Song Project, a day-long gathering of music and conversation. The focus of the event was to inspire songwriters to faithfully tell the stories of God at work in the world, and no less important, to weave their words with music that reflects the emotion and narrative arc of the stories. Many good people were involved as participants and mentors included Brent Bourgeois, Kate Miner, Josh Jenkins, Christopher Williams, and Patrick Ryan Clark. Thanks to everyone who contributed muscle and imagination to get it done. I'm especially grateful to our Dallas Executive Director, Jenny White, and her team of volunteers spearheaded by Marissa Miller. Thanks also to Eventbrite for sponsoring our delicious Mexican lunch.

Art House America is rooted in the Jewish/Christian belief and practice of a personal God. We believe that God has come to help his people through the person and work of Jesus. We lean into this and place our faith in a God who is with us, not against us. Songwriters who hold to this idea ought to be in the business of watching and listening for the stories of God at work in the world, including in our homes, friendship circles, and wider communities. The Song Project was designed to be a gentle reminder of this reality.

Anyone can use religious language and frame it in a preferred musical style. True artists, however, sing stories of God, people, and the world in which we live, and they seamlessly integrate music and lyric as an organic whole. If belief about God and reality isn’t seamlessly woven into my life, I shouldn’t expect it to be seamlessly woven into my songwriting. As a young songwriter and follower of Jesus, I looked to the Bible for some clarity about lyric and storytelling in general. The Jewish/Christian story of God, people, and place is collected together in the Bible — actually 66 short books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New.

Photo: Stephen Rhodes

Photo: Stephen Rhodes

Like any story the Bible has a beginning and end. In the beginning, God is creating (Genesis 1:1). By the end of the story He’s re-creating — making everything new again (Revelation 21:1-5). In the space between, it’s a long, twisting, messy trek of glory and shame, filled with small stories, sermons, genealogies, prayers, letters, songs, poems, and proverbs of every conceivable style. They incorporate every literary device from hyperbole to alliteration, and acrostic to stream-of-consciousness. The subject matter is the whole of life, hellish and heavenly. The rhythms of God, people, and planet cross and double-cross with a noisy racket. The creative beauty of God’s handiwork is mixed together in the same history with a fat king named Eglon, who was murdered by a left-handed man named Ehud. There are even stories for people who cannot see God at work, who openly question whether He exists to bring help to his people. If this is you, you’re in good company with history and the musician/shepherd/king David. This lyric, among many like it, has been attributed to the Jewish king:

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

(Psalm 22:1)

Photo: Stephen Rhodes

Photo: Stephen Rhodes

By looking at the Bible, those of us gathered in Dallas remembered together how songs and stories are deeply connected to daily life. Using the imagination does not exclude using the stories of our interaction with God, people, and place. We can and ought to embrace an ocean of possibilities for our music and lyric. Throughout the event we tried to communicate that songwriting is not about sacred or secular, vertical or horizontal, modern worship or hymns, crossover or church, liberal or conservative. There is something deeper at stake. For anyone who is serious about having a songwriting life inspired by Jesus, it’s time to deal with what He is interested in — everything. This means people seeking God in a more beautiful, faithful way of living which is holistic in scope — beyond pietism to a true rightness, the rightness revealed in the person of Jesus and all that concerns Him. Not an American Christianity, left or right, Republican or Democrat, but instead, an adoration of Jesus and His ways of being human. The way of Jesus gives sufficient direction for being and doing and the promise of renewal in all things: the God/human relationship, relationship to each other, to the earth, music and the arts, agriculture, business, education, politics, recreation, communication, science — literally everything. Songwriting is made faithful by following where Jesus leads.

Is He leading some to care for victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan? Tell the story in song. Is He saving and bringing back to life your neighbor’s sick child? Tell the story in song. Is He leading you toward good imaginative, creative work? Is He giving you good things, food, laughter, sex, and marriage? Tell the story in song. Is Jesus present in the thanks and prayers of his people? Tell the story in song. Is He seemingly silent, nowhere to be seen? Tell the story in song. Do all this and much, much more with music that is winsome, emotive, honest, earthy, transcendent, and rich in depth and nuance. This is true music for people who profess to be active participants in this old Jewish/Christian story of God, people, and place. Everything else is copying, faking, buying, and selling.

Charlie Peacock and his wife, Andi Ashworth, are Co-Founders/Executive Directors of Art House America. A Grammy-Award winning record producer, Charlie has worked with The Civil Wars, Switchfoot, Sara Groves, and more. He is the Sr. VP of A&R for Twenty Ten Music. Recent Film/TV music credits include The Rabbit Room starring Nicole Kidman, MLB Promos, Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, and the NBC Friday Night Movies (The Jensen Project, A Walk In My Shoes). Upcoming films include Something Borrowed starring Kate Hudson and Searching For Sonny starring Minka Kelly.

Stories and Songs

When we first started talking about an Art House Dallas launch, we knew it needed to include three aspects: good food, live music, and opportunities to gather our Dallas friends for meaningful conversations. We imagined a handful of Dallas artists and Art House America supporters would meet together for a couple of hours to talk about what it looks like to live an “artful life.”

God imagined something much bigger for Friday, October 15, 2010.

What started as a small afternoon gathering turned into a breakfast with the Art House Dallas Creative Council, lunch and live music followed by a stellar music panel, and an evening of stories and songs. By the end of the day, more than 300 people had been introduced to the newest work of Art House America in Dallas.

Below are a few images of that "EAT : MEET : GREET" event. We are so grateful to Sandra McCracken and Sleeperstar for coming out to play music and support Art House Dallas, along with Joy Willams, Nate Yetton, Jillian Edwards, Josh Jackson, Kate Miner, and Cary Pierce who offered great insights on the music panel.

Art House Dallas's Executive Director, Jenny White, takes the stage.

Art House Dallas's Executive Director, Jenny White, takes the stage.

Checking out the Art House Dallas brochure for the first time.

Checking out the Art House Dallas brochure for the first time.

Sandra McCracken performing live.

Sandra McCracken performing live.

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Charlie Peacock introducing the music panel participants: (L to R) Kate Miner, Nate Yetton, Joy Williams, Josh Jackson, Sandra McCracken, Cary Pierce, and Jillian Edwards.[All "EAT : MEET : GREET" photographs by Ann West, who blogs at Dollop.]

The Art House team is still reveling in the beauty of the "Stories and Songs" evening at the Reeves’ residence. After all the guests cleared out, we sat on scattered chairs and the living room's wooden floor, which only minutes earlier had been filled with lively conversations and acoustic performances. While munching on the last few scrumptious petits fours appropriately decorated with music notes, we discussed our favorite parts of the evening: the perfect temperature outside to enjoy a delicious meal, sharing the Art House Dallas video with many people for the first time, and our favorite songs by Jillian Edwards, Nick Chatham, and Joy Williams.

But we all agreed that the most amazing part of the evening was the incredible group of people that joined us to celebrate the launch of Art House America's expansion to Dallas. The packed house certainly affirmed the good things that God has in store, and we are grateful for everyone who attended and has now become part of the story; it has only just begun.

Sam Ashworth and Joy Williams rehearsing.

Sam Ashworth and Joy Williams rehearsing.

Art House Dallas dinner al fresco.

Art House Dallas dinner al fresco.

Art House Dallas leadership: Brad Reeves and Jenny White.

Art House Dallas leadership: Brad Reeves and Jenny White.

Native Dallasites: Jillian Edwards and Kelsey Walker performing at "Stories and Songs."

Native Dallasites: Jillian Edwards and Kelsey Walker performing at "Stories and Songs."

Art House America Co-Founders: Andi Ashworth and Charlie Peacock. [ All "Stories and Songs" photographs by Mark Nicholas. ]

Art House America Co-Founders: Andi Ashworth and Charlie Peacock. [All "Stories and Songs" photographs by Mark Nicholas.]

In addition to building a creative community of people, Art House Dallas’s primary focus over the next nine months will be to raise the necessary support to physically build the new Art House Dallas space — "A place where good can happen," as Art House America co-founders Charlie Peacock and Andi Ashworth would say. We can hardly wait to provide people with a place to attend events, lectures, and vocation groups to connect others with those who love what they love.

Our greater hope is that the presence of Art House in east Dallas will do more than just facilitate conversations and convene creative community. In efforts to encourage and equip individuals, we have confidence that corporately we will be a community whose gifts and creativity work together for the common good of Dallas and beyond.

We would love for you to stay connected with us and learn about opportunities to get involved:

1. Follow us on Twitter.

2.Join the Art House Dallas Facebook group. Check out more of the event photos (courtesy of Ann West) in the Facebook album and tag yourself so we can keep connecting faces with names.

Jenny White is a native Texan who recently returned from a 5-year adventure in Washington, D.C. She serves as the Executive Director of Art House America’s new location in east Dallas, where she loves drinking coffee at the Pearl Cup, going to concerts at Granada Theatre, cycling around White Rock Lake, and cooking in her tiny kitchen.