Have I mentioned I have a day job? I’ve had this particular job for around three years which is hard to imagine but apparently true. It’s a good job that pays me decent and gives me benefits and allows for space in my life to do murals, paint, travel to see family and friends, and sometimes work additional jobs, too. I’m an administrative assistant in a downtown church in Asheville. And I’m proud to work there, even though I don’t identify as Christian. They have solar panels on the roof. They have a community garden out back. They house the offices of Campaign for Southern Equality and is the meeting place for Youth Outright. They are the only church in the area that openly welcomes and accepts LGBTQ individuals and families. The pastor got arrested a few weeks ago at Moral Monday, peacefully protesting the insane changes the NC legislature has passed recently. So it’s pretty cool, really.
My favorite part of the job is picking out the art images for the Sunday bulletin. The pastor gives me the theme of the text and I scour the internet for something beautiful and thought provoking to add the the experience of worship. And the best part is, the congregation really appreciates the art in the bulletins. This week, I stumbled across a blog for an artist, Scott Erikson, who did a residency in a Houston church. That part was pretty interesting in itself, but I was especially moved by his work with orphans in Swaziland.
From his site: “When I heard about the orphan situation in Swaziland, I knew I wanted to respond in some way. This project really came about from the deep desire to want to help. When faced with issues of poverty, death, orphan care, disease, massive societal problems…. we don’t generally think about sending in the painters right away. There are so many more needed skills to help with the massive problems at hand. But I find myself wondering “Well, I’m a painter…. can I help?”
I’m an artist and I care for the plight of orphans. I few years back I was in Nairobi, Kenya, and witnessed first hand the conditions young children have to live in all alone on the street. Those images haunt me daily. When I was asked to go to Swaziland and I heard that children faced the same future, I knew I had to respond in some way. I have asked God many times to have given me “more practical” gifts to help with the needs of others. But he has chosen to make me this way. If I consider my skill set, it really does lie in creativity and storytelling. This is what I have to offer.
Swaziland is a beautiful country with beautiful people. For a myriad of reasons, around 41% of the country is HIV positive. This is killing off most of the adult population, leaving a country filled with old people and children. There is a massive orphan population growing in the country. Young children left on their own to survive. They are dire situations. Their stories need to be heard.”
You can see the website for the project here. What I really love about his explanation of the project is his ownership of art improving lives. I remember during my time working with the Philadelphia Mural Program, one person came up to me and told they were so grateful for what we were doing because they needed beauty in their neighborhood. They needed something beautiful for their children to see, something that celebrated the very people who lived there.
As artists, we might think that the only impact our art has on the world is simply bringing more beauty/imagination/contemplation/truth/storytelling/expression to it. And that is very, very important. That’s enough, really.
What are your favorite examples of art out in the world, changing it for the better? Do you believe it can?