Monday, November 11, 2013

The Arts, Money, and the Future of the Church

My father with his twin brother
and my grandfather in 1931

More than 25 years ago, one of my daughters was accepted as an acting student at the then-brand-new Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. At the orientation session, a teacher waved her hand in the direction of the students gathered in front of her, and said, “Parents, you are looking at the future of the American theater!” Looking at the hopeful, young faces and hearing the passion in the voices of the faculty, I was swept away with emotion. What a grand vision we all shared in that moment!

That daughter went on to study acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and now is a film executive in London. My son, who attended the equally-ambitious Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC and the Berklee School of Music in Boston is now an Emmy-award-winning sound designer in Hollywood. I have been supporting the performing arts for a very long time.

To those who know me well, none of this is surprising. The arts run deep in my family. My father’s family were musicians for as long as anyone could remember. I, myself, was a dancer before I was a visual artist. So when I heard that teacher talk about the future, my heart sang. I wanted to help that future become real.

Tonight, I attended a benefit cabaret and auction for the Theatre Lab. I wrote about their Life Stories project a few weeks ago, and tonight’s event reminded me of the excitement I felt when I heard about the work they are doing with people in homeless shelters, prisons, assisted living facilities, and other places where people feel marginalized and hopeless. Although no one said those words, as I watched talented, hard-working young people transform themselves into Cosette from Les Miserables, Midsummer Night’s Dream’s Puck, and other familiar and unfamiliar characters, I once again felt myself to be in the presence of the future of the American theater. And when Deb Gottesman asked us to support Theatre Lab’s work financially, it felt right and natural to make a bigger donation than I had planned to when I walked into the room. 

On the way home, I thought about how the arts have the capacity to open not only hearts and minds, but wallets. Part of my job as the Director of the Center for the Arts and Religion is to raise money so that we can continue our work, but I have struggled to find the right words to explain to potential donors why they should support a program in the arts in theological education. Tonight, at last, I think that I have found those words. Let me try them out on you:

If the Word of God is more than mere words can convey, then the church needs the arts in order to help people experience and express God’s life-giving, astonishing Word. The arts bring scripture to life, make worship vibrant, and keep people awake and aware of the world around them. The arts are the future of the church, and we at the Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary are providing the skills and resources for that future. Please give.

1 comment:

  1. You have, indeed, found "the words." I would only suggest adding "generously" after "please give."