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TRANSLATE | Art As Mission Symposium

  • Third Church Fellowship Hall 600 Forest Avenue Richmond, VA, 23229 United States (map)

The Translate Symposium brings together more than 20 national and global practitioners, advocates and theorists of the arts as front-line missions work to connect them with each other and invite local church and missions communities to learn about and support their creative and evangelical work.  A half-day of presentations, performances, conversations, and interviews will connect and encourage some of the many believers who work in arts missions, and invite RVA churches and others passionate about evangelism to join them and each other in this area of ministry.  

Following our Makers Series | Translate event the previous night, this symposium aims to educate, equip, and challenge all branches of the Church at Richmond to embrace the arts and creative practices as key ways to build Gospel community both here and abroad.  Our aim is to demonstrate that “art as mission” is not about using people and objects merely as “tools” for missions or proselytization, but is about recognizing that generative, creative practices can and should be intrinsically, inherently “missional” because they put on display and draw people towards the rich, abundant life we were made to experience and have together as God’s children, renewed as the Body of Christ.  Together we’ll explore how the arts are a distinctively integrative, incarnational way to be human, and to bear the image of our creator God. 

The day will begin by introducing the idea of the arts as contributing to a “cultural estuary,” and then explore three facets of the arts as mission: art as mission abroad, art as mission in local cross-cultural contexts, and art as mission among the “creative class” here at home.  As we pivot from thinking about the arts as a context for drawing people towards Gospel communities to thinking about the arts themselves as being a cultural field in need of the redemptive presence of Christ, we’ll invite musician, pastor and theologian Dr. Uday Balasundaram to share his experience and research on both sides of that line.

Finally we'll have the opportunity to meet, eat with, and ask questions of our speakers and several other missional arts advocates who are coming to Richmond for the Symposium.

Schedule and Speakers:

9:00-9:05  --  Welcome and introduction of the program. Mark Sprinkle, Director of Arts+Cultural Engagement, Third Church. 

Focus Session 1: Art as mission in international contexts.

Several of our invited guests have worked or are now working overseas as (and with) missionary artists, pursuing the good, true, and beautiful and seeing Gospel community emerge and grow as a result, whether primarily through individual relationships and creative projects, or by establishing institutions around which such relationships can flourish.  The first session will focus on this most “traditional” model of thinking of art as/in mission.

 9:05-9:10 Performance: "Avodah" and friends

9:10-9:35  A husband and wife team, who are supported by Third Church, Hope Church, and other area churches will be joining us from a large, culturally influential city in Asia, where they have been pursuing life as musicians and creative catalysts, doing the work of translating ideas and stories of truth and depth for their local urban context, inviting local artists into community, and training indigenous leaders to share narratives of hope, as well.  They’ll describe what “living in translation” is like for them and their kids, and speak about contextualizing the work of writers like Tolkien and Lewis and musical genres from rock to bluegrass for their adopted creative community

Dianne Collared

9:35-10:00    Dr. Dianne Collard has been working as Europe Ministries Director for A.C.T. International (Artists in Christian Testimony) for many years and serves in leadership of the The Arts+Europe Round Table, both of which support a renewal of the arts in Europe and Central Asia. Dianne also pursues her calling as an advocate for peacemaking and reconciliation, as both an author and speaker.  In her role as an arts catalyst in the US, she helped found and sustains ArtsCharlotte in North Carolina. We’ll hear from her about her experience with missional artists in Europe, and the network of artists ACT supports around the world today.

scott crosby

10:00-10:25   Scott Crosby currently serves as Ministry Director of Christian Union in NYC. In the 1980s Scott pioneered missions in East Asia, spending 30 years in several of the region's key cities. Scott brought together a team that developed and ran several ventures in the arts, including the still-thriving twocities Gallery as a hub of community and cultural engagement.  We’ll hear from Scott and several colleagues about the many different kinds of projects they pursued there and the relationships that continue now—not only in East Asia, but among the dispersed former-staff.  Scott also ran the New City Commons Foundation for UVA Sociologist James Davidson Hunter, and can speak to the importance of institutions (like galleries and schools) in thriving culture.

Kris Keating

10:25-10:50  WH Director Kris Keating and EDIT Gallery Katy Pumphrey and others from the World Horizons/Hillside Missions group here in RVA are pursuing pop-up art events as well as long-term galleries and studios overseas as a way to be part of and bless communities to which they are sent with the Gospel, especially in the Middle East, North Africa and India.  Kris and his team have also established EDIT Gallery as a “gallery for Good” near the heart of the VCU corridor. They’ll share their early experiences in those endeavors.


Focus Session 2. Art as cross-cultural mission in local contexts.

As many of us experience locally, “the nations” are no longer isolated overseas or just “somewhere else,” but are literally our neighbors. This fact of ubiquitous multi-cultural cities (and suburbs) presents both challenges and opportunities for ministry and—more than that—true gospel community that reflects the Kingdom of God we will see in the New Jerusalem.  Moreover, the arts can help us recognize, name and begin to deal with the significant cultural differences among American Christian communities divided by race and class. The second section of the Symposium will focus on the way that the arts and creative practices can promote hospitality, connection, and true community across cultural lines in our diversifying cities and neighborhoods. 

 10:50-10:55  Natasha Oladokun: Poetry presentation. A UVA Grad, Natasha was a Teaching Fellow and earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Hollins University, and now works for the Virginia Quarterly Review in Charlottesville.  As a first generation American-born child of Nigerian immigrants, her essays and poetry often explore ideas of geographic and spiritual dislocation. Her writing is a place to name how language itself (and thus translation) is both true and deceptive, useful and unsatisfying as a way to reach towards God and each other, to name who He is and who we are.  You can read an example here.

 10:55-11:20  John Riad (coordinator for the Christian Arabic Church Drama Team) and fellow actor Michael Goolsby will give a bit of history about the troupe and how they are now presenting Gospel messages to Arabic–speaking people in Virginia—a dual mission to challenge the Arabic Christian community to welcome and reach out to other Arabic speakers in the immigrant population of RVA and, hopefully, to reach Muslims directly.  Their story of personal friendship is also an example of the way the arts are a context for cross-cultural community here in Virginia.


11:20-11:45   Sterling Severns is the head pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church here in Richmond, an in-town church that has been transformed by the influx of an extensive (25% of the congregation) Burmese and other Southeast Asian refugee population, whom they have welcomed and invited into their very creative worship life.  The Tab has on ongoing program of weekly transformation of their liturgical space and practice, and we’ll will hear from Rev. Severns about how they have handled all aspects of this creative partnership in life and worship.

 11:45-1:00 LUNCH & Conversation: Speakers and Participants dispersed to any of the several restaurants within walking distance.

1:00-1:45 PM--   Performance and Keynote Address by Dr. Uday Balasundaram: “Estuary Culture” 

Uday Balasundaram was born and raised in India, studied guitar performance in Los Angeles, and then returned to India from 1991 to 2000, becoming part of a movement that revolutionized the production and spread of Indian commercial and film music worldwide. He went on to earn his M.Div and Ph.D. in intercultural studies from Asbury Theological Seminary, where his research explored the process of musical creativity amongst indigenous cosmopolitan musicians for mission. Uday has served as a pastor in the global church, taught at three seminaries and is now Director of Worship at Northland—A Church Distributed, in Lakeland, Florida.  From there he also stewards Estuary Cultures and the Academy for Creativity, Research, & Design: two projects that focus on research, development and implementation of ways the church can better understand and participate in the creativity of God for mission. Uday will describing his experience and scholarship on the arts in cross-cultural community and mission, both in international and U.S. settings, and the way a “Cultural Estuary” model can help us articulate the Biblical warrant and practical applications of creative community for mission.  

Focus Session 3. Art as cross-cultural mission among artists.

“Creatives” in the contemporary academic/gallery art world of the West resemble an “unreached people group,” and it takes just as much care, love, and subtlety (but also courage) to present a Christ-founded rationale for our creative nature and work to them as it does to present a culturally-relevant gospel to the unreached overseas.  RVA is the home of VCU, the top-ranked public art school in the country, The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and multiple other museums, a vibrant advertising and corporate creative culture, a thriving “maker” scene (including everything from craft brews to custom shirt-makers), and is the third most-tattooed city in the US.  And yet “patronage” is still not something most of the Christian community sees as its heritage or calling, and there remains a deep divide between the aesthetics and art interests of the urban core and the suburbs.  This last piece of the Symposium is directed towards ways of thinking and talking about the arts that equip the Church to engage more effectively in supporting good work being made by local Christian and non-Christian artists alike, and to call our non-Christian creative brothers and sisters into a more deeply and fully human understanding and practice of “making.”

1:45-2:05.  A local artist whose life and work bridges the church, academic and gallery art worlds will join us to speak about his experience being part of the sometimes aggressively-secular academic art world by teaching at a local university, building a contemporary art gallery in the city, and discipling students and others in the creative fields.

2:05-2:30  Meaghan Ritchie is an El Paso-born transplant to NYC where she runs MaKeR Projects to assist a variety of private family foundations and non-profits with their exhibitions/programming, fundraising, and constituency development, and splits time with Baylor in New York, the University's Film and Digital Media Studies Program in the city.  Previously she was Director of Global Community & Programs at International Arts Movement, and publishes The Curator, an online arts magazine.

Eva Ting was Director of Two Cities Gallery in Shanghai and help shape the community around it, and now oversees all operations, staffing and events the W83 Ministry Center, the community and events center owned and operated by Redeemer Presbyterian Church on the Upper West Side of NYC.  Eva also serves on the board of CIVA--Christians In the Visual Arts.  Meaghan and Eva will speak about the pitfalls and successes of being artists and arts advocates of faith (and friends) in an urban, post-Christian, culture.

Jill Carattini.jpg

2:30-2:55 Jill Carattini is Managing editor and writer for A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, as well as being Director of its Theology and Arts initiative that includes the Still Point Gallery.  Jill will speak to the growing attention being paid across the evangelical world to story and creative practices, but also the difficulty and necessity of making the case for the arts (and not-always-obviously-orthodox artists) in conservative Church and ministry communities.

2:55-3:20. Jerry Eisley ran Foxhall Gallery in NW Washington DC for nearly four decades, as well as founding and managing the Washington Arts Group to encourage professionalism in the arts, the connection of art to the life and needs of communities, and the development of Washington, D.C. as a viable arts center.  He still runs Jerry l. Eisley Fine Art Associates, a concierge curating and gallery services company. Jerry will speak about being part of and apart from the arts and gallery community in a major (secular) city, fostering a regional (and international) network of artists and arts-advocates of faith, and how to find and keep a long-term perspective on God’s work in the world (and Church) via the arts.   

3:20-3:30  Wrap-up and Sending

3:30-4:30  Optional Q&A and Conversations with presenters and other arts/faith friends.

For more details or questions, contact Mark Sprinkle.

Earlier Event: February 24
The Makers Series | TRANSLATE
Later Event: February 26
Congregational Meeting