Arts in the Workplace

Byron Spradlin and Uday Balasundaram

Editor’s Note: This GWF2019 Advance Paper was written by the Catalysts for the Arts Issue Network as an overview of the topic to be discussed at the related session at the Global Workplace Forum 2019 held in Manila, Philippines. 

How can we as Christian artists fulfill our creative calling and bring about sustainable social transformation in the global workplace in ways that glorifies Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? At the GWF 2019, Lausanne Arts issue network is eager to gather with like-minded creatives and artists from across the world to explore more fully the issues at the intersection of art-making, workplace dynamics, and Christian mission.

The Lausanne Arts issue network holds two mandates—first, to the artists of the world and second, to the global church, mission agencies, and academia. As per our mandate we exist to ‘catalyze and connect artistic Christians and evangelical influencers concerning the role of artists and the arts for global mission—through gatherings focused on biblical prayer, reflection, training, and ministry action.’

Theological reflections

What is the larger theological backdrop for our creative identity and missional practice as artists? If the mission of God forms the overarching reality for the activity of the church in the world, then the creativity of this God is the context for all God-given creativity. But what really does it mean to participate in the creativity of God for mission? In the context of his Hindu religious-spiritual identity, Ravi Shankar, the great sitar maestro, understood that ‘sound is God.’ As a musician, therefore, his understanding was that through his music people were more fully able to enter into the presence of God. Does such a spiritual understanding of art-as-participation in the creativity of God hold true for Christian musicians and artists as well? If art-making is a portal into a relationship with the Creator God, then in what ways do art-making processes and products allow for participation in the artistry or creativity of God? Further, in what ways might Christian creatives and artists differentiate themselves when it comes to communicating the uniqueness of Christian truth in a religiously pluralistic context through their art?

In addition to questions of creative being and identity we recognize that the rapid reconfiguration of cultural boundaries brought about by globalizing processes have drastically impacted who makes art, what sort of art may be produced locally, and the sustainability of art-making as a way of life in the context of neoliberal market economies and in the new digital economies.

Dissecting the complexity of issues

The issues surrounding the effectiveness of artists in the global workplace include a mix and match of several issues including theological, biblical, cultural, social, political, missional, and liturgical. At GWF 2019 we hope to cover as much ground as we can since many of these issues will come to life through our interaction with one another as artists in the workplace, sharing our stories, and learning best practices from one another.

Biblically and theologically speaking, our task is more than simply validating the arts as a viable tool for mission. Rather, it is to begin to explore and delineate the ways in which the creative arts are a unique avenue for interpreting and unlocking the deep spiritual truths in the Bible and the world around us. The lived practices of artists as they intentionally pursue art-making as a way of theologizing can be a sublime hermeneutic for biblical exposition and authentic demonstration of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Culturally, biblically inspired arts are a valuable currency in a media-saturated environment that appears to defer to the profane rather than seek that which is true or genuinely creative when it comes to establishing an aesthetic standard for the production and consumption of artistic products and processes. How might Christian artists in the workplace proactively inspire and influence the world to raise or steer the standards for art-making in the light of the call to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect? For example, who are the Christian artists in the workplace who will raise the flag for censorship through the lens of a biblical aesthetic in our Hollywood, Bollywood, or local film cultures?

On a global scale how do we as Christian artists in the workplace navigate the tide of neoliberal preferences when it comes to the creation and curation of music and other creative arts for the global worshipping community? While diversity is generally recognized as an issue to take seriously in the Global North, how is this really being played out at the ground level through the inclusion of diasporic art and migrant imaginations in the design of environments that encourage diversity in community? How might artistic leaders in the workplace facilitate the design and operation of environments for dialogue in the context of cultural and religious diversity? In the Global South, in what sense do ecclesial machineries (structures, systems, and hierarchies) allow for the intentional cultivation of grassroots or indigenous/fusion music, art, and dance as legitimate pathways for the embodiment of knowledge and truth as much as other more preferred or so-called traditional/popular rational intellectual cognitive forms and styles? In a postcolonial context, where local creative practices appear more foreign than local, how might global workplace creatives serve as mediators between Christian communities and the local/glocal culture-at-large to encourage the development and incorporation of hybrid arts as a place for the mutual transformation of identities in Christ?

Politically, artists in the global workplace have a crucial role to play in creating environments for mutual understanding and dialogue among spiritually fragmented communities across the world. In what sense do artists see themselves as agents of change when it comes to engaging in dialogue with those from alternate worldviews and ideologies other than Christian? What sort of opportunities or venues might workplace artists develop to facilitate the coming together of leaders in the sociopolitical arena in order to work collectively in the bringing about world change and peace in Christ?

When it comes to worship, artists are at the cutting edge of innovation since they are able to create natural spaces for worship in the light of a public missiology. Missiologically, what does it mean to employ so-called creative forms for the translation of Christianity in the current era of global complexity, the global ‘refugee crisis,’ persecution, religious pluralism, neo/post-colonialism, the digital era, secular/post-secularization, and Christian/post-Christian context?

Moving the church to embrace artistic Christians in the workplace as viable for ministry and strategic to the church connecting with and reaching into the community and cultures around it is a complex task. But the Christians must come to address at least three serious challenges facing it today: first, in general, today’s cultures listen better to artists than to preachers in the traditional sense of the word/form. Second, Christians have not always well understood and embraced artistic people, strategies, and methods. So, there are few places that integrate innovative and artistic ministry people and projects. Third, the church is losing the assets of some of her most powerful and effective servants—the artistic Christians within the Body.

So, it is important that innovative Christians provide artists and innovators the coaching, accountability, organization, non-profit status, and administrative systems that they need to move forward in ministry. And in providing these things, artistic Christian servant leaders need to help Christians embrace artists and the arts for Christ’s work worldwide, especially those who are active disciples and servants of Christ in the workplace.

Innovative strategies, solutions, and/or action plans

At GWF 2019 the Lausanne Arts issue network invites leadership from the global church to join us in the process of learning from one another. We’d like to take the next step in developing emerging artistic leadership everywhere the gospel is proclaimed. This includes putting our heads together to build and sustain hermeneutical communities of practice everywhere that tackle real world problems with creative and artistic solutions. We’d like to hear from you in terms of what it would look like for you to empower other artists, churches, and the people in your community to take the next step in sharing in the creativity of God. Thank you in advance for your hand of partnership to make this world a better place starting with wherever God has placed us in God’s workplace.

Date: 01 May 2019

Grouping: GWF 2019 Advance Paper

Gathering: 2019 GWF


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