J Scott McElroy

IAM Encounter 2/09

In Arts Conferences on April 6, 2009 at 11:58 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed the  IAM (International Arts Movement) Encounter 09 in NYC. Hailee, my 18 year old artistic daughter, came along and it was extremely satisfying to see her get swept into the moment as Billy Collins read his delicious poems live, and Susan E. Isaacs poked fun at Christian culture with her wondrous monologue.

The Conference

This was my first IAM conference and a significant one for many reasons. It drew artists of all mediums from all over the world to dialogue about the current state and future of the arts. It was an amazing networking experience, I had never met so many artists who were primed to share and exchange information and ideas.  This was the first time I heard Makoto Fujimura, founder of IAM, speak and it was the beginning of an appreciation for this heart and thoughts regarding the arts. Mako is a treasure for this time of movement in the faith-based arts because of his humbly stated but inspiring vision and the excellence of his personal art.

My favorite workshops included a talk with author Steve Garber, another deep thinker and culture-change catalyst who interviewed musician Matt Kearney. I was especially impressed by Matt’s authenticity as he talked about his challenges as a Christan in the music industry, and by his desire to walk deeply in this faith.

Another very helpful workshop shared practical tips for starting and maintaining an artist’s salon in your home.   Joe Kickasola from Baylor U. led and talked about the salon he and his wife have done for a few years. They have a group of artists into their home on a regular basis, have a meal together and someone makes a presentation of their art work. The group supports and encourages each other, creating a special community. This idea has influenced my thoughts about groups we are starting, whether we have a meal or just snacks,  the concept of a safe community where artists can share their work, give and receive encouragement, spend time in prayer with other artists and work on projects together is a foundational part of a New Renaissance.

Every arts conference I’ve been to recently has a certain anticipation in the air…you can feel things forming in the arts; connections between like-minded artists and ministries, thoughts, ideas and visions for change, hope for an integration of the arts into the church. For me, IAM was bursting with those things, and I met many Christian artists there who felt the same. So, it was interesting to realize that  this organization is not really aiming at Christians or the church. Their line is “Creating the world that ought to be ” and they feel their role is to be a positive force in the larger culture, not a Christian arts organization. Its a beautiful vision, and much needed, but somewhat  confusing to the overwhelmingly Christian audience who attended the event, as evidenced by  the Pastor’s round table workshop. After the question was asked, “How can IAM be a resource for your church”, the discussion immediately turned to understanding IAM’s mission. At least half the time was spent explaining to the pastors and leaders what IAM wants to do—promote positive dialogue and change in the culture while not being a Christian organization. I came away feeling that I want to support the organization, and I’ll be back to future conferences, but they don’t seem to want to be the organization known for connecting the Church and artists.

The People

I met so many wonderful artists at IAM, including Phyllis Thomas, a friend of my mother’s who has a painting ministry with Campus Crusade in Orlando. Cathy Schock from Ohio has a wonderful prophetic painting ministry, and Gwen Mehrag ,a prolific prophetic painter who I knew from on line correspondence and had been one of the first to by FDI on line,  was there as well.  I gave a copy of the book to the whimsical and wise “Chaplain of the Arts”, Nigel Goodwin, who declared in his British thespian voice ( which seems to be how he always speaks), “You know, when the Holy Spirit is involved with the writing of a book, people read it and say ‘Ah Ha! That’s what I have been feeling but haven’t been able to put into words!'” And I finally met Byron Spradlin, founder of ACT, a wonderful and warm man who has been laboring in the Christian arts world for decades, paving the way for the coming Renaissance.

But I have to say, I most enjoyed meeting Byron Borger, owner of Hearts and Minds Books. He and Scott Calgaro had traveled from Pennsylvania to provide the bookstore for the conference. And what a bookstore it was….the most complete collection of books on faith and the arts I’ve every seen in one place. Byron’s servant attitude, his knack for making connections and his passion about the arts were, for me, one of the best facets of the IAM conference experience.

About IAM

(From their website)

Art is society’s existential statement, in answer to the question, “Why live?” International Arts Movement works as a catalyst to inspire people to hope, engage deeply into the depth of culture’s critical zones, and create a world that ought to be. We believe that artistic excellence as a model of  “what ought to be” paves the way for lasting, enduring humanity.

Personal Notes

We stayed at the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which I recommend, on West Broadway right in between the  two venues IAM was using…Tribeca Arts Center in the evenings and the Downtown Conference Center for the day sessions. This was the first time in New York  for both Hailee and I, although she returned for her senior trip two weeks later! We had flown directly from vacation in Florida, so we ( or maybe it was just me) felt like jet-setters.

I had always heard that New York was loud, rude and pushy, so it was a nice to surprise to discover that wasn’t the case. Maybe it was the part of town I was in (Tribeca), but most all of the service folks were respectfully and polite—at least as nice as people in Indy. I walked faster then most people on the street and no one elbowed me out of the way.  And I didn’t expect the wonderful food available in the city!  Great smells everywhere, hole-in-the-wall restaurants with tantalizing specialties, vendors with fresh produce on the street. New Yorkers are serious about their food, and I like that.  I also liked the efficiency of the city. Things just seem to work, and everyone seems to know how they work. The subway, the taxis, the maintenance of the streets, the way the shops close up by rolling down the metal gates and open up again all bright and cheery the next day. I know I’m showing my Indiana roots with these observations, but I have to say, I do reaally like New York.

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