Since the very beginning of the blog, I have been keeping an eye on the intersection of performing arts and religious communities. A recent NY Times article seems to include quite a number of places where this occurs.
It starts by describing a warehouse space that has the
“trappings of a revitalization project, including an art gallery, a yoga studio and a business incubator, sharing the building with a coffee shop and a performance space.
But it is, in fact, a church. ”
If you look at the website of this art gallery-cum-yoga studio-cum-etc-cum church, it might take a couple glances to realize it is a church.
You can say a lot about the importance of adhering to propriety and doctrine that should be part of sacred institutional practices and how the approach of many organizations isn’t invested with appropriate due seriousness.
But you can say the same thing about churches, too.
Oh wait, I mean arts organizations. Wait, which one was I talking about? This is so confusing.
You may be surprised to learn that not only has church attendance been falling lately, but there is a churn rate of about 40% annually.
Sounds a lot like the plight of arts organizations, eh?
Not only that, there is a real bias toward entrepreneurship
“For new leaders coming out of seminary, “the cool thing is church planting,” Mr. Bird said. “The uncool thing is to go into the established church. Why that has taken over may speak to the entrepreneurialism and innovation that today’s generation represents.”
Sounds a lot like the sentiments of performing arts kids coming right out of school that want to start their own company.
Like arts organizations, there is a push to connect with the communities in different ways, some going so far as to remove references to “church” and “services” in favor of “gatherings” and “communities.” One group has seen some success with centering their spiritual communities in coffee shops and is preparing to franchise their coffee concept.
As strange as a chain of spiritual coffee houses sounds, the trend seems to be away from the huge mega-churches, many of which have been foreclosed on, toward smaller multipurpose spaces that can be turned toward earning revenue rather than being empty six days a week.
In some respects having a church be the center of community center is a return to old practices. Chartres Cathedral was a bustle of commercial activity both inside and out.
One of the prime questions that emerges for me as I read this article is how religious/spiritual groups, which I believe stand to suffer much more from embracing the trappings of popular culture and entertainment than arts organizations do, seem to be a bit more nimble than the arts community at experimenting with new approaches?
I realize that many trends reported on by the NY Times are often not as widespread as the paper makes it appear, but as a person who rents a facility to religious services, I can attest that the article isn’t many degrees different from my experience.
It amuses me to think that the arts community self imposed idealism about selling out and becoming too commercial might actually represent a more inflexible orthodoxy than those embraced by religious communities possessing texts containing rules of behavior.
Though it isn’t as if the arts community isn’t having this same conversation. This is what Creative Placemaking is really all about. What these churches are doing may provide some interesting models and even potential collaborators in the pursuit of placemaking.