Can the arts heal the cities? Clearly a provocative statement! A new BGU course is presenting viable ideologies, empirically-based research, and methodologies affirming the accuracy of this transformative potential. Under-utilized and misunderstood, the arts nonetheless have long represented the soul of entire people groups, carrying cultural truths, fears, joy and sorrows on the wings of the aesthetic. But can they heal? When inspired by the Holy Spirit, informed by beauty, freedom, justice and wonder – absolutely! The arts, when used well, have always been viable vehicles for healing.
I love the creative realm, especially the life and beauty and energy this realm exudes. We witness the power of this realm in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created,” igniting the dramatic narrative of heaven’s impassioned love for creation, humanity and beauty. Indeed, from Genesis to Exodus 31 and 35 (where God initiated a culture of beauty), to the Psalms, to Christ’s poignant story-telling in the New Testament, this force of redemptive creativity serves to turn our hearts toward truth, good, healing and empowering beauty, molding our personas to mirror that of the Trinity.
I also deeply love the city. I love the architecture, diversity, restaurants, art galleries, museums, and the mix of humanity contributing to the sights and sounds of the urban context. Even as a child, I was drawn to the energy and vibrancy of the downtown area of our city. When our family joined the mass exodus from the urban context to the suburbs, I missed the city center, often suggesting that we hang downtown on the weekends. As a result, my husband and I raised our family near the city center, and I direct an urban based nonprofit focused on loving the city through the arts.
Our cities, originally designed to be places of joy and nurturing, provide a sense of healing place to all of humanity, harboring both light and darkness, beauty and decay. Definitely our goal is to fight for the good and the beautiful. But these ideologies, more and more, are subverted by systems of control, dominance and power. The answer to this reality is complex and yet elegantly simple; suffice it to say that pushing back the darkness with the light of Christ in the cities is a predominant calling for all Christ followers. Subverting the decay with redemptive beauty is critical to the life and healing of the cities.
This is where the redemptive arts come in. And by redemptive, I mean art that is inspired by the Holy Spirit; art that informs, inspires and engages; art that influences for viable good. There is power in creative expression that can lead to the betterment of our cities. Literature, visual art, dance and a host of other creative expressions serve to influence, enhance and stimulate communities into thinking of and interacting with life’s realities on a deeper level. Within the contexts of community, city and national transformation, art is the ultimate influencer, able to rebuild broken cross-cultural relationships, while shedding light on social injustices. In those contexts, there is a multitude of approaches to reconciliation involving structural and relational components; the applications for art in healing damaged cities is also multifaceted. Clearly relational in their intent, creative approaches to facilitating cultural well-being can serve alongside the more traditional social methodologies in building healthy communities. Molding and influencing our belief systems, then, a ballet performance, an art gallery, a rap concert, cultural ritual or simply via a walk in a city park, in a nutshell, the aesthetics produced by artistic expression are a provocative force of social influence and potential healing.
MCC 714: Healing the City through the Arts was birthed by this integration of love for the arts and love for the city. It is the culmination of years of witnessing social healing though arts-based outreaches to cities, informed by my BGU doctoral study and research. The redemptive arts offer the lens of heaven through which city inhabitants can see a different path to follow. Leading beyond the mundane, they usher joy and life and celebration into the city. Clearly underutilized by traditional institutions, the arts are inherent change makers designed to influence for authentic good.
So can the arts heal the cities? The hope behind offering graduate studies in the arts and the cities at BGU is to awaken leaders to the transformational capacities of the arts at the social level. By addressing aspects of theology, sociology, beauty, media applications and the power of heaven’s love relative to the change making capacities of the arts, BGU is on the cutting edge of creative and innovative applications. The confluence of faith, creativity, beauty and cultural healing is a powerful field of study, one that can initiate viable haling in global cities. I am indebted to BGU’s leadership in supporting this area of study. Thank you!
Here you could read some student testimonies from the class MCC 714:
“I have been a dancer for many years, and have explored the incorporation of dance and the arts in my ministry with students through performance, small groups, art and dialogue evenings and through discipleship. I am strong believer that our Creator’s designed intent for His creation was to be co-artist with Him. I am looking forward to taking this course as a resource and soundboard to deepen both my theology and practice of the arts as the road to redemption.” Christa Smith-Kingston, USA
“Enrolled in this course because ours is a world being transformed by the arts, and not always for the better. It seems natural to include such an influential force in a program designed to create transformational leaders. While the sciences reward the academically gifted with promises of high paying careers, many of our most talented (and therefore influential) youth are trading brilliant careers in the arts for higher pay. Materialism wins. We must transform the culture that steers giftedness in aesthetics away from its first love.” Anthony Laird, USA
“I decided to take the Healing the City Through the Arts course because of my experiences with the arts. I realized that it promotes critical thinking and allows students to take the time to be more careful and thorough in how they observe people and their environment. This course will help me in my professional development as an educator. I am specializing in a behavioural modification programme and life skills intervention and I can use the arts to help individuals to become better leaders. Working in the arts can help learners develop creative problem-solving skills. After I am finished with the course my aim is to continue to integrate the arts in my daily life to reach students who might not otherwise be engaged in classwork and also encourage teachers to engage their students by using the arts. Students need to be thinkers, possess people skills, be problem-solvers, demonstrate creativity, and work as a member of a team.” Rene Level, Jamaica
Acrylic painting titled Healing the Nations from Rev. 22:2 – “And the leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations.”