The Artist’s Shalom

Geoffrey Stevenson reports on the Christian Artists Europe conference

Every August for many of the last 30 years I have travelled to Holland to attend the annual Seminar held by Christian Artists Europe. Around 70 musicians, dancers, actors, painters and others meet with over 120 participants to give performances,workshops, exhibitions lectures and masterclasses. The conference moved last year to the charming town of Bad Honnef, just outside Cologne, Germany where we enjoyed the fine hospitality of the beautifully appointed KSI (Katholic Social Institut). They are busy days: if you attended your first workshop at 8.30 am, and powered through the day’s programme, enjoyed the evening concert, rounding off the day in the bar for an extremely important time of fellowship… then by the end of the five days you would have been very tired.

As an actor and mime artist, I performed and taught here for many years until I gave up full time performing. Now I am on the executive board, and try to encourage the younger artists who need to take the place of some of us older ones. But this year I also attended with a CTPI hat on, and took forward a part of the Peacebuilding Through Media Arts research.
In May I had conducted on online survey of 300 artists who had attended the Seminar in the past. Based on an extraordinary number who identified with peacebuilding in their work, I decided to stage a series of 4 seminars, at which I would invite artists to demonstrate and talk about their work. I found that there was strong interest and representation for four aspects of peace. Of course I expected that most would identify with the individualistic ‘peace of God’, and peace with God, and indeed there were some moving works of art on those themes, by such as the singer Lu Cozma and wood cut artist Peter S. Smith.
I also found artists who saw peace as a matter of forgiveness, or a matter of reconciliation between divided communities. So I showed the work of Nikolay Petrov, a graffiti artist from Bulgaria, and Padraig O’Tuama, Irish poet and peace activist.  The third day we considered peace as a function of movements towards justice and equality, and I performed my mime, The Poverty Chain, blogged about here previously. We also heard from British singer / songwriter Paul Field, whose work Cargo, addresses the scandal of human trafficking. The fourth and last workshop looked at an anti-war piece, Dutch sculptor Britt Wikstrom‘s public space installation, Cathedral of Suffering. Finally we heard from painter Jenny Verplanke,  talking about her project for African orphans Art for All in which she has worked with former child soldiers in Uganda.
In all honesty, the four workshops did not go as far I wanted. I wish I had had time to include more artists, to have more discussion, to discover what resources these artists drew upon, and to explore the possibility of forming supportive networks. However, the series was a pilot. I have been invited to lecture on this topic in one of the plenary sessions next year, so who knows? I think peace is moving up the agenda of Christian Artists Europe.
Geoffrey Stevenson
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