Vancouver, the World, and the United Church of Canada: Art and Faith On the Streets
I was all set to write a piece on politics – with a screed against President Obama’s senior staffers addicted to an email product called Playbook; I was tapping out words about the hapless staff of UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown – he of the “bigot/gate” kerfuffle, one week in from a national election. I was going to insert this NYT article about John Edward’s paramour and her banal blend of New Age “truth seeking” and self-aggrandizement.
But then a funny thing happened — I became so depressed summoning up the requisite links, I stopped writing that stuff. And pulled out a story that caught my eye: the United Church of Canada and it’s Vancouver-Toronto “Paint Your Faith” urban improvement initiative. I may have the privilege of writing the diversity blog for this space but increasingly I find myself drawn to stories about religion and spirituality and, yes, the United Church! (insert required amount of irony here, please.) And if you’ve had the chance to visit Toronto recently, let me know if you’ve seen the mural at Metropolitan United Church downtown in the city.
This week, four graffiti artists from South Africa, Brazil, Italy and Vancouver were invited to make art in one of this country’s most challenged and complex neighbourhoods. The purpose: to create a 13’x130’mural of images of faith on the side of a wall on an empty lot in Vancouver. I can’t make you click on the following links but am curious to hear comments and impressions about the interviews and the work of South Africa’s Faith 47 – a female muralist in whose work I see the passion and form of Diego Riveria. Or the avant-garde work of Peeta, from Italy. Or the work of Japanese-Brazilian, Hamilton Yokota, aka Titi Freak. And then, this: the beauty and inspiration of Vancouver artist, indigo, with a blog here at wordpress. This is an artist whose work – both in print and on murals, shines with some kind of green-gel soul power – a much needed antidote to the staid, stolid, dry, not very diverse, political columns, miles and miles of opinion, that spin out in the blogosphere – the most deadly, those corporate mandated blogs that poor old underpaid professional journalists now have to shill. Er, gee, just like writers now have to maintain; read any publisher’s blog roll. We are the none of us immune to the too “much/ness” of this medium.
As a committed United Churchy-person, despite many misgivings about the history of the church in particular and organized religion in general, what intrigues me most about this project is the idealistic intent of the whole concept. United Church spokespeople describe a “collective, national canvas” whose aim is to “provide dialogue on spiritually and to build relationships with Canadians who don’t usually attend church.” Er, okay, these are lofty, admirable, rather nebulous goals. But street credibility lies deep with this 125 year old church – First United puts money, pastoral practices, and mission on the line, and in the community. I have the utmost regard for its ministers and its staff and the neighbourhood that it serves. A community that resists too glib, too condescending portraits about what ails it. Paint Your Faith’s appeal may lie in the way the project embraces an open, free, street level aesthetic and honours a talented group of aerosol artists. In fact, the mural project is part of a fundraising effort toward a capital campaign of 31 million dollars. Local magazine, the Vancouver Observer, reports that First United will seek to redevelop its historic site at East Hastings and Gore. I hope that isn’t Church-Funding spin for more condos. I leave you this April- still the cruellest month, just ask Prime Minister Gordon Brown – with a quote found on the masthead of indigo’s blog, from one of my favourite poets, Andre Breton: “Leave the substance for the shadow. Leave your easy life, leave what you are given for the future. Set off on the roads.” Peace. Hope. Faith. Joy. Love. I am a relativist still not able to give up on certain absolutes. Twitter that.