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Vancouver, the World, and the United Church of Canada: Art and Faith On the Streets

April 29, 2010
Paint Your Faith shot thanks to Flickr user Carole Brown.

Paint Your Faith shot thanks to Flickr user Carole Brown.

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.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. linda permalink
    April 9, 2014 11:18 pm

    the noise really bothers me alot in this area we are living, Renfrew Height area. a neighbourhood owner who lives at 3249e23rd avenue vancouver bc canada puts the silver baking plate at the back of the house. or at the balcony. as we see it, the plate is hanged near a metal pole. when the plate blows by the wind. the plate would hit the metal pole. it would create noises at all. we notice that the plate is hanged for 24hours: morning, afternoon, night, mid night early morning. we don’t know what is the purpose of that plate for but we are surely that the plate creates noises for this neighbourhood. people in this neighbourhood attempt to reach her. however, the owner refuse to discuss anyone of us here. we don’t know what to do . We need a help from God that we wish God could remove the plate for us. thank you

  2. linda permalink
    December 4, 2010 8:09 am

    our neighbourhood has this freaky noises. you can help us solving this problem asap. we are running out of ideas how could this matter solved asap. we live in renfrew height area, an owner, 3249 e23rd ave vancouver bc v5r1b6 canada , put a silver plate at the back of the house for some purpose, we have no idea what is the purpose. we surely interrupted by the noises at 24hours a day, we have no luck reaching the owner to discuss this problem. perhaps you could write a note to the owner concerning on this noise matter. or 6044347745 to phone the owner or you can pray for us. we don’t need any noises in vancouver. vancouver is a quiet place, people love quiet. however in our area, noises is being produce by the plate, the plate is near a metal post, when wind blows it makes annoying noises like people yelling, or thunder lighting

    please help us, you can take a look at the plate
    if the plate is gone in afternoon, it means the owner is hiding the plate inside the house
    we believe the plate is hung at 11:00pm or later
    you can check this out thank you
    pray for us, as we are praying for god to help us, thank you

  3. linda permalink
    October 16, 2010 10:50 pm

    our neighbourhood has this freaky noises. you can help us solving this problem asap. we are running out of ideas how could this matter solved asap. we live in renfrew height area, an owner, 3249 e23rd ave vancouver bc v5r1b6 canada , put a silver plate at the back of the house for some purpose, we have no idea what is the purpose. we surely interrupted by the noises at 24hours a day, we have no luck reaching the owner to discuss this problem. perhaps you could write a note to the owner concerning on this noise matter. or 6044347745 to phone the owner or you can pray for us. we don’t need any noises in vancouver. vancouver is a quiet place, people love quiet. however in our area, noises is being produce by the plate, the plate is near a metal post, when wind blows it makes annoying noises like people yelling, or thunder lighting

    please help us, you can take a look at the plate
    if the plate is gone in afternoon, it means the owner is hiding the plate inside the house
    we believe the plate is hung at 11:00pm or later
    you can check this out thank you
    pray for us, as we are praying for god to help us, thank you

  4. linda permalink
    August 26, 2010 10:55 pm

    please help us
    spread this news to everyone here
    its just concerning on our neighbourhood noise problem
    can everyone at that church keep tracking on that plate
    if the owner just ignores you, keep talking to the owner, the owner is too stubborn to understand our situation here
    we don’t know what to do, the noise is just too annoying for us to sleep at night, we are damn right
    go check it out at the alley, address is 3249 e23rd ave vancouver bc v5r1b6
    keep mailling to the owner, about the plate, we are waiting someone to solve this problem for us
    we prayed for god, still no luck
    how can we solve this asap????we need your helpcheck the plate at night/morning /afternoon
    if the owner is faking you, tell her no more PLATE

    thank you, i need to sleep

  5. August 20, 2010 3:20 pm

    Dear Renee,
    Thanks for this interesting piece and the good links to images. I’m Italian but in 25 years of voluntary exile have lost touch with my former home country’s art scene, so I didn’t know this Peeta artist.
    I share your hopes that the proposed development will not just be more condos — I lived in Vancouver the last 4 years (now in Portland, OR) and I know that the city doesn’t need more expensive condos.
    I particularly liked Faith 47’s comment:
    “[The country] has raised me and given me hidings and heartaches.  I’m rooted here but I’m no believer in patriotism. Lines drawn on a map with a pencil are not in sync with nature. Therefore I belong to this world at large”
    As a voluntary expatriate who has lived in five different countries so far, I cannot but sympathize. Exchange the phrase about “lines drawn” with “lines written on a page” and we writers can definitely subscribe to this feeling — especially those writers who, like me, are struggling to make a home for themselves in a foreign language.
    And the multicultural (yes, a much abused word, but still, I believe, meaningful not as empty buzzword but as the reality of our “globalized” world) nature of the project also speaks to the nature of Vancouver itself, and of the North West at large — this last post of colonial expansion that now finds itself “colonized” by immigration. As I’ve had occasion to observe in my life in Vancouver, this influx is not always welcome. But the mixed nature of the world is here to stay.
    My only observation is, once again Aboriginal people have been excluded from the Canadian/British Columbian/Vancouver discourse. I would have liked to see their presence in this project too.

    Amalia Pistilli Conrad

  6. linda permalink
    August 10, 2010 7:51 am

    we have a noise problem here, we call police officers, city of vancouver staff and lawyers
    we ran out of solution in here, the stubborn owner put up a silver plate at the back of balcony. we talked to the stupid owner, none of us got the reply: NO way to remove the plate or the owner just ignored us
    3249 e 23rd ave vancouver bc v5r1b6 canada, 6044347745 is the plate owner’s phone and address, you can call the owner reguarding on that stupid noisy plate
    keep talking/ringing the bell to meet the owner
    i’m sure the owner is annoying by you guys then the owner would talk to you about this stupid cracky plate. please pray for us, we are praying for god to solve this solution
    we don’t want to see anything hanging there
    of course you can see the plate at the google’s map or drive to the owner’s address to see the plate

    thank you, spread this message to everyone around you or to the WORLD that we have this stupid owner

  7. Sandra Chamberlain-Snider permalink
    May 6, 2010 6:59 am

    Visual Art, perfect place to comment on diversity Renee! To pierce the heart and touch the soul through art is one of the best ways to embrace humanity’s spirit. This work is really wonderful to see, very vibrant and lively.

  8. May 4, 2010 10:38 pm

    I’m so glad you shared my photo. Thanks for that. I really like that this project isn’t about any particular religion at all – even though the United Church is responsible for the project. Very refreshing.

  9. Cary O'Malley permalink
    May 1, 2010 10:12 am

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I also have severe problems with organized religion, but the United Church has a soft spot in my heart for not being as severe in its organization as some, or so I’ve always thought. I always feel it wants to be more in the community than maybe some others, it almost at times seems apologetic for being a church. I’m delighted with this project as it confirms my prejudice to myself and also think it’s a fine way to support art in and of the community.

  10. reneethewriter permalink
    April 30, 2010 3:58 pm

    Dear Indi – you honour me with your reading of this piece – your work inspires and moves me. Paint on!

    Dear Jen – Ah poet, thanks for visiting.

    Dear Bise – you know I miss you, Poet/Film-maker/Mother-Artist/Woman – write on and on. Thank you for your comments.

    Here’s to movement, colour, the street, and the word, “you feel me?”

  11. April 30, 2010 10:32 am

    Thanks for the post, very well written. For all of us artists, this project was not about religion, or the church. For me personally, faith is something that is so much bigger than any organization, religious or otherwise. What intrigued me so much about this project was the opportunity to delve deeper into what faith meant to me, on a universal level….combined with the fact that the church placed absolutely no creative direction or limitations on the artwork other than this very general theme…and the opportunity to work with three very talented and inspiring artists on a project, with a chance to give something back to my city and my community – a community that needs art and beauty moreso than any other in Vancouver. This is my home. This is my way of showing the people in this neighborhood that yes, they are worth it. My artwork is all I have to give.

  12. Jennifer Condie permalink
    April 30, 2010 8:22 am

    Thanks for bringing this project to our attention. It is, at least, more ‘out of the box’ thinking than we sometimes see.

  13. April 29, 2010 8:12 pm

    Great post Renee. I took a quick peek at the featured “Paint Your Faith” artists. For the most part, I really like their work. I’ve seen so many church-based artworks comprised of lions/wings/blurred crosses/clouds/fire that now I’m pretty jaded towards faith-based art. Usually churches encourage homogeneous cheesiness. While the “build relationships with non-churchgoers” goal is a bit underhanded for my tastes, I still say “Kudos!” to any church groups that encourage compelling, complex art.

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