This week I’m featuring Tyrus Clutter, painter and Director of CiVA (Christians in the Visual Arts).
LeAnne: According to your website, "CiVA exists to explore and nurture the relationship between the visual arts and the Christians faith." How did CiVA get started?
Tyrus: No one actually thought about starting a large organization in the early days. CIVA actually came into existence through the initial work of Gene Johnson, the former chair of the art department at Bethel University in Minnesota. Johnson realized that there were Christian colleges with art departments all over North America and that it was likely that the art professors in some of these remote places felt as isolated, from both the art world and the church, as his colleagues did. That was the atmosphere of the time; both the church and the art world were equally suspicious of an artist working from a Christian worldview.
Johnson began calling around to the various colleges in 1976 and planned to host a small conference at Bethel the following year. Key participants were asked to give presentations, to ensure that there would be a core group in attendance. Johnson assumed that around fifty people would show up. As word got around between 200 and 250 gathered at Bethel. Everyone was astounded at this turn out and the real need for fellowship and networking was keenly felt. A second conference was planned for 1979. When there were just as many participants that time, bylaws were drawn up and the organization was formed that year.
LM: What are some ways the organization is fulfilling its mission?
TC: CIVA is currently in the process of beginning implementation of a new strategic plan that fine tunes the mission of the organization to “supporting the artist, serving the church, and engaging the culture.” The traditional means that CIVA employed to accomplish this were the biennial conferences (rotating to various locations around North America) and the newsletter (CIVASEEN). The newsletter eventually became a semi-annual journal called SEEN and now CIVA has annual media specific workshops on the campus of Gordon College and a range of traveling exhibitions.
At the core of CIVA is a network of nearly 10,000 individuals and institutions. CIVA cannot do every good thing that integrates art and faith, but it has always been a catalyst to see that these things can be done. In the realm of culture, CIVA has collaborated with the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City to produce an exhibition entitled The Next Generation. That show is still traveling to churches and college galleries around the country. The catalogue essay on the artists and their work has opened the eyes of many in both the church and the culture. The message is that excellent contemporary art can be created from the context of faith.
Other exhibitions and projects specifically in collaboration with churches have helped the general church-goer to see that faith and theology can be deepened through visual media. Thirty years ago there was simply not this kind of openness and it is exciting to see the warm reception more churches have to the arts today.
Plans are in the works to start affiliate local groups around the country. Still, in an electronic age we realize that the website, more and more, will be a means to educate and inform. In the coming year there will be more resources online to help the mission along.
On Thursday, Tyrus Clutter will talk about why the term “Christian artist” needs to be put to rest, one of the most important things the church can do, and how he got involved in CiVA.