LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Yvonne Boudreaux: Ministering to Art Students

Artist Yvonne Boudreaux graduated with a BFA in Printmaking from Kutztown University in 2006. After graduation, she became a staff person of the Coalition for Christian Outreach, a campus ministry that partners with churches, colleges and other organizations to develop men and women who live out their Christian faith in every area of life (www.ccojubilee.org). Yvonne ministers to students at the University of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Although much of her time is spent with the ministry, she works on her own art at the Church Studios—a community artists' studio space in the upper level of an active church building. From now through the end of 2007, she is participating in her first show at Wesley Theological Seminary's Dadian art gallery for their "Seeing God" exhibition. She has also participated in a few small shows with the Church Studios.

LeAnne: You work with the Coalition for Christian Outreach in Philadelphia, ministering to art students at the University of the Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Tell me a little about each of these schools.

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) makes the claim as being the "oldest art museum and school in fine arts in America." This is where artists such as Thomas Eakins, Mary Cassatt, and Maxfield Parrish attended school, so as you might be able to imagine, they have a long line of traditional fine arts and academic training. This is a small school with two buildings (one is a museum, and the other houses classrooms and studios) and has about 300 students in attendance. PAFA also strictly focuses on the visual arts. They have a certificate program as well as a masters program, and through the University of Pennsylvania, students can get a bachelors in fine arts.

The University of the Arts (UArts) is much larger than PAFA with 2,300 students. UArts also has a wider spectrum of studies besides visual arts, such as dance, theatre, music, industrial design, and others. It is also one of the oldest art schools in the nation.

LeAnne: What are some ways you minister to these art students?

At PAFA, it's difficult to find ways to minister to students because there are only two buildings, and you need a pass or an escort to even get in. Last semester I was able to facilitate a prayer group, and aim to do the same this year; it's difficult to find a room to do this that is open, and match up with students' schedules. It is also difficult this year because the bulk of the students that attended last semester have graduated and left. I have tried meeting with one or two students one-on-one, however.

Right now, a lot of my time is spent with UArts students. This is probably because the school is bigger, and it's much easier to engage students. As opposed to PAFA, there are coffee shops and small restaurants all around the school buildings and I spend a lot of time in these places. I meet with students for one-on-one mentorship (primarily with girls), but also in a group that discusses what it looks like to be an artist and what it looks like to be a Christian at the same time. We also talk about why art even matters to God, and how faith factors into the arts. In addition, there is a Bible Study led by two men from a local church who also minister at UArts - and who I'm now working with. I attend to get to know the students and offer my own insights.

At the moment, most of the students I interact with are Christians, and I hope that next semester or the next I would be able to engage non-Christian students more by taking a class at UArts.

LeAnne: Do you think that art students deal with different issues than students in other fields? If so, what are those issues?

This is a question I've tossed around in my head quite a bit, and some days I want to say art students deal with very different issues than other students, and other days I want to say they don't. But, here are the reasons I think they might:

(a.) Identity is a huge thing that can easily be wrapped up into how "good" one's art is: how it is accepted, criticized, rejected. I think that early on, art students deal with the criticism of their work as a personal issue.
(b.) The idea of ruthless competition is probably also a big deal in art school. Perhaps more so in theatre and dance circles than visual art circles. You "have to be the best there is” to make a living, or you just don't make a living.
(c.) Being an artist, perhaps as a rule of thumb, does not guarantee money. It would seem that you have to cultivate some other skills in order to make a living—if you're not a designer of some sort, or aiming to be a gallery director, teacher/professor, or something of that sort.
(d.) Art students constantly have to deal with their peers (non-art students) saying things like, "You're lucky because you don't have to do so many essays or buy as many books”, etc. I faced this a lot myself at Kutztown University.
(e.) Art students tend to feel looked down on with the "why don't you study a real major/get a real job" mentality from those who are not artists.

More from Yvonne Boudreaux on Thursday.

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