Luann Purcell Jennings is an arts administrator, theater director, and acting teacher. Originally from Atlanta, GA, she worked with several theater companies there, and founded a theater company for children and families, before moving to New York City in 2002 to pursue additional studies in theater and to work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. She now heads Redeemer's Arts Ministry and has recently resumed directing and teaching.
LM: What are some ways Redeemer’s Arts Ministry serves artists?
LJ: Of course our primary concern is for the artists' spiritual lives, so discipleship and community are significant values for us. Our two main programs in these areas are our monthly InterArts Fellowship (IAF) and our Vocation Groups. IAF meets on the second Friday of every month and is for anyone involved in the fine or performing arts, design, entertainment, or media. Each gathering consists of a speaker or artist presentation and plenty of time for fellowship and networking with other artists. We also have Vocation Groups for Actors, Dancers, and Filmmakers. Each of these groups holds several events per year of special interest to people in their industry. These have included panel discussions, prayer and worship events, speaker events, social nights, etc.
We collaborate with other ministries in Redeemer on several projects. Four Fellowship Groups for artists and three Fellowship Groups for musicians meet weekly. Through our adult education programs, we offered a class on “Christianity and the Arts” last spring, which will be offered again soon along with a new class on film. In January, we launched arts classes for children in conjunction with our Family and Children's Ministries.
Our newest program is called the Greenhouse, and its mission is to cultivate the creation of new works of art from a Christian worldview and to build an audience for them. The name came from a talk Tim gave awhile back, in which he described the work of cultural renewal as a "re-Edening" of God's creation --that our goal in cultural renewal should be to make the world around us look more like the garden God intended it to be. Revelation talks about the New Jerusalem as a Garden City -- what a great thing for NYC to aspire to! And where does a garden start? In a greenhouse.
There are huge implications (and opportunities) for cultural renewal in the arts, design, media, and entertainment. At this point we're still working through how "cultivating new works of art" will work best -- there are lots of possible ways to do that. We have hosted several art exhibitions, just launched a literary magazine and will soon see the debut performance of a new dance project. And we’re thinking through additional ways to support artists and their creative processes.
But we're concentrating most of our Greenhouse efforts right now on building awareness and appreciation for the arts within our congregation -- the "building an audience" part. We're planning a month-long arts emphasis -- "April is Arts Month" -- in which we'll have a number of educational programs, field trips, performances, etc., to get our congregation thinking more deeply about the arts and God's kingdom.
LM: You offer artists so many opportunities for growth and encouragement. How are your efforts being received?
LJ: One of our artists recently gave a testimony in a worship service, and she talked about how much she had benefited from getting involved in several of our programs. Being in community with other artists who were having similar questions and struggles was very encouraging to her at a time in which she was questioning her calling to her creative field. And being involved in conversations about how faith intersects with creative work gave her a fresh way of looking at what she does. We hear these kinds of stories pretty regularly, so God is definitely working through the ministry. The community is the key -- we artists are people who like to tell our stories and hear each others' stories, and, as Jesus knew, we learn and heal a lot through stories.
Coming soon: interviews with more artists along with a culture expert