Why the Visual Arts Team Matters: An Interview with Michael Winters

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Michael Winters may have a gentle and soft spoken demeanor but he has a bold and ambitious vision for the arts. However, he’s not about shock and awe. Over the better part of the past decade, Michael has slowly helped grow the vision and scope of Sojourn Arts and Culture – a ministry of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. What makes Michael’s vision ambitious is not the magnitude nor the flare of the work he oversees. Instead, Michael’s art and his leadership revolve around his passions for hospitality and thoughtful reflection. Over the last few years, Michael has lead SAC toward an increasing degree of communal artwork – inviting his urban neighbors, people who are homeless and anyone else who wants to join to experience the process of creation and expression together – with inspiring and beautiful results. Michael spoke with us about the new partnership with Love Thy Neighborhood and SAC and the vision for this unique Christian arts residency.

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What is the purpose of Sojourn Arts & Culture? What are you trying to do?
Through Sojourn Arts & Culture, we’re cultivating and celebrating good artistic work that honors God and benefits people. Art is a unique way of grappling with reality. We want to encourage everyone, especially Christians, to continue to take in God’s world through experiencing art and making art.

Typically, you see churches funnel their money into missions or programs. Why did Sojourn feel the need to put an emphasis on the arts?
I don’t think our church felt the need to emphasize the arts. Art is never “necessary.” I think we emphasize the arts simply because we want to and because we can. It’s a grace. Art is an overflow of human experience. We’ve experienced something of God’s grace and that experience naturally flows into our making.

[Tweet “Art is never ‘necessary.’ We emphasize the arts simply because we want to and because we can.”]
Why have so many Christians, especially conservative Christians, forfeited roles as stewards of artistic culture?
Since Adam and Eve, art is present. Adam sees Eve for the first time and he responds with spontaneous poetry. Art making is an important part of what it means to be human. God’s called us all to steward creation, including stewarding human culture. Why then have so many Christians, especially conservative Christians, forfeited roles as stewards of artistic culture? Why do so many just adopt whatever secular pop culture is currently producing? And why do so many choose to remain culturally malnourished on a thin, narrow Christian art? It would be better if we can help cultivate a vibrant and diverse artistic culture continually being renewed by the gospel of Christ’s kingdom, the cross, and grace. That’s worth putting our money into.

Plus, we think God likes seeing what his children will make if given the opportunity. We like to create those opportunities for people.

Love Thy Neighborhood - Michael Winters - Body 2

What could someone on the Visual Arts Team expect as they serve with Sojourn Arts & Culture? How is their time used? What will they experience?

The Visual Arts Team is unique in the way it’s really a combination of art and service – not as separate things, but a blending of art as service and service as art.
Someone on the visual arts team can expect to be challenged to grow in their creativity like they never have before. We’ll help get the team members introduced to each other and to our local community and then we’ll work together to figure out how we can serve our neighbors with our artistic gifts. This program is unique in the way it’s really a combination of art and service – not as separate things, but a blending of art as service and service as art. The team will be consistently asked to try things they’ve never tried before – meet new people, make art in ways they didn’t think they could. Four days out of the week we’ll have morning meetings to go over the previous days work and look at the upcoming day with each other. That will be a time for intentional encouragement. There will be plenty of time for creatively participating with one another and time to work on personal projects. I think it will be a stretching experience, but the kind of experience that God will use to grow us into people more like Jesus.

Love Thy Neighborhood - Michael Winters - Body 3

Why have you invested your life into making art? How has making and appreciating art impacted you personally?
Art making and appreciating are among the primary ways I make sense of the world. That comes naturally to me. We all have to take in experience and then return something back out. We inhale and we exhale. For me, art functions as a way to investigate the world, interpret it and give something back. I’d like to think that through the process of making art I’m growing in my understanding of what’s going on here on planet earth. I learn things about the natural world, human experience, and myself and hopefully I’m becoming a better person for it.

[Tweet “For me, art functions as a way to investigate the world, interpret it and give something back.”]

And taking in other people’s creative work has a huge impact on everyone. We become like what we love, so I try to love whatever is good and true and beautiful. I just finished a novel called Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. It’s a powerful book. I felt like I saw the world a little more clearly after reading it, and there was even a moral element to it – it made me want to live in a way worthy of the beauty present in the world. Everything was freshened up for me. Art can do that, and over time the accumulation of small revelations that come through films, photos, and literature enrich my life experience.

As someone considers being a part of the Arts Team, is there anything you want them to know or consider?
I’d want to encourage them to keep dreaming about it and praying about it and know that I’d be thrilled to talk to anyone who is interested. I can be reached at mwint[email protected].

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The Visual Arts Team is looking for 4-6 men and women to serve. This special team will serve under the leadership of Michael Winters. Art projects and budgets will be determined by the areas of expertise and medium of each artist. Artists will be given large volumes of time to work on their own art while also developing assignments as a team in service to nonprofits, neighborhoods, the church and your neighbors. Service projects may include beautification, art therapy, murals, gallery exhibits and more. (Portfolio submission is required for this team.) APPLY TODAY!

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