Artistic Abilities Lend Hand to Big Apple Evangelism

New York City offers a respite and challenge for college artists

Judy Nelson
Guy Gerrard

In 2005, The Tribeca Arts Summer Project began as a way to encourage college artists to consider how they might use their gifts to connect with nonbelievers. Last summer, 26 students converged in a New York City loft for the project.

There, they painted and sculpted, designed and drew -- all the while engaging in dialog with those they encountered in the Big Apple. Worldwide Challenge talked to Leigh Ann Dull, a 22-year staff member and co-director of Tribeca, about this unusual project.

WWC: How did you begin to incorporate your faith and your art?

Leigh Ann: I always wanted to be an artist and studied it in college. In my second year, God got hold of my heart and I began to understand the Spirit-filled life. Looking back many years later, I realized that I never fully grasped how to integrate my art and my faith.

I started going to Spain in the summer to engage college students with the gospel. I liked it so much that I moved there. We began to use art to engage students in the dialog. All my years of investing in college students were now growing into a desire to help emerging artists understand their calling as artists and believers.

WWC: What does it mean to help them make that connection?

Leigh Ann: Many Christian artists think that they can only create something that leads people directly to Jesus or uses Jesus as the subject matter. We don't ask accountants to crunch numbers that are salvific, so why do we ask it of artists?

Instead, we ask the students to be excellent, be honest and tell their story. Art is not a hobby for them; it is part of who they are designed to be as image bearers of the great Creator.

WWC: I imagine the students feel a real camaraderie and a new view of how to live out their faith.

Leigh Ann: Definitely. Many feel for the first time an understanding of how their art can instantly open a door for dialog and opportunities to tell others about their faith journey. They see that by pursuing their art with excellence, honesty and hope, it can allow them to connect with people in a real and vulnerable way.

But this is not easy, it is hard work and takes incredible discipline and time. Artists create with a desire for their work to elicit a response and have an impact on a person. They're like prophets in our culture and through their work can draw people to a greater desire and understanding of our Creator. Their art is a guidepost, but they are the gospel.

WWC: What was the highlight of the summer for you?

Leigh Ann: We do a showing of the students' art at the end of the project at a gallery. We publicize it all over the city. It's amazing for a college student to show in New York, so it builds great confidence for them. About 150 came to the event, and it reinforced the idea that artists can glorify God with their work and engage people in dialog toward a greater understanding of the gospel.

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