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  • Helms Jarrell

Reflections on my practice

Recently, I took an online writing class through Transformative Language Arts Network. The class title was "Social Arts Practice, Community, and Livelihood." Throughout the class, we were asked to write about our art practice, social engagement, and audience. We were guided through a process of better articulating our work. This blog details some of the preliminary reflections from the class.


Describe your core art discipline

My core art discipline is to take notice of the resources around me and to arrange them in a way that makes sense, impacts, or inspires. I do this work as a non-profit director. In my director role, I am the vision keeper, the synthesizer, the strategizer. As a visual artist, I take bits and pieces of information and materials and put them together to tell a story. Found objects are my favorite materials to work with. I like the idea of making something out of someone else’s nothing.

I spent a lot of time in church as a kid. My parents were in the choir and in leadership roles, so I was often able to ramble the halls of the church building. One time when I was left to my own devices, I found a pile of colorful papers, a stapler, some scissors and a blank bulletin board and got to work. Hours later, I emerged from the Sunday School room excited about the work of art I had created- a 3d colorful bulletin board display with interactive features.

Folks who saw the creation didn’t know what to make of it, but I was delighted at what I was able to accomplish. I was a bit disappointed with their ho-hum reaction. I had created something that I thought was very cool, but others didn’t seem to “get” it. After that, I made it a point to add purpose to my creating, not just to make for the making sake but to make for the sake of inspiring others.

These days, I sometimes dabble in creating just for the sake of making something. But, oftimes, I work hard to be strategic in the making, so that folks are impacted and they understand the point of what I create.


Try to categorize your work and indicate which is paid or unpaid


I like writing, but it is not my primary media, so I am also going to define which media as well.

  • Written worship elements- sermons, liturgy [paid]- churches in CLT

  • Printed writing + Blog- [mostly unpaid, except sales of printed materials] general public, mostly local folks

  • Mixed Media workshops, pottery classes- [paid] women

  • Communication for QC Family Tree (newsletter articles and social media)[paid job]

  • Retreat leadership-[paid] a mix of workshop, sermon, liturgy

  • Artful Group Facilitation- churchy small groups, neighborhood youth, QCFT leadership team, Artist groups, organizers [mostly unpaid or associated with my QCFT job]

  • Podcast- [unpaid] general public

  • Panelist or presenter- [sometimes paid] Denominational gatherings, local CLT gatherings

  • Artist Theologian in Residence- place based, membership org based (church, neighborhood) [paid and unpaid]- visual art, writing, curating, artistic director, installations

I want to be doing more artist group and organizer facilitation. I want to be paid to create art/experiences in sacred or community spaces.

Categories

Churches, community engaged small groups, women, place-based or issue-based groups

Of the buckets of work you’ve listed, select the top three and describe (stream of consciousness is fine) why working with this individual/group/community gives you the most joy, satisfaction, and makes you feel you are living aligned with your purpose.


Community (place or issue) engaged small groups

Women interested in learning a craft/art form

Public speaking (sermons), worship planning, or art installations for congregations

I enjoy working with place and issue based groups because there is a clear passion, focus, and interest of the group. They are there for a specific reason- to solve a problem or to have a common experience that develops them into a more cohesive group. Community engaged small groups are open to innovation and experimenting. They know that complex problems require complex solutions and they are open to all sorts of possibilities so long as they see a direct correlation to the experience and their issue. It feels like I can relate well to a community engaged small group because in other spheres, I am a member of a community engaged small group. We “get” each other and often have common language and experiences.

Teaching women a particular craft and art form is fun because usually the student is less experienced than me. I have a skill I can share with them. It is clear that I am good at something and they want to learn from me. It is fun to set the space up in interesting ways and to lead, give input, and let the participant go with the creative flow. People leave with energy and excitement about what they made and I feel good about helping them get there. I also really enjoy the informal socializing that an art workshop provides. The women get to talking about all sorts of things and I can chime in and join in the friendly conversation.

I love working my mind and space through a juicy theme. I love the discipline of study and reflection that is required. I love to think about how to communicate a particular message with all the senses. I enjoy thinking through all the elements, from beginning to end, space set up, design elements, communal experience, etc. Preparing a sermon, worship experience, or sacred art installation is a mystical experience, communal one, and very personal as well.

In all three of these, I notice that I love having a product, an end result. It helps me to have an audience who engages, opts in, and participates in real time and space. [A blog is a space where this doesn’t happen without a lot of work and therefore I’m not as interested in blogging, though I do it on occasion.] It helps me to have very tactile tangible results- something to show for my work. I don’t mind making people feel uncomfortable temporarily, but in the end, I want them to leave feeling inspired, happy, excited, or fulfilled.



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