Director's Note for the 8th HopeArts Festival

This is the note I've included in the program for the festival.

July 10, 2007
The Director’s Note

The Historical: “A Weird Church in a Weird City”
This past week I pulled out an old file which I found on a not-so floppy diskette. It was dated “May 31, 1998.” I was 26 years old. In it I discovered notes that I’d jotted down about a possible arts festival that might take place at the church. The first thing that caught my attention were the objectives.

II. The Objectives:
1. Bless artists
2. Bless Hope Chapel
3. Bless community at large

I like that—even though I don’t think I really knew what I was doing. At the time all I knew was that Regent College, my seminary in Canada, had put on an arts festival the previous summer and I thought “Why not? Why couldn’t we do the same?” So I scribbled down questions. How do we select the artists? Do we make them give us a sample of their work in advance? Will we use a snow-cone machine? How should we arrange the performing arts: worship-oriented? Alternative-oriented? Christian-themed? Do we buy a tent? How much is this going to cost?

Roman numeral four on my list makes me laugh. It says:

IV. Key Motto:
1. “Keep it Simple”
2. “Open doors policy”

Keeping it simple was the one thing, I’m afraid, I never let it be. By the summer of 2003, in its sixth iteration, the festival had expanded to three weeks and fourteen events, from a Battle of the Bands at Momo’s on 6th to a Ragamuffin Film Festival flying full fare at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. What I meant by “Open Doors Policy” I’m not exactly sure. But it sounds cool.

But I don’t think honestly that first festival in the summer of ’98 was very “cool.” A two-day affair, it was a bit corny, cheesy in parts. We were naïve. We had lots of enthusiasm, but our knowledge hadn’t gotten up to speed. So we kept going—and trying—and failing—and learning—and tweaking and pushing ourselves to hone the craft of festival-making.

Nine years later much has changed. Our venues have ranged all across the city:

- The Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin
- Threadgill's
- Momo's
- Cafe Mundi
- The Parish
- Galaxy Highland Theaters
- 1st Baptist downtown
- The Hideout Theater
- Austin High PAC
- Ruta Maya
- the Alamo Drafthouse downtown and the Village
- the Red Eyed Fly

We've run seminars with topics like "Darkness in Art: the Danger and Necessity" and "Art & Nudity: A Positive Christian Response."

We ran the Ragamuffin till it got too big and we had to lay it to hibernating rest.

All the while we've sought to maintain three basic goals: to provide excellent art, to provide excellent organization, and to live out a life of hospitality in everything and with everyone, friend or foe, with individuals and with entire organizations.

The Communal: “A Love-Hate Relationship with the Church”
Along the way we’ve endured a lot of difficult growth. As a community we’ve had to grow up and, in some cases, grow out of immature views about art that we Protestant Christians have collected over the years.

In the last nine years we've been pushed in our notion of what it means to be a church—to be a thing called a “Christian artist”—to be an organic part of the city's artistic life, neither rejecting it nor blandly losing our identity. We’ve watched some of us succeed famously and others fail miserably.

We've seen some artists abandon their faith, some reject the church, some pitch into depression, some give up making art altogether and one lady at the tender age of 61 discover that she really can paint after all.

Among our members, we’ve seen one become a film critic at the Chronicle, one make a short film that launched him to the finals of an international festival sponsored by the colorful Kevin Spacey, ones make a movie that debuted in theaters nationwide. We've seen a worship team become a touring rocknroll band; our singer-songwriters grind out the coffeeshop/bar circuit; our visual artists go from hanging their work on the sanctuary walls to the local galleries.

Just a week ago I got a call from Eric Gorski the religion correspondent with the Associated Press asking what we Hope Chapelites thought about all this rigmarole with evangelicals and the arts. It was, I believe, an indirect compliment to the perseverance of this fellowship.

Yet it's been a rough ride learning how to become a community of artists, an honest-to-God community not of a collection of individuals bound by convenience or opportunistic association. It's been hard to really love each other when our identities are constantly threatened by public opinion and the endless warfare that our minds play upon our self-worth.

But it has been worth the struggle. It has been worth it to see the community mature and become what God had purposed for it long before May 31, 1998.

The Personal: “This Strange Job”
One time in the summer of 1997 I was sitting in a staff meeting of the pastors. It was our time to go around giving our weekly reports. To my left sat the youth pastor. On his turn he told us of the retreat his high schoolers had just taken. It was nothing short of amazing: kids coming to Jesus, pouring out their hearts to God, returning with fervor for evangelism. The perfect report, I thought. I was next. "So David, what's happening with you?" A kind of embarrassment and despair began to creep in.

What had I done? I'd met with a few artists to listen to a long litany of woes which nobody really understood, held a rehearsal for a skit, day-dreamed about a hanging system. That was it. No conversions, no one slain in the Spirit, no whiz, no bang. Around the table: benignly puzzled looks. Hm, well, that’s interesting . . . ok . . . moving on.

It took seven years on the job for me no longer to feel that I had to justify my work as valuable. I still struggle at times, that it's a waste, that my time and energy could be put to better, more “useful” use.

Yet here I am. By hook or by crook I still love the church, love artists, love the artistic weirdness of Austin. I ask myself, Is it possible that the city’s well-being could be directly related to the Church’s participation in the arts community? Could the city be a more wonderful city if the Church threw itself into the mix? Yes, I say, very much yes, and amen.

How do I feel about this being my last festival? I feel melancholy. It’ll be hard to leave it. Mostly, however, I feel grateful. I feel profoundly grateful for the extraordinary human beings who have journeyed with me and who’ve made this festival ten thousand times better than I could ever have imagined. We’ve accomplished by God’s grace those long-ago imagined objectives, objectives that were really only a wish.
May it be so again. May the artists come alive like they’ve never been alive. May the Church be a haven and a home for them and a sign of Christ’s redemption for the broken. May the city be blessed because of our presence and through our lives taste and see that the Lord is indeed good.

Thank you for coming. May you be blessed today much as we were back at the beginning.


Are there transcripts or outlines of the Darkness and Nudity seminars? I'd like to read these.
ceciliabrie said…
i think it would be beautiful if every artist who reads this and has been made More Alive through participation in the HopeArts community signed off here in the comments.
how many would there be? (and that's just those who take a look at the blog)...
I'm one.
~brie, nyc, working to establish the same in Greenwich Village...
David, I've been reading your blog for a long time from Phoenix, but I cannot recall why this is your last festival.
Mister "Aesthetic Elevator," I will rummage around my files and see if I have notes for these seminars. I'll let you know.

Brie, I'd love to see how many more alive people are out there because of the festival. We had a strong first weekend. Lots to evaluate, as I'm sure you would guess, but the Classical concert was GOR-geous. Oh mama. I'll write more lengthily next week.

Jamie, I'm resigning from my post as arts pastor next summer '08. I'll be leaving, God-willing, for St. Andrews University in Scotland where I wish to pursue doctoral studies with Jeremy Begbie. So as of this summer everything I experience will be an experience of "my last this, my last that." There's a sadness about it but I think also a sense that the winds are changing and it's ok to begin to prepare for a migration.
Congratulations! What a wonderful opportunity!

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