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Ken Couchman displays a photo

Art Happens Off the Street

Pottery, plays, painting and poetry plus discussion and debate – it’s all on at Wesley Broadway’s Arts & Theology Centre in Palmerston North.

Called ‘Off the Street’, the Arts & Theology Centre began life in October 2001. Among the founders were Merv Hancock and Miriel and Tony Fisher.

Merv says the group believed it was time for the church community to demonstrate the fundamental link between creativity and spirituality.

“The centre doesn’t have a theological emphasis. We are centrist. Because we’re not beholden to any extremes in church life we have room for everyone who has something to say.

“Some of our events are church-based, others are not. We believe everything belongs to God and artists have inherent spirituality in their work,” Merv says.

The first event the group hosted was a pottery exhibition by Manawatu potters Syd Mepham and Trevor Wright. Others have included visual arts, musical performances, poetry readings, and flower displays.

Recently retired Massey University lecturer John Ross directed two drama readings at the centre. One was Everyman, a morality play that is one of the earliest English drama ever written.

Mirial says the centre has built bridges to other religious communities.

“Members of the Quaker community attended some of our exhibitions and asked if they could mount an exhibition of tapestries. They displayed photographs of close to 100 tapestries that tell the history, traditions, and culture of the Quaker church.”

Off the Street is housed in the original St Paul’s worship centre at Wesley Broadway. Mirial says with its brick walls and huge wooden beams, it creates a space that non-church people find very attractive.

In addition to artistic events, Off the Street hosts public lectures. A series of lunchtime lectures called ‘Theology & Life’ have covered such topics as monitoring the elections in Nigeria, genetic engineering, and the languages of the world.

The events Off the Street presents attracts both church and non-church people. Miriel says 75% of those who attend some events are not members of the parish.