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New website connects Kiwi Christian artists

Contemporary Christian artists often find themselves isolated. Their churches don't understand their art, and the art world doesn't understand their faith.

For more than a decade the Chrysalis Seed Trust has been trying to overcome this isolation. It has supported Kiwi Christian artists and promoted their cause in the wider arts community.

The Trust provides resources, information, and inspiration for artists who follow Christ. It helps organise exhibitions of their work, encourages networks and prayer groups, and has established an extensive art and faith library at its offices in the Christchurch Arts Centre.

Now Chrysalis Seed is shedding its skin and moving onto a different stage in its life.

For five years, the Trust published the bi-monthly magazine CS Arts. The magazine carried essays, interview with artists, and exhibition reviews. It had a circulation of 3000 and went out to artists, galleries and art schools nationwide.

The October 2008 edition of CS Arts was its last. In its place Chrysalis Seed Trust has created a website (www.cs.org.nz) that organisers hope will better promote the grassroots activities of Christian artists.

Chrysalis Seed Trust director Peter Crothall says, when it began, the Trust supported all contemporary artists including performance artists and writers. Now it concentrates its efforts on visual artists – painters, photographers, film makers, and installation artists.

“Much of the art that is called Christian today is poor quality, sentimental and explicitly religious. But there are credible contemporary artists who are Christian,” Peter says.

”Our focus is on the artists and their world. We want to equip them to integrate their art and faith and we want to reconcile the wider art and faith communities.

“Often churches are interested in what artists can do for them, whether it is to enhance their environment or promote their work and evangelism. The same is true for the galleries.”

Christian artists face more difficulties than others, Peter believes, because they are often marginalised and misunderstood by the secular art world. He cites the example of the New Zealand’s best known painter Colin McCahon. Colin’s Christian faith is explicit in his art but it is ignored or reinterpreted by secular art theorists.

When discussing the Trust’s new website Peter deploys a number of metaphors. A vision he had when he was contemplating the future of CS Arts was of a tree felled and new shoots arising from the stump that remained.

And to describe the website, he uses the image of an airport. Like an airport, it is an interactive hub where Christian artists and those interested in their work can connect up and get to where they want to be.

“An airport doesn’t own the aircraft travelling in and out of its airspace. It is a means of transit from one place to another. Airports connect people, places, resources and information.”

The www.cs.org.nz site carries news about exhibitions, information about competitions, residencies, and grants available to artists, and links to other websites.

Through the website artists and others who wish to be more deeply involved can join csartspace.org.nz, an electronic social network site similar to Facebook or Bebo. At csartspace artists can post their work, participate in online chats and forums, create interest groups, and find about local and national events.

“We have moved our efforts into the website for several reasons,” Peter says. “We could not sustain the magazine financially, and we believe this is what God wants us to do.

“The website will be much more effective in creating grassroots movements such as prayer and critique groups. We expect it to be the first port of call for anyone who wants to know what Christian artists are doing in New Zealand. In January, two to five people were joining csartspace everyday so it is taking on a life of its own.”

Over the next several months Peter and Jessica Crothall are doing a networking tour around New Zealand. They will visit artists and galleries to promote the website. They can be contacted through www.cs.org.nz.