For 19 days every fall, three square miles of Grand Rapids, Mich., are transformed into a public display of local and international art. The artworks are entries in ArtPrize, the world’s largest art competition. From September 23 to October 11, visitors can view 1,550 entries located at 162 venues across the city.
Monroe Community Christian Reformed Church has been an ArtPrize venue for all seven years the competition has taken place. Steve Fridsma, the ArtPrize team leader at the church, saw this as a perfect opportunity to act on its mission “to connect our downtown community to our life-changing God.”
“Throughout ArtPrize, as many as 8,000 people walk through our doors. People have discovered us and joined us as a result,” said Fridsma.
After several months of matching between artists and venues, a process of “online dating,” as Fridsma described it, the church selected 14 pieces to be displayed in their building. “We look for art that will have dialogue with other art in the venue, through a variety of media,” he said.
Much of the art displayed this year at Monroe centers on the topic of victory over hardship. “The pieces reference one another in tangential ways,” Fridsma pointed out, “but when experienced together create a web of connection.”
A unique aspect of the church’s involvement in ArtPrize is their sermon series that surrounds it. Pastors Henry Schenkel and Amy Schenkel created four sermons based on the art. The entire service, including the Scripture and the music, is driven by the themes in the artwork for that Sunday. The pastors interview the artists as part of the sermon and find connections to biblical truths.
Not all of the artists that take part are Christians, but this aspect of Monroe Community’s involvement in ArtPrize has allowed them to build relationships with the artists. “Our church kind of adopts the artists. Some stay in our homes and some come back to visit and worship. They feel like family,” Fridsma said. “We expected to reach our community, but didn’t expect that our involvement in ArtPrize would become an outreach to the artists themselves.”
Fridsma encourages churches to take risks and consider an art ministry. “If we believe that God is creator and we bear his image, then all of us have a degree of creator in us,” he said. “It’s healthy and enriching for churches to nourish that.”