This piece about Commission For Mission has recently been published in the Veritasse Artisan's newsletter:
Local churches contemplating the possibilty of commissioning contemporary art are often put off by what they think will be prohibitive costs, disputes in the congregation about appropriate styles, and arguments that there are more important prorities for the available money.
Since the mid point of the twentieth century, cathedrals in the UK began once again to regularly commission contemporary art but, for the reasons, listed above local churches have rarely followed their lead. Commission For Mission is a new arts organisation which is seeking to change that picture and to do by making the commissioning of contemporary an opportunity for mission and a means of fundraising for charities.
The visual arts can contribute to mission by: speaking eloquently of the Christian faith; providing a reason for people to visit a church; providing a link between churches and local arts organisations/initiatives; and providing a focus around which local people can come together for a shared activity. A good example of this occuring is St Albans Romford, where Commission For Mission was launched in March 2009 and where, as a direct result of its many commissions, the church is regularly visited by those from the local community and further afield who come to see Christianity differently through their visit.
When the visual arts are seen as integral to mission then the interest of congregations in commissioning is likely to grow but the issues of cost and other priorities still remain. As a result, Commission For Mission is building up a pool of artists (painters, sculptors, silversmiths, potters, jewellery makers etc.) able to work flexibly to available budgets and willing to allow a proportion of the cost of each commission to go to charity and is recommending that commissioned artworks are donated to churches by interested parties as memorials to loved ones. Our experience suggests that this combination of charitable fundraising and memorial donations overcomes many of the issues usually faced when considering the commissioning of contemporary art for local churches.
None of this means that quality is being compromised either. In the words of Henry Shelton, the founding artist member of Commission For Mission, what we offer is "quality work and craftsmanship, rather than mass-produced work, to continue the legacy of the Church as a great commissioner of art."
Our Patron, David Hawkins, the Bishop of Barking, sums it up when he says:
"there is a big need to re-engage with the Arts. The church has had a lengthy and happy marriage with the Arts in the past but this has eroded in recent times. I agree with Rowan Williams that the Church needs more artists and 'that artists are special people but every person is a special kind of artist.' I think that there is great scope in the Church encouraging creative expression in everyone as this is a way of helping us to be fully human."
We are providing many opportunities to see the quality and originality of work available from commission4mission and its artists over the coming months including at the West Ham and Leytonstone Festivals.
We are also aiming to provide information, ideas and examples of contemporary Christian art and its use or display within church settings. To that end, we are organising a networking event at St Andrews Leytonstone on Thursday 9th July from 7.00pm. Three commission4mission artists (Jonathan Evens, Rosalind Hore and Mark Lewis) will give brief presentations on 'Spirituality - the heartbeat of Art?' leading into space for open discussion and debate. A Study Day entitled 'Perspectives on commissioning Christian Art' has also been organised for Saturday 7th November at Chelmsford Cathedral (10.00am - 2.30pm) with contributions from the Bishop of Barking, the Dean of Chelmsford Cathedral, the Chair of Chelmsford DAC and commission4mission artists. For more information about commission4mission, our activities and our artists, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.