Westview ARTS Academy was founded in 2016 with the help of a CBWC Opportunity Grant. One year later, founder and Director Elaine Hileman wrote this article to share the story of how the ARTS Academy ministry has been going.
Susan arrived in Calgary a few years ago with her two children after fleeing a harrowing case of domestic violence. Alone, broken, and tired, she wondered how to even begin to rebuild their shattered lives. With no biological family to turn to, she turned to her newly found spiritual family, the Christian church, for hope and comfort.
Initially, the church was supportive, but before long they judged the challenges of single-parenting and the trauma her children were experiencing from domestic violence. Some church members, misguided but well-intentioned, suggested that Susan give up her oldest child for adoption. They knew of a couple in the church who were eager for another child, and whom the church members felt would be more capable parents than Susan.
This unexpected betrayal from the very people she looked to for guidance, support and encouragement left Susan reeling. Disillusioned, angry and confused, she quietly shut herself and her children away for nearly six months. She was lonely, discouraged and distrustful of the church.
After some gentle nudging from a friend, she decided to give God’s family another try. When she hesitantly walked through the doors of Westview Baptist Church, she had no idea how God was planning to creatively put her life back together.
Around the same time, God was working in my life by nudging me to start an arts academy at Westview Baptist Church. Inspired by years of working in ministry, education and the arts, I proposed starting a professional, affordable and Christ-centred arts academy at Westview. Church leadership immediately supported my vision and encouraged me to apply for an opportunity grant from CBWC. I did, and after receiving a generous start-up grant, founded the Westview ARTS Academy.
Last fall, our professional instructors began teaching art, dance, drama, and music classes to over one hundred students, from 3-year olds to adults. The Academy runs classes in painting, sculpture, ballet, choreography, banjo, guitar, voice, theatre and more.
People are generally excited by the ARTS Academy, but I think some are confused at why it’s a ministry of our church. I however, often wonder why arts academies aren’t a natural part of every church. Being created in the image of God is a mysterious thing, and one thing it means is that we can’t help but be creative. It is part of our nature. And creativity isn’t just exercised in traditional arts, but in all aspects of life. Our goal with the ARTS Academy is to give people permission to explore and grow their God-given nature. As Eric Liddell famously said in Chariots of Fire, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” I echo it by saying, “When I paint, I feel God’s pleasure.”
Susan heard our vision for the ARTS Academy at a Sunday service and introduced herself to me, offering to volunteer.
“I was drawn to the ARTS Academy because I think that there’s truth in the statement, ‘Once an artist, always an artist.’ However, it was a part of my past that remained buried underneath some unpleasant memories,” she said.
“I was resistant initially, despite feeling drawn. But once I met Elaine and she shared her vision for the academy, I felt compelled to be a part of it. I knew that this was a step on the path of healing and restoration the Lord was walking me through.”
When I first met Susan I didn’t know she was a single mom, let alone one who had been through so much trauma. I also didn’t know how much talent accompanied her offer to volunteer. Later, I learned that the very hand she painted so beautifully with had once been broken by her ex-husband in a fit of jealousy and in an attempt to keep her from ever creating again. I felt such awe at God’s work in restoring that part of Susan’s life as well as everything else He was doing to bring her physical, emotional, and spiritual healing.
“In my life, before Christ began to set me free, the heaviness I was carrying didn’t allow room for creativity. When you are in survival mode, some things just go. They are not essential,” Susan said. “In my marriage, I felt that life was draining from me. Creativity, random emotions, fun, humour, the ability to laugh… all these things fell to the wayside. It wasn’t a fast thing, or all at once, but as the years passed away, so did ‘life’. So did hope. At times, there seemed to barely be enough room for breathing, let alone creating! It sounds dramatic, but this is the truth. I did not begin to re-surface from the depths of this until I made a confession of faith in Christ. Overnight, even though nothing in my outward life had changed, the breath of life came to me and hope was born in me. I struggled against this foreign feeling of hope, but ultimately, it remains, and, as we remain in Him, our life is slowly restored. Creativity is Him. He is the Creator. His creative expression brought this earth to life and all that is in it. It went from darkness and chaos to beauty and life—and life in abundance! ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was unformed and void, darkness was on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the water… and so it goes. God speaks and it happens. God forms, and it becomes. God breathes, and human life becomes. We are made in His image, in His likeness, and so we too, can create, form, mold, shape, become… and we can use these gifts to bring light, beauty and truth to the world around us, and bring glory to Him, pointing to Him, the One who created all things.”
Beyond restoring our individual creativity, I believe God also wants to restore the church’s united creativity for His glory and to be a light to a lost world. Currently, the church only embraces a fraction of the arts, and funds even less.
The goal of Westview ARTS Academy is not to create “Christian art,” but to create artists who communicate God’s truth, beauty and love. Christian art is often segregated art. It is art for Christians; art meant to entertain believers, or art that is considered safe. Art created by Spirit-filled believers will challenge unbiblical worldviews and make people reflect on life, rather than giving them clichés.
This is a long-term investment in Christian discipleship and artistic training and it requires engaging professional artists who will impart their Christian worldview and technical skills to our students, but it is an investment we are excited to be making.
Elaine Hileman is the Director of Westview ARTS Academy. To find out more about Westview ARTS, visit their website: www.westviewartsacademy.ca
This article was published in Volume 13, Issue 8 of Making Connections. Subscribe to the Making Connections monthly newsletter here