By Keith Barker
Creation is not copying, not filling an order, not meeting a need. It is risking oneself in the new.
—Eugene Peterson 
In his interpretation of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Eugene Peterson reminds us to: “Live creatively…make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you’ve been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t live vicariously. Each of us must take responsibility for doing the creative best we can with our own lives.”
Every fall, in partnership with Asbury University’s Howard Dayton School of Business, Asbury Theological Seminary’s Office of Faith, Works, and Entrepreneurship (OFWE) hosts its annual Asbury Project. The project includes a conference featuring speakers and events centered on the intersection of faith and business. Also featured, is the announcement of the winner—and awarding of a substantial cash prize to be used as start-up financing—of the student competition to submit the best proposal for new business venture.
This year, in a desire to expand the conversation, the OFWE invited visual artists into the mix. Might art inform—or be informed by—the innovations resulting from The Asbury Project’s business ventures? What an intriguing challenge for artists to create something of the materials and ideas born of entrepreneurism. CIVA was asked to lend a hand, and the Making Good[s] project was born.
Creating a business model has much in common with creating art. Though that may seem overly simplistic, consider how the entrepreneur and artist each must proceed with the work of realizing their vision, often at personal or other costs, seldom with a clear path forward, and always risking failure or the possibility that their efforts will be considered fruitless or even ignored. Yet, the perseverance required is what helps shape the success of both.
For the Making Good[s] project, accomplished professional artists were paired with student entrepreneurs based on an overlap of interests and/or opportunity for mutual inspiration. What kind of artist, for example, might want to work with lavender? Eggs? Compost?
Turns out, there’s a match for everyone. Steve Watson—a multi-disciplinary artist and Professor of Art at Samford University, who creates work that verges on the gloriously ephemeral, using spices and other organic materials arranged in colorful, intricate patterns, often on the floor of the assigned gallery space—was paired with Asbury Seminary student Ken Dean, whose project proposal was the introduction of farming lavender (and other herbs) as a source of support and sustenance for Navajo families in Arizona.
When farm-reared business major Allison Mason developed a business plan based on her first-hand experience with agriculture, she was paired with Kentucky native Kristin Richards, a recent M.F.A graduate from the Yale School of Art. Says Allison:
This year, I began to research and develop a product for common unmet needs in agriculture. The goal of Woven Compost is to develop a natural fiber processing agribusiness that produces environmentally enriching ground cover products to replace petroleum-based ground covers currently in use. These biodegradable products hold in moisture, inhibit week growth, support earthworm and microbial activity, and prevent erosion, while returning nutrients to the soil.
Kristin (whose work includes materials as wide-ranging as sheetrock to microwave ovens) responds:
I responded strongly to Allison’s use of woven compost for landscaping purposes in a domestic context. After speaking with her and viewing her presentation, I felt a real connection, conceptually and materially, to my own work. Ideas of suburbia, property ownership and the “American Dream,” and classism are all aspects of my work that I want to address in these pieces. I’m also thinking about the show’s title, Making Good[s], and want to address the purchasing and shipment of goods by referencing the size of a typical Amazon.com package.
California artist Marianne Lettieri enjoys transforming “cultural detritus such as articles of domesticity, manual labor, and clothing into images that call attention to life’s temporality and the enchantment of the ordinary every day.” Marianne is making art about eggs:
Eggs by Neckers is a small-scale local free-range organic egg production founded by Seth Neckers at the Asbury Seminary Community Garden. His business venture provides fresh healthy eggs in an environmentally friendly way and reconnects people with their food. Consumers are able to see and understand how their food is produced. The business tagline, “Homegrown like Grandpa,” references a time before industrial farming. Seth wants his egg operation to reflect good stewardship of creation while generating a financial profit. He believes his labor glorifies God.
My art often places mundane objects within religious architectural schemas and liturgical forms as a visual metaphor for seeing the sacred in the everyday. One of the sculptures that I’m creating in response to Seth’s entrepreneurial enterprise includes an old wooden cash register drawer in which egg forms are nestled in white cotton quilt batting. Another piece presents vinyl fried egg images adhered to the panes of a pointed arch window that was salvaged from a turn-of-the-century church.
The culmination of this endeavor promises to be a compelling exhibit. Talented artists are enjoying opportunities to foster new relationships, learn from business ventures born of passion, compassion, and love, and, within the parameters set by these ventures, set loose to sink into creation and creativity that extends well beyond.
Making Good[s] art is being created as we publish this and will be exhibited this fall in the Asbury University Art Gallery. Subsequent to the exhibit, it will be available to rent as part of CIVA’s traveling exhibits collection. For more information, please go to Making Good[s].
Keith Barker teaches Photography at Asbury University where he currently serves as Chair of the Art Department. For more, please go to www.kbarkerphoto.com.