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Christian Union
May 20, 2016

Christian Union Ministry Hosts Panel Discussion

by Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer

arts-panel1As a reflection of His exquisitely artistic nature, God fashioned humans to showcase creativity while crafting paintings, poetry, music, and other expressions.

That was one the fascinating topics that emerged during a recent panel discussion on Christians and the arts on behalf of Christian Union's ministry at Columbia University.

On January 28, dozens of students gathered in a lecture hall inside Columbia's Mathematics building to hear four artists from New York City probe the crossroads of their faith and the creative realm.

"The vision behind this panel discussion was to create a space for students to discuss the intersections of art and culture, ways that art reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how we can use various art mediums to infiltrate and influence culture," said Yolanda Solomon, a Christian Union ministry fellow at Columbia.

Joining Solomon in organizing the event was Migueyli Rivera '18.

"The Lord is a creative being," she said. "When people create, it's beautiful because it puts the language of the Gospel into a language that can be received without words."

The panelists for the event included Andy Mineo, a Christian hip-hop artist, producer, and video director who hails from Manhattan's Washington Heights; Suleky Roman, a lifelong New Yorker and event planner who enjoys combining her twin passions for the Gospel and music, including hip-hop; Elias Popa, a mixed-media artist who also serves as assistant curator of New York's Waterfall Mansion and Gallery; and Ben Cowan, an artist with credentials from Indiana University, Italy's International School of Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

During the discussion, the panelists touched upon a wide range of topics, including the roles of Christian and secular art, how faith shapes and limits artistic expression, and the challenges of being a believer in one of the creative fields.

For Popa, artistic endeavors can represent a divine calling. Essentially, God gave mankind dominion over the earth, and that includes lordship over the arts.

"For us, when we look at Scripture, it gives us permission to be able to create good work. It doesn't have to be Christ-centric," Popa said.

From a Christian perspective, "Redemption is both for the body and the spirit. Art is included in that redemption," Popa told students. "Our job is to bring a small amount of redemption back into creation through art."

Likewise, the panelists described how they become storytellers through their various media.

"In my work, I'm trying to tell a plethora of stories. Those themes just keep popping up in my stories," said Mineo of his hip-hop material.

At the same time, Christian artwork often does not necessarily equate to family-friendly materials, as evidenced by how the Bible describes wars and other violent events. Likewise, some audiences appreciate materials that reflect realistic contemplations and challenges.

"So often, Christian artists feel like they have to put a nice, happy bow on everything they create," Mineo said. "Life is not super clean. It's messy, tricky, and uncomfortable."

Not surprisingly, Rivera noted she was pleased with the wealth of conversations that emerged during the panel discussion. She went on to describe the tapestry of the evening as rich, heavy, insightful, and dynamic.

As well, Solomon welcomed the insights from the panelists about some of the issues arising from the intersection of faith and the arts.

"The students were encouraged to hear from Christian professionals how the Gospel informs and influences their worldview, decisions, and their creative process," Solomon said. "The students also came away with a greater appreciation of how the arts can be an evangelistic tool because human beings are naturally attracted to what is beautiful."

Likewise, the panelists were honest about the "difficulties of appealing to Christian and secular audiences and feeling misunderstood by both," Solomon noted. "They stressed the importance of excellence and not using the Christian label as an excuse for mediocrity."

More importantly, the panelists acknowledged that Christian artists should not shrink back from sharing their worldviews, Solomon said.

"What I'm passionate about most deeply is impacted by my relationship with God," said Mineo. "As a Christian, that permeates everything."