Making Culture in a Small Town Storefront (Daniel Bowman, Christianity Today)

If “architecture is frozen music,” as Goethe said, then beautiful architecture left for dead is doubly frozen. What if we can unfreeze it? Maybe, somehow, we can reclaim one of these buildings, rescue the power of its design and history and integrity, reshape it so it can, eventually, re-shape us…

I became well-steeped in the ideas of the book [Culture Making, Andy Crouch] and began to believe them: I wanted not just to critique or consume culture but rather to make culture. I committed to applying those principles to my writing. I focused not on lazy online criticism of others’ published work, or incessant consumption of books and ideas, but rather on carefully building my own poems and narratives, improving my craft in ways that may not be obvious according to standard measures of success.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

But when I came to Indiana, I saw clearly the need to make culture in my town. I’d never stayed anywhere long enough to try it. Seeing those storefronts in Hartford City made me wonder if this was the time. To put theory into practice where I live would take imagination, hope, and hard work. And of course, I couldn’t do it alone…

In making the Arts Center, we [a group of volunteers] would add tangibly to the stock of reality available to the citizens of Hartford City, Indiana, and the surrounding area. We would bring some poetry to town…

In the coming days [after the Newtown, CT tragedy], many would debate gun control, increased security, and mental-health-care awareness. But I couldn’t help thinking that this work was, for me, the most appropriate reaction to the tragedy in Newtown. I saw the Arts Center with a new urgency: not just as a renovated old storefront, but as a place where people of any age could come and create, make culture—and make friends—in a world that needed more than ever these safe spaces. It would be one strategy against isolation and anger, a place made for the appropriate expression of those emotions, a place that might finally have the power to, as Alain de Botton says, “rebalance our misshapen natures.”


2 thoughts on “

  1. I really miss the Wellsville Creative Arts Center for exactly some of these reasons. I’m also attempting (slowly and poorly, I might add) to create as my Lenten discipline – to add to the world, rather than take away from it.

    • I never knew about the Wellsville Creative Arts Center. I wish I had! You’re not the first person I’ve heard speak of emphasizing creating rather than abstaining as a Lenten discipline. I definitely think there’s a place for both, a healthy way of practicing abstention and creation, perhaps a balance in which your intentional withdrawal from something allows space or time for a special emphasis on the creation of something else? The sad thing for me right now is I feel these are just words out of my mouth. Lent surprised me this year, and I’ve had a hard time pulling myself into any kind of discipline. I have been convicted about it, especially recently, and I think my “busy-ness” in even this quiet year “off” is a symptom of a deeper problem. So one of my practical pursuits of the most recent few days has been to practice the discipline of submitting myself to the reality of my dependence on God.

      In the longer term, I hope that I am invested in creating, in participating in culture making, in being an agent of redemption in the world. I believe in these things as part and parcel of Christ’s Incarnation & Resurrection, his establishment of a new temporality – we are already participating in the time that leads to the fullness of all things – but I often find it a challenge to put into practice.

      These are ramblings, I admit. But I realize two things:
      1) in my current pursuits as a substitute teacher and as an accompanist, I still have the opportunity to be a culture maker, an agent of redemption, a servant of God and others, and
      2) in my profession and in my “free time” there will always be conflicting demands on my time. Yet, by the grace of God, I can still be a part of building his kingdom, even when I fail. Each day is a new opportunity.

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