Running an art exhibition at your church: Case study – St Mary’s Church, Bibury

Published: January 14, 2019

Bibury art exhibitionAs an example of an art exhibition in a church, Paul Hobbs has written a report on a show of his at St Mary’s Church, Bibury. The exhibition was comprised of 17 paintings and 3 floor sculptures. The pictures were hung on 17 free-standing boards of 8ft by 4ft chipboard in the chancel and one side aisle. The sculptures were laid out on the cleared chancel floor. See www.arthobbs.com for images of the exhibits mentioned in the text below.

What the event included:

– Exhibition open to the public for 9 days from 9am to 6pm, with artist in attendance to welcome and engage visitors;
– Visits from 4 local primary schools, with a one hour tour of the show;
– One half hour school assembly explaining the art to pupils, staff and parents;
– Sermon from the art at the Ascension Day Service;
– Sunday Service with 45 minute talk about faith, using the artworks;
– Two Private Views.

How it went: visitors, services and discussions of faith

The show looked very smart, was visited by 1,652 people from at least 38 different countries, and engaged some people deeply with the gospel.

St Mary’s Bibury is a slightly unusual village church, with tourists visiting the Cotswold village on the way between Oxford and Bath, hence the number and variety of visitors, including many Chinese, Japanese and Americans. (In other similar churches the footfall is closer to 40 people per day, unless one can involve school groups and put on evening events for adults.)

I looked after the show throughout the time, welcoming people, summarising the church’s architectural history, and letting them know about my artwork. Some stayed in the church for as much as a hour, and others were out within minutes having taken 3 or 4 photographs, without looking at anything much.

The key to hosting these shows is patience, a warm welcome, being interested in the people who come, being willing to talk about the church itself, being knowledgeable about the artwork and flexible in how one chats with visitors about it. And then in the course of this, one can share profound things about faith in Christ.

Additionally, in a church visited by tourists, it is always worth having some information on the church architecture and Christian symbolism. There are some great Christian symbols in the stained glass and statuary. Many are so grateful when you point details out, explain the symbolism, and sometimes you can say a whole lot more. A well written explanatory leaflet about the church, in a modern font and layout, will bring this alive.

As usual the artwork provoked some great conversations with people. People were particularly touched by the ‘Holy Ground’ collection of international stories from Christians, the dartboard image ‘70×7’ about suffering and blame, and the boat people image ‘To Fly on Chicken Wings’ about refugees. The ‘Three in One’ triptych, about the Trinity, looked stunning against the Victorian glass in the chancel. One Japanese visitor said he had learnt more about the Christian faith from this one picture than from all others he had seen elsewhere.

Many were surprised to see an art show in the church – especially Europeans used to Catholic churches and traditional worship. Some even asked if the church was no longer used for worship. So it was a delight to say that the church is active, the art is all about the Christian faith and contemporary life, and to introduce the works about the Holy Trinity, the Ten Commandments, and stories of Christians explaining their faith, all displayed in the chancel. By contrast some Christian visitors found it intensely moving and encouraging to see such deep and carefully made artwork in a church space.

As well as the tourists, 105 staff and pupils came from four village primary schools to spend an hour with me looking round the show. Headteachers were struck by the depth and detail of the work, and how engaged the children were.

In addition, I led a school assembly for half an hour; gave a presentation about ‘Holy Ground’ at a 7am Ascension Day Service; and gave a 45 minute talk at the Sunday Service, speaking from sets of artwork and related scriptures, and praying or using liturgy at the end of each set of works. One man, who had not known what to expect, commented how impressed he was with the amount of biblical content that came through my work.
Visitor numbers at events like this generally swell on Saturdays and are quieter on Sundays. Here numbers were high all weekend and the Monday, as it was a Bank Holiday.

 

Submitted by Paul Hobbs

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