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Women artists on spirituality at InterFaith Works' Rose Forum

Fought posed a series of questions to the artists regarding the connection between art and spirit, the request to share a spiritual experience, on the difficulty of getting started, on the choice of art works each had brought, on the creative process and whether it's lonely and at what point the process results in enjoyment. On first entering, audience members had an opportunity to take index cards to write questions for what was a fairly brief Q&A at the end of the moderated conversation. Fought chose three questions, about art appreciation in the culture, the role of editing, and a query about what age each artist was when she first realized her calling.

It's clear that the artists were chosen in part to fulfill diversity of faith (Roth is Jewish though she pulls from a range of faith traditions, Surratt Muslim, LaPoint Protestant -- and Cross would have provided a Catholic representative), art forms (visual arts, music and text) and even ethnicity. But the commonalities emerged with the panelists' responses to Fought's request that each "share a spiritual experience." Each cast that in terms of the practice of her art and the act of beginning. Roth spoke of the fear of facing the empty canvas -- "That moment is prayerful" -- and the gratitude she feels daily for the opportunity. Surratt as well compared this to prayer, and LaPointe noted, "That little moment of bliss after a successful performance is short-lived, replaced with panic when you sit down again." Each discussed the solitary nature of their work, its aim for connection and its trait of always beginning anew.

Dorothy Rose's advocacy ranged far and wide, so it makes some sense that an annual event honoring her contributions would try to cover all the bases, so to speak, by highlighting a different topic each time. Nevertheless, this evening left me hoping that InterFaith Works might consider repeating this year's topic, which is so amenable to deep consideration of the sources and reaches of art and how it sustains our connection to "the good." So much recent public discussion of art centers on its more instrumental uses for development and economic recovery. It's necessary to make this case in a recession, and fine to remind policy-makers that artists need to make a living, that research proves that art in school raises tests scores across the board and decreases violence, and that art as product is a more significant part of the economy than they may assume. But forums like this one make a contribution of a different order. In appreciation of that potential -- and since the audience was clearly so happy to be there and stay a while -- the formatting might run a little less like a tight ship next year. Perhaps the Q & A at the end could allow for live, un-vetted questions. And perhaps that audience might include some invited leading figures on whatever the topic happens to be so that the conversation is an event for that community as well as the InterFaith Works community.

Nancy covers the arts. Reach her at nancykeeferhodes@gmail.com.

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