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As January 2022 began, the ministry committees of St. Philip's, Hastings, were alerted to a grant opportunity from the Saint Paul Area Synod. It was like a spring breeze in the dead of winter. What a time to have a grant opportunity! Reading through the ideas we spotted "public art" and "diversity." It fit the very issues we were living in. We knew we could give rise and awareness to the value of public art and couple it with the city's history and a very current need that had emerged through a contentious school board election that had given life to the issue of living in a diverse community.
The people of St. Philip's knew professional artist Paul Oman, who had done a live painting at its worship service. A grant idea had been born! By the next day Paul Oman was contacted. The title of the grant would be "Drawn to the River." The original painting would happen on the shores of the mighty Mississippi under the canopy of the city's beautiful riverside pavilion in a Minnesota river town known as Hastings. The painting would be 5' x 6', focusing on the city's history, some landmarks, and its story about cultures living on its shores before Hastings' founding.
A date for "Drawn to the River" was set for July 18. Three months prior to the event, Paul Oman prepared himself to do the painting by coming to Hastings, studying its past, visiting a local historian, taking photographs and doing site visits as to where the painting would best reside. Hastings Family Service, a local people-helping agency, agreed to welcome its placement. This decision became an increasingly poignant one, as people are received and provided assistance in the basics of life itself.
July 18 was a beautiful summer evening. Making the event known to the community had been an important component of this unique program. St. Philip's wanted a crowd. Public posters, radio interviews, Public TV and Chamber of Commerce calendars, church bulletin boards, along with Hastings City Hall's communication department helped greatly in getting this unique event on a Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. "down on the river" well attended.
The event was described as "art unfolding before one’s eyes," supported with spoken messages and music to give the one-hour program all the flair it deserved. Four speakers gave five-minute messages, interspersed with music designed with ethnic diversification. The promise had been that the audience would watch the artist swish his paint brush to the rhythm of the river’s waves lapping at the shore, and it all came true.
The painting’s gradual development into a canvas portraying all that had been promised held the audience of 170 in fixed attention. Seeing art develop like this noticeably wrapped the audience in a special kind of appreciation. They saw beauty, but more importantly, they were learning about Hastings’ early occupants, namely the Dakota Sioux, and about Brown’s Chapel, a house of worship for the city’s people of color, which had been destroyed by arson without due investigation in the early 1900s.
The speakers spelled out four points which supported the purpose of the grant’s objective:
“Drawn to the River” met its objectives at a time when community relationships had become relatively fractured and its happiness quotient bruised. Art can be a medium for healing, for distracting people from their burdens. This is what made "Drawn to the River" so timely and so well received. When art is now the topic for city decision makers, the walls of question will have been lowered. Future efforts for more works of art in public places are likely to have an easier time being approved. As a congregation, St. Philip's discovered a way to help bring a joyful event into its community's midst. In whatever way any congregation can do this is a journey worth taking.
Two quotes worthy of mention: The first is from a retired teacher, who said, “I’m ready to take this painting into classrooms and teach from it to Hastings’ children.” A visitor to Hastings Family Service, which is where the painting hangs, said, “I watched the entire program on Hastings' Community TV site, and had to come and see it in person.”
Grant Writer and program designer for "Drawn to the River"