Bethel to host Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) Biennial Conference

CIVA was co-founded in 1979 by the late Professor of Art Eugene Johnson, and in its 40th year, still builds community and connection between artists of faith.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08 GS’16, new media strategist

June 04, 2019 | 2:30 p.m.

Logo for Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) biennial conference

The Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) biennial conference, “Are We There Yet?” takes place at Bethel University June 13-16

“CIVA started as an organization where artists of faith—before the internet—were able to connect with one another,” says Michelle Westmark Wingard, professor of art and gallery director. “Forty years later, we're in such a different place. We’re now connected in a way that’s incredible, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

With that work in mind, this month Bethel will host the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) biennial conference, entitled—fittingly—“Are We There Yet?”

CIVA was founded in 1979 by Eugene Johnson ’44 S’48, for whom Bethel’s Johnson Gallery was named and who was Bethel's first professor of art. Johnson founded both Bethel’s department of art, as well as CIVA, in a time when many didn’t see a strong connection between faith and art.

There were many artists who were also people of faith, who felt isolated in a double sense: the Church did not seem to care much about art and the art world did not seem to care much about faith. The organization has remained part of Bethel art faculty lives since then, with many of us serving on the board, taking part in its traveling exhibitions, and attending conferences. Perhaps most of all, though, have been the friendships, peer mentoring, feedback, and professional encouragement that have come through many networks of colleagues thanks to the platform of CIVA.

— Wayne Roosa, Professor of Art History

In the decades since the organization began, CIVA has grown into an international network of artists of faith, with its biennial conference providing important face-to-face engagement. During the three-day event, attendees will have opportunities to attend breakout sessions, panel discussions, and workshops. They’ll be able to view the “Are We There Yet?” show, juried by Bethel alumnus and Guggenheim Fellow Chris Larson ’90, and “The Beautiful: a CIVA Exhibition,” which will culminate its two-month run in Bethel’s Olson Gallery during the conference. 

'Are We There Yet' is more than a catchy title, it’s a space for convergence: a chance to celebrate CIVA’s long history and devoted membership, as well as an opportunity to convene contemporary artists, collectors, ministers, and teachers seeking to collectively imagine the future of CIVA.

— event website

Larson and fellow Bethel alumnus Rico Gatson ’89—who both later attended Yale School of Art—will discuss their recent work “The Raft.” Professor of Art Amanda Hamilton will also be part of a panel discussion. But besides high-quality programming that runs from early morning until late at night on campus, the greater purpose is to foster connection between diverse artists who create within faith-centered circles and others who may find themselves at odds between communities of faith and art.

“For some people in CIVA, making art that’s about biblical themes is really important. And there are others who don’t make art that’s explicitly Christian, but it’s still made by a Christian person,” Wingard explains. “We’re still on this journey of trying to figure out who we are, why we’re here, and how we can be connected in community. That’s so core to the Christian faith.”

The CIVA biennial conference, “Are We There Yet?” takes place at Bethel University June 13-16. Find out more about the conference and register here.

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