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‘The Work of Art and Sacred Places’, NSEAD National Conference: Inclusion, Innovation and Diversity, University of the Arts, London, 2016.


‘Between’ at the Cathedral on the Street, Manchester, 2013. Photo: Steve Iles

In 2016 trustees of Art and Sacred Places were invited to speak to delegates at the annual conference for The National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD). The theme was: Inclusion, Innovation and Diversity: How outstanding art craft and design education can significantly lead on British values and the development of social, moral, cultural and spiritual developments. Dr Jonathan Koestlé-Cate and the Venerable Alastair Cutting introduced the mission of Art and Sacred Places through three projects broadly applicable to the theme of the conference.

We began by suggesting that the relevance of spirituality to art and design education is inevitably a contested issue. To some people the notion of ‘spiritual development’ represents something rather vague while to others, especially within the church, it means something very specific. In many respects spirituality becomes the term of convenience whenever something is seen or said to exceed the material, conceptual or rational, even if such catholic possibilities bring with them their own difficulties. If the elasticity of the term contributes to its convenience of use it also underlines its somewhat vague and nebulous nature. Such difficulties aside, many would argue that, whether conceived in religious terms or not, the spiritual is rudimentary to human existence, and artists are among those who seek to give it sensuous form.

In this short presentation there wasn’t time to ruminate further on this question. Instead, a brief introduction to Art and Sacred Places and three of our projects served to give concrete form to this relationship between art and spiritual development.

We stressed the fact that Art and Sacred Places is primarily art led although its Board is from a variety of faith, arts and business backgrounds. Our practice includes exhibitions and commissions, sometimes permanent, sometimes more challenging temporary commissions, and mutually beneficial interfaith projects. Our mission is to engage with new audiences by exploring the relationship between art and spirituality, encouraging debate, promoting understanding and educational interaction.

Three projects served to illustrate this mission: Nicola Dale’s Between, a temporary artwork for Manchester Cathedral and Manchester Islamic Centre and Didsbury Mosque, Transpire, a permanent work for St Bede’s Catholic College in Bristol, by Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva, one of the artists chosen to represent the Holy See in the 2015 Venice Biennale, and Rose Finn-Kelcey’s Angel for St Paul’s Bow Common.

Information on each of these projects is available elsewhere on our website: http://www.artandsacredplaces.org/past_projects.htm

These three projects encouraged a sense of spiritual development through interfaith collaboration, through the creation of an experience of beauty and wonder in a humble school stairwell, and through an installation that had great appeal for the local community, acknowledging a communality of understanding between the church and its East London neighbours.