The Creative Spirit
“Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.” —Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Growing up in a small church in Mississippi, no one told me that creativity could go hand in hand with spirituality. And although I feel sure the macaroni and construction-paper crosses I made in Vacation Bible School were as breathtaking as the next child’s, I don’t remember being encouraged to make art in order to grow closer to the Divine, much less my true self. Not that my Sunday school teachers used terms like “the Divine” or “true self.” After all, it was the Deep South in the 1960s. But as I make my way in the world as a writer, I have found it to be so. For when I put pen to paper I am often as close to God as I am at any other time, be it on the trails of Radnor Lake or in the pews of Christ Church Cathedral. I’m always looking for new ways to access that creative spirit that makes me who I am, and opens me up to whom I might yet be.
Enter Art & Soul. Founded in 1988, the Art & Soul co-op concentrates on four areas of creativity: play and playing, sound and sounding, authentic movement, and intuitive art making. Art & Soul is dedicated to artistic growth, creative development, and healing and transformation through the arts. Co-op members — there are currently 40 — take responsibility for managing the building and teaching the classes.
“This space is really a laboratory for consciousness,” says Art & Soul founder and director Arunima Orr, a painter, writer, performance artist, and teacher.
The space Orr refers to is a cinder block building on 12th Avenue South filled with art tables, workspaces, and various materials and supplies. It serves as an installation area for presenting one’s art, and it possesses something ethereal that can only be described as a creative vibe.
“More than one person has commented that there must be magic in these walls,” says Orr. “All of us here believe that art is a full-body experience, and the more you can be in touch with your body and your spirit, the more expressive your art will be, regardless of form.”
Art & Soul adheres to a nonjudgmental approach, choosing to stay away from such words as “like” and “dislike,” or “good” and “bad” when considering one another’s work. “The safer the space for creating is,” says Orr, “the fuller one’s artistic expression will be.”
Having taught art in traditional settings, such as art museums and schools, Orr realized that people might be more satisfied if they could create in a space that was free of judgment or criticism. “Mostly, people are not really stuck,” she says. “They just don’t believe in themselves.”
“The gift of nonjudgment I experience with regard to creativity at Art & Soul has helped in other areas of my life as well,” says Pat Halper, a longtime co-op member. “It’s taught me how to be more open to others, and myself.”
Art & Soul fosters a safe and stimulating environment for beginning and experienced artists, as we are all artists to some degree, to explore personal expression. Mediums and practices that address the whole person — meditation, sound, breath, movement, music, writing, painting, drawing, and other visual arts — are offered through classes, workshops, and individual sessions, which are open to everyone.
“We’re not engaged in art therapy,” says Orr, “but the process is definitely therapeutic. In the end, the fundamental practice at Art & Soul is receiving and listening.”
To me, that sounds a lot like interacting with the Divine.
Photo by Michael W. Bunch
Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.
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