‘The Church’s reputation in the arts has been reduced to tacky fluorescent wayfinding outside cold dark lifeless buildings’, Smyth says. ’ The inspiration behind the work never changed…Yet creatives have become embarrassed by the idea that their work may be connected to the Church.
‘We only realised the need for the site when hundreds of creatives from all over the world started applying to join the platform’.
Smyth launched the Creative Arts Network, with branding and site design by Leeds-based consultancy Boxhead, as a space to showcase work from creatives working ‘in, with, or for Churches across the world’, also giving them a place to network and get advice on their practice.
It’s not for strictly ‘religious’ art, he adds, but about ‘exploring the same things that inspired some of the most influential creatives of all time.’ We spoke to him about why he set up the project, and what he hopes to achieve.
Design Week: Why did you set up the network?
Chris Smyth: The Church gets a bad press a lot of the time for a number of controversial issues but its main purpose is to serve people. They have a lot of community outreach programmes, and things like mother and daughter groups, but none that serve the creative population. We’re based in Sidcup in south-east London so we’re surrounded by arts, drama and contemporary dance colleges, so we’ve seen a lot of creative professionals join us on a Sunday or getting in touch, and the Church weren’t doing anything to help them out.
The ethos or the vision was to begin to try and influence or showcase or celebrate some of the stuff that’s been coming out of the Church in general in the last few years. The Church used to be a real design hub – whether it was details in buildings or the work that surrounds religion in general – but there’s a whole load of creatives that regularly attend Church and felt they didn’t know what to do, for instance when they’ve just graduated.
DW: Is it only aimed at Christians or people connected to the Church?
CS: A large majority, around 75 per cent of people on the site are connected to the Church in some way, perhaps regularly attending Church, or people we’ve connected with through workshops, but it’s not strictly aimed at that audience. The part of the site that most people are interested in is the collective – it’s a bit like Behance or Cargo Collective but the main difference is it’s multi-disciplinary – we also serve things like contemporary dancers and writers rather than just illustrators, and give them free space. We want to try and serve or help out creative people.
We’re not just trying to connect with Christians – we’re celebrating creativity. If you’re creating interesting work we want to get behind that. It’s not a members-only club, it’s the work that’s important.
DW: How do you select which work is shown on the site?
CS: We’re trying to keep a consistent flow of lots of media so there’s an application process which goes to a small panel to keep the quality good. It’s not an elitist thing, but we do want an equal number of graphic designers as photographers, for example.
DW: Is there any limits to what you’ll showcase on moral or religious grounds?
CS: There are boundaries in the terms and conditions in terms of what you can post. Nudity, for instance, is out of bounds. I think a lot of people expect you [as Christians] to be a bit boring and too ‘straight’, I suppose, but something like the Saatchi & Saatchi Nativity campaign (more on that over at Creative Review) – I really liked it, and I think a lot of people were surprised that I did. I guess there’s a limit if something is too explicit, but so far there’s not been anything we’ve had to censor.
DW: How is it funded?
CS: It’s funded by the non-profit funded charity New Community Church in London. All the resources are free [for users]. We’re never going to make revenue or profit for itself.
DW: What were you aiming for with the look and feel of the identity and the site?
CS: We were trying to hit a market of multi-disciplinary creatives spanning everything, so we needed something that would connect with a design-savvy world but also performing arts in and outside the church.
What are you looking to achieve in the future with the website?
We want more of a community aspect, things like exhibitions with graduates and workshops. We’ve quickly built a good online presence much greater than I thought but perhaps there could be more of a meetup group mentality. There’s not that much of a creative community once you leave university and people always talk about freelancing and things as being quite lonely.
You can visit the Creative Arts Network at creativeartsnetwork.co.uk.