workshop description: the art gallery

I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with ministers and leaders of Uniting Churches in a Queensland city in recent months as they work together to try and figure out what the future looks like.

It’s been enjoyable to be a small part of what is a gentle process of sharing stories, getting to know one another, and slowly activating an imagination about a shared future.

Last night was the next step in the process, and a fun way of encouraging imagination, creativity and building something together.  We had about 35 present for an evening event we dubbed “The Art Gallery”. Read on for a description of what was a fun, creative and imaginative night of resourcing leadership.

Participants arrived to a bare room containing just a circle of chairs and little else. After the usual pleasantries and some ‘get to know you’ activities, we briefed them in this way:

Look around the room.  What do you notice? What furniture? What decorations? Who is here?  What can you hear? What can you smell?

Now close your eyes. 

Imagine this room transformed into an art gallery. Imagine it is opening night, a gala event.  Who is here? What art is on the walls? What spaces are prepared for displaying the art works? Who are the artists? What is on the menu for supper? Is there an MC guiding us through the opening? What are people wearing?

As you start to imagine this gallery opening event, and with your eyes still closed, speak out to the others in the room what you imagine. Tell the story of what you see.

After a while, and after a whole lot of imagination was shared (including the security guards preventing us from touching any art!), we asked people to open their eyes.  The briefing then continued:

Our task tonight is to create what you collectively just imagined. In this room we are going to create an art gallery. We are going to create spaces to display art, create a supper, create a program and, yes, create the artworks.

Behind those screens are artistic materials, behind that door is a kitchen with hot ovens, ingredients and so on.

You will divide into three teams – one to create art, one for hospitality, and one for logistics, venue and event.

You’ll also find over here a basket of dress-ups. By 8pm make sure that not only is the gallery ready for the opening, but that you are dressed and ready for a gala event as well.

The only rules for the night are that each of the four churches should be represented in each of the three teams; that if you brought a guest tonight you must make sure they have a place in a team; and that we challenge you to step outside your comfort zone when it comes to participating.

With that, the leadership team left the room, leaving the participants to find their way, to organise, plan, imagine, create with no further guidance.

We provided a series of resources useful to the group:

  • art material including clay, paint, pencils, paper, canvases, card, room dividers, hessian
  • raw ingredients sufficient to quickly produce a variety of food
  • all the furniture in a typical church hall – chairs, tables of various sizes, table-clothes etc
  • sound system and selection of music
  • baskets full of ties, jackets, scarves, head-gear and various decorative items of clothing so that everybody could in some way “dress up” for the gala event

Over the next 35 minutes the group self-organised, planned the event, painted/drew/sculpted the art-works, produced a delicious supper including pizza, pike-lets, fruit platters, tea and coffee and more.

The Art Gallery launch took place just five minutes late, with a whole series of artwork, a wonderfully dressed audience and the kind of supper that lubricates the community building process. The MC took us through the evening’s program, the creative process, and interviewed several of the artists about their work.

Themes quickly emerged around collaboration, vision for the future, hope, the place of the church in the city.

After an energetic and interesting half-hour or so, we sat down for a debrief, asking participants to reflect on what had just occurred, and make links between that experience and their ongoing work together as Uniting Churches in their community.

The kinds of observations that came back were raw, honest, and profound.  The overwhelming sentiment: “we should be putting aside history and differences and working together for the good of our community.”

The leadership group did a great job modelling shared, collaborative and supporting leadership too – each taking different leadership roles at different points in the night.

It was a fun night, a powerful experience, and a useful step along the journey for this group of leaders. They’ll gather again in a month’s time to continue their work.

The shape of the evening was inspired by the ‘create-a-cafe‘ workshop run in Hobart in 2010.


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