SPARC encourages art 'for beauty and for glory’

The Christian creative conference space is a crowded landscape these days and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to figure out what differentiates one gathering from the next. Not all conferences survive.

Yet as the SPARC team prepare for their annual National Gathering at the end of August, they exude a quiet confidence in the health of the community they’ve been steadily building for the past six years.

SPARC is an initiative of Christian Media & Arts Australia designed to foster a community of Christians creatives.

In buzzy website lingo it’s “a cultural movement that seeks to mobilise a body of Christians who are Artists and Creatives, to be an intentional and transformative cultural influence” with an emphatic declaration:

This clear directive allows Director Michael Laverty to approach his role with the question: “How does SPARC better serve the creative community across Australia?”

“Our vision has been established since our very first conference,” Laverty explains.

“SPARC exists for beauty and for glory. Our mission is to encourage creatives to enkindle the heart of Christ, by living expansive and gracious lives of freedom, for beauty and glory.”

“We can have difficult conversations and still love like Christ….We can agree and disagree.” – Michael Laverty, Director of SPARC

The signs of Christian celebrity are absent at SPARC – a remarkable feat, given the talent of those in the room. The Gathering’s TED-style speakers sit dispersed among the crowd and make new friends over coffee in the breaks. Equality isn’t performed at SPARC – it just is.

Everything that takes place is marked by sensitivity to the tensions Christian artists wrestle with, and the National Gathering has become a safe space to do that wrestling. It allows room for real conversations about how artists can negotiate the tension between art and faith and find their place in their church and community.

“We don’t fear what we’re uncomfortable with,” explains Laverty. “We can have difficult conversations and still love like Christ. We can show mercy [the theme of this year’s National Gathering] and think critically. We can agree and disagree.”

This year’s SPARC National Gathering will feature US rap artist Propaganda along with a host of Australian speakers, including highly respected veteran of the advertising and film industry, Simon Lister.

Lister is a UNICEF photographer and will discuss a yet-to-be announced documentary series that follows his travels across the earth and explores the incomparable power of an image.

“SPARC was the beginning of me being courageous enough to believe what I was doing was both necessary and important.” – Jessica Le Clerc, artist

In 2015, fine artist Jessica Le Clerc became an Archibald Prize finalist for her portrait of artist David Hart, the son of world-renowned artist Pro Hart.

“The Hart family history and David’s personal story have always fascinated me,” says Le Clerc. “They are from a small farming community like myself and grew up on the land. Yet they still encouraged art and expression in way that has affected our country deeply.

“I never went to an art gallery as a child. I didn’t even see a piece of art till I left home. The trees and the grass, the morning and the night sky are the major influences of art, of God, of understanding beauty … when I see dusk light on a gum tree I’m with God. Painting others immersed in his art is what I know to do.”

At SPARC, Le Clerc discovered a spiritual “wide open space” that affected her deeply.

“There is a profound sense of a communal calling that comes with it.” – Joel McKerrow, performance poet

“SPARC was the beginning of me being courageous enough to believe what I was doing was both necessary and important,” she says.

Award-winning writer Joel McKerrow is one of Australia’s most successful internationally touring performance poets, having performed for hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world for almost a decade. He’s also part of the SPARC team and regularly performs at the National Gathering.

McKerrow is Artist Ambassador for the aid and development organisation TEAR Australia and loves the way that SPARC does more than just equip people within the creative industries.

“It gives them a community to belong to, a group of people to be inspired by, a place for Christian creatives to not feel as though they are the only ones seeking to bring about change in our world… there is a profound sense of a communal calling that comes with it, a bond that both unifies and sends people back out to keep using their artistry to bring hope to the world.”

Sam Dewhurst is a creative director, brand strategist and founder of the values-driven brand process trademarked The Monostory Method, and a member of the SPARC team.

Dewhurst characterises SPARC attendees as “brave” and the National Gathering as a formational space where creative hunger is seen, known and empowered.

Her passion is the business artist, a person whose ideas and education intersect with their vision for problem solving and commercial viability.

“Who should be leading change, influencing culture and solving problems better than business artists who see and recognise a creative God in the everyday?” she asks.