Art as Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive Innovation is a business term that has application in the faith community context. In the business world it means the development of a new product or method that disrupts the status quo and gives new life to a particular industry. For the faith community context, it might mean introducing a new practice which opens up new possibilities for a church’s mission or a new way of looking at one’s faith.

 

 

 

 

Dr. Terrell Carter, who completed his Doctor of Ministry degree at Central in 2015, was appointed as the Director of Contextualized Education in January 2016 and then elected as Assistant Professor of Practical Theology in February. He also co-directs Central’s Urban Missional Institute.  In addition to his academic accomplishments, Dr. Carter is also an artist and has used his art as disruptive innovation. He believes the images he uses provide a venue to help communities and congregations change their ideas about who is worthy of mercy and compassion. Here’s what he says:

How do we determine who is worthy of compassion and who is not? Most times, if you look and think like me, I believe you are worthy of grace. If you are different from me, then you deserve any and all punishments that are reserved for heretics and vagrants.

For several years and through multiple platforms, I have tried to find ways to combat this type of thinking. As a pastor, I preach against it. As an author, I write columns and books decrying it. I am also a visual artist, and the work that I create to be hung in galleries seeks to take these types of conversations to communities that are likely uncomfortable having them.

My artwork has always sought to challenge people’s negative perceptions of black male culture. My first solo exhibition, which occurred when I was 21 years old, was titled “Where Is the Black Man?” For it, I created images that intentionally juxtaposed positive images of black males against society’s low expectations of them. My most recent exhibit, “Good Negroes: The Uncomfortable Truth”, continues this process by exploring thoughts and expectations that may not be regularly stated among polite company, but are still held.

Rev. Jessica Williams, Registrar and International Student Officer for Central, is also an artist. Her medium is textiles, and she recently created a pair of stoles that have been worn by the Co-Conveners of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber. These stoles, which she designed at her friend Liz’s request, have the words “Jesus was a Poor Man” stitched on them. Many images of Barber and Theoharis in the media during the recent campaign showed them wearing these very stoles.

 

 

The interesting thing about these stoles is that they have come to be seen as symbols of protest. Theoharis tells a couple of stories about this very thing. In one story she relates

When I was arrested for praying on the plaza in front of the Supreme Court the day that a major voter suppression law was upheld, they confiscated my bullhorn, American flag, and stole all as evidence. As they gathered those items, they arranged them very neatly and took numerous photos of them. To me, those three things represented freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly – all first amendment rights the Supreme Court should uphold. It then took about a week to get my stole back out of evidence.

A second story she told was about she and Rev. Dr. Barber delivering letters with their demands to the senators and representatives at the US Capitol:

They stopped us saying we couldn’t go where tons of tourists were because we were a protest. We pushed and said what about us going as individuals, as US citizens. They said that if we wore our stoles past them and to the capitol we weren’t going as individuals but as protestors because “Jesus was a Poor Man” was a protest.

The use of art can potentially effect change in the way people see the world. Practicing art in a faith context can be a tool for disruptive innovation.

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