Hope of Art // GUEST POST: JASON LEITH
I don't remember exactly how I came across Jason Leith's "Sacred Streets" project, but I do remember emailing him with the subject line "Speechless". Jason's view of beauty from ashes and the intersection of art with human dignity struck such a nerve with us because it is exactly the picture we desire to paint with Hope Heals.
The powerful HOPE OF ART is that the very act of creating reminds us of our Creator--that we are created in His image. The lies that we are devoid of value and beauty can be buried so deeply, but seeing ourselves through the lens of art can often open our eyes to the truth that we are "imago dei"..."image of God".
This weekend (August 4) our church, Bel Air Pres, will be hosting a showing of Sacred Streets, Sunday, August 4, all day--join us--or consider supporting or hosting a showing of your own (details here)!
We are thrilled to know Jason and cheer on his fantastic work. By the way, in his "spare time", Jason also leads the arts program at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren's church), so we are especially grateful that he took some time to share his heart and how he has "hoped it forward" through art. Thank you Jason!
Just six months ago, the concept of Sacred Streets was just a dream in my head—the biggest, most ambitious dream I had ever seriously entertained. I was scared to death to go for it, even after I jumped. But the thing that kept propelling me forward was the hope for rejuvenation within a community that rarely receives nourishment from things like art and beauty—soul nourishment.
Sacred Streets is all about bringing beauty and dignity to a community that rarely ever gets it. It is about knowing the people from this community on a personal level, and the best way I have been connecting with them is by making portraits. To draw a person, in person, is for me a means of being present and attentive to the dignity in them.
As I go about this work, I have seen a certain dignity restored in a person in a way that would’ve been difficult to achieve simply through words and impossible to achieve through a hand out. I want to help them feel human again and artistic engagement definitely has the power to do that.
I further this effort of restoration by drawing the portraits on reclaimed objects that are meant to tell a story parallel to the people depicted, a story of being found again and renewed. As the portraits come to completion I integrate shapes, symbols, and materials that resemble traditional images of saints and icons you would see in a cathedral, usually placed as altarpieces or objects of veneration.
One of my Skid Row subjects, Robert, who had been addicted to cocaine for decades and living on the street for just as long, called me from a rehab program just one week after meeting him and drawing his portrait on the sidewalk. He told me that he had been clean for 48 hours and had finally decided to get his life back together. He went on to tell me that this was all because of his portrait. I was in disbelief. I asked him a second time why he had decided to turn his life around so suddenly and he said, “I told you, it was because of your portrait! Your portrait helped me to see myself truly for the first time.”
Thomas, my first portrait on Skid Row, said he felt like he had a “new breath of life” after seeing the show. Saul, another subject was finally able to see hope for the future of his life, as everyone else had been trying to show him for years. Dawn-Robin hugged me crying on the show’s opening night. She tried, but there were no words, just speechless.
My dream was that Sacred Streets would be a glint of hope to the homeless community. But it ended up being even more than that. It was a beacon of hope for everyone who came from a more fortunate standpoint to see the show. In the end I’m not sure who’s vision was changed more-- the homeless community, or the audience who got to come and see their portraits. And though I did not plan this, I think it is exactly what I hoped for. Much of the time, it was not the perspective of the homeless that needed to be changed—it was the perspective of the people looking down on them that needed to be changed, and that in turn changes everything.
Show is on Sunday August 4th from 8am-8pm in the Discipleship Center at Bel Air Presbyterian.