Conversation starters


Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia

A conversation between two writers who had just reviewed the 2012 Manifest Creative Arts Festival has now led to the publication of an eponymous book.

Blessed to bless others: that’s our creative Christian calling. Our art is blessed . . . only as it succeeds in blessing others. That’s the test.

Editors Nathan Brown and Joanna Darby launched Manifest: Our Call To Faithful Creativity at this year’s festival, which Avondale College of Higher Education hosted on its Lake Macquarie campus, March 20-23. The co-convenors share a burden to raise more awareness of “re-creativity.” The term is “our shorthand for talking about how justice, beauty and faithful creativity were inherent in our understanding of the gospel and the mission of the church,” write the two in their introduction.

The book is a collection of articles, essays and stories from 30 of Nathan and Joanna’s friends—academics, artists, church leaders, ministers and writers. “[It] still has many of the hallmarks of conversation—incompleteness, obvious gaps, worthwhile disagreements . . . , overlapping ideas and some general messiness,” but “it becomes more complete as soon as you engage with it.” Nathan and Joanna write about the importance of the conversation, particularly for “the spiritual health of so many people who have not felt that their passionate and faithful creativity has a place within the church.” Their call: “Please join the conversation.”

Co-convenors Joanna Darby and Nathan Brown at the launch of the first Manifest Creative Arts Festival book. “We need you, your faithfulness and your creativity.”

Manifest received a record 86 entries and offered $6500 in prize money across its six competitions this year.

Dr Marcha William won the new Avondale Choral and Instrumental Music Prize for “Song of the Lamb,” which The Promise performed during the awards ceremony that closed the festival. The Avondale vocal ensemble included the song in its repertoire after meeting the medical doctor late last year. Marcha shared another composing prize, the Institute of Worship Prize, with teacher Coralie Fraser—the judges could not separate “Here I Am” and “Loved by Adonai.”

Artist and designer Shelley Poole won a second consecutive Avondale Fine Arts Prize for her painting To Catch a Glimpse of the Invisible, the smallest piece in the competition. Teacher Nathan Dalton won the Hope Channel Prize for his short Faith: Loss. The film is a follow up to Love: Loss, one of the winning pieces from this past year.

Teacher Amy Cherry won the Psalter Music Prize for “Your All” and public relations coordinator Sharyn Brady the Signs Publishing Company Prize for her short story “The Last Crusade.”

Two Avondale students also won prizes: Chelsea Mitchell the new ADRA Australia Just Art Prize for a feature, “Polim,” about a Cambodian woman whom she met at a medical clinic; and Lawson Hull the Avondale Young Achiever Prize for a song, “Hiding Secrets,” which he also performed during the ceremony.

Manifest names the ceremony and its most prestigious award after Gabe Reynaud, the Avondale alumnus and former Adventist Media Centre senior producer who became the church’s first professionally trained director. Receiving the award this year: the interactive, Nunawading, Victoria-based outdoor drama Road to Bethlehem, which, now in its 19th year, attracts a crowd of 15,000 over four nights. “Road to Bethlehem isn’t about any one amazing actor, fantastic sound technician, wonderful greeter or stunning musician,” said representative Crystal Taylor during her acceptance speech. “Road to Bethlehem is about the collective creative contribution of a group of people, manifested for God’s glory for their community.”

Crystal Taylor received the Gabe Reynaud Award on behalf of Road to Bethlehem, “the collective creative contribution of a group of people, manifested for God’s glory for their community.” [Photo courtesy: Ben Beaden]

The Gabe Reynaud Awards ends with a charge, presented this year by academic, composer and writer Dr Robert Wolfgramm, the recipient of the Gabe Reynaud Award in 2012. “Blessed to bless others: that’s our creative Christian calling,” he said. “Our art is blessed . . . only as it succeeds in blessing others. That’s the test.” He ended with a challenge to church leaders: invest in the arts. “The Renaissance that blessed the Reformation, which in turn informed the Enlightenment, did not spring from the anarchy of dreams. It was funded. Popes and clerical philanthropists paid for it. Great art and artisans . . . materialised through the patronage of the church.”

Manifest helped fund the premiere of a play written by Linley Lee and directed by Kristin Thiele, both Avondale alumna. And It Was Good tells of a Jewish doctor blackmailed into helping a woman re-create man. The Herald theatre critic Ken Longworth reviewed the play for the Newcastle newspaper, describing it as a “brisk and engaging narrative” that Linley “does not bury . . . in religious ideology.”

The same could be said of Terry Benedict’s tribute to World War II veteran and Seventh-day Adventist Desmond Doss. The documentary moved even the filmmaker. During a post-screening question and answer, Terry paused to compose himself as he described the conscientious objector, his boyhood hero and the first to receive the United States of America’s highest military honour, as like a father figure who helped changed me. The pathos: palpable.