Paul Rogne, Guest Writer from Unity's Art Team
In November 2023, the Unity Church Art Team featured a Parish Hall exhibit of artwork by Rose and Melvin Smith, esteemed elders in the African American artist community of the Twin Cities. It was the culmination of a journey that began in 2021 when the art team sought these artists out hoping to purchase one of their paintings. After visiting with the art team and touring Unity to see the permanent art collection, Rose and Melvin agreed to sell one of Rose’s fine paintings, an image of a woman she met in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. That painting now hangs in the Center Room.
The Smiths told us they were impressed with Unity and wanted to thank our church community for its commitment to promoting the arts. Their interest and ours resulted in an exhibition of their most recent work, none of which had ever been shown.
Over the years, the artist couple has exhibited several times in New York City; their works depicting scenes and impressions of life in the history of the Rondo neighborhood are currently being featured in a Manhattan gallery. They have also exhibited in Chicago, Oklahoma, and at the Weisman Museum in Minneapolis. It has been a privilege to have them exhibit new work at Unity Church. Rose’s latest is a series of canvases capturing flowers arranged in the style of the Japanese art form, Ikebana. Melvin’s colorful collages were inspired by the classical American dance form the Jitterbug.
Why did the art team reach out to these particular artists? In addition to the quality of the work, the team looks to questions prompted by Unity’s Ends Statements (2018) in considering the criteria to use in selecting artists for this program:
If our ends statements plus Unity’s mission to “transformation through a free and inclusive religious community …” are to be taken seriously, then the art team is determined to move forward on them. What shows that movement up to this point?
Not only have we shown and continue to invite artists of greater diversity regarding ethnicity, race, gender, culture, religion, sexual identity, socioeconomic, physical ability, and neurodiversity to participate in Unity’s monthly exhibitions but we have also expanded the church’s permanent art collection featured throughout the building to include this diversity. There are now many more artists from our greater community represented on our walls including artists of color, LGBTQ+, Hmong, Karen, and more.
In 2022, Mica Lee Anders, a Rondo neighbor and accomplished artist and educator, led a group of Unity volunteers to create an eye-catching new Foote Room mural. The shape of the overall design is familiar to Unitarian Universalists — a chalice. In October 2023, the Parish Hall featured works created by artists incarcerated in Minnesota correctional facilities. These talented artists claim roots in a variety of ethnicities and cultures. Art From the Inside, the organization that brought them here, was able to hold a successful fundraiser at Unity, and was the recipient of a Sunday offering —another example of how the art team strives to act on our ends.
We know there is much more to do, but it is exciting and rewarding work. The art team urges everyone at Unity Church to be curious. Take a moment to look at the artwork as you wander through the hallways or gather for a meeting. Chances are you are seeing art that represents the concerns, ideas, thoughts, and/or feelings of a member of our greater Beloved Community. That should be reason enough to take notice.
By Paul Rogne, Unity Church Art Team
On Friday, November 10, from 5:00-7:30 p.m., an open reception will be held at Unity Church where visitors can view the art and meet the artists. Light refreshments will be served.
The Unity Church Art Team is pleased to open an exhibition of paintings by nationally known Rondo artists, Rose and Melvin Smith in Unity’s Parish Hall. The show is the culmination of a journey that began in 2021 when Unity's Art Team sought out the esteemed artists and longtime Rondo neighborhood residents, hoping to purchase one of their art works. After a tour of Unity’s permanent art collection, they agreed to sell one of Rose’s paintings, an image of a woman whom she met in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. That painting now hangs in the Center Room. The Art Team and Unity Church were doubly privileged when the Smith’s consented to a full exhibition of their latest paintings, which have never before been shown.
The Smith’s paintings have been featured at galleries in New York City, Chicago, Oklahoma, and at Minneapolis’s Weisman Museum. The new works include a series of paintings by Rose depicting flowers arranged in the style of Ikibana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement. Melvin’s works are colorful collages inspired by the classical American dance form, the Jitterbug.
The exhibition will be on view in Unity’s Parish Hall through November 2023.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Rev. Lara Cowtan, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Lia Rivamonte and Angela Wilcox.