Lia Rivamonte, on behalf of the Beloved Community Communications Team and Artist in Residence Team
It was October of 2019 when Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra began her artist residency at Unity Church. Rebekah is an interdisciplinary artist who identifies as Indigenous-Salvadoran-Norwegian-American and is based in the Twin Cities. Among the activities Rebekah offered was a hands-on demonstration of her approach to creating the Aztec-rooted ritual ofrenda for Día de los Muertos, the altar to honor loved ones who have died. This community presentation was the first official event of the Unity Church Artist in Residence (AiR) program.
AiR is an effort to embody multiculturalism through art, inviting gifted artists whose art practices explore the world from the vantage point of their own singular intersectional identities that are not predominantly white-bodied or white-directed.
Much has transpired since that first presentation. In February of 2020 Ina Yukka, the mother and son duo of Nia Biagetti and Vladimir Garrido brought enchanting Latin American folk music and dance into the building with worship service performances and workshops, but the Covid-19 lockdown prevented their long-planned in-person concert, and the remainder of their residency had to be conducted virtually. Despite needing to move into all-virtual programs and events, the AiR Team invited social practice-interdisciplinary artist Marcus Young to serve as resident artist. Marcus and his collaborators from DYFIT (Don’t You Feel It Too) encouraged us to move our bodies in any given space, uniting music and our intrinsic rhythms — in equal parts meditation and celebration — in the practice of public dance.
It seems ironic that a program meant to concretize our understanding of multiculturalism, inviting us to bring our whole selves into unfamiliar realms as individuals and as a community had to be experienced in our own, separate, cozy rooms at home by screen. And while the artists with whom we’ve been fortunate enough to work thus far have all been exemplary, their work widely known and extolled by critics and audiences alike, the unplanned barriers to participation that have beset the program for these last eighteen months have prevented the type of community engagement the AiR Team had hoped for. Add to this our lack of clarity regarding some aspects of the program including logistics and implementation, and we realized some changes were due.
We asked ourselves how we might nurture deeper artist-community relationships and raise the level of engagement by congregants? We thought about how to be more intentional in what we hope to accomplish: integrating arts opportunities for learning and discovery with Unity’s Ends, providing an opportunity for artists to expand their art, and offering the potential for spiritual growth and multicultural understanding for our church community as well as participating artists.
Of course, we’d hoped by now, we would all feel safe to meet in person. But while that has not yet happened, we are excited to move into the next phase of AiR. We have created program guidelines that outline the goals, expectations, and timelines for artist projects and we are reaching out to the broader Twin Cities artist community with a request for proposals (RFP). Eligible artists who take the time to familiarize themselves with Unity Church, our mission, values, and ends before applying for the program will have the advantage.
The application guidelines and deadline for submission will be posted on Unity's website. The team will then cull through the proposals, conduct interviews with a select group of artists, and hope to identify the next artist in residence by April or May 2022.
We hope that what we have re-envisioned will be a program that is more accessible to community members, allows for greater relationship-building, sparks our imaginations, and provides us with creative experiences that engender wonder, curiosity, and a profound recognition of and appreciation for our differences as human beings.
The AiR team members are: Lia Rivamonte, Ahmed Anzaldúa, Julia Brown, and Maura Williams. For more information visit www.unityunitarian.org/artist-in-residence.html.
Beloved Community Communications Team
The “Honoring Water Protectors Discussion” held on December 1, 2021, in the Sanctuary at Unity Church and livestreamed on YouTube featured two remarkable water protectors: Sharon Day, executive director of The Indigenous People’s Task Force and leader of the Nibi Walk movement, and Tara Houska, an attorney, as well as environmental and Indigenous rights activist. Photographer John Kaul was inspired by the work of Indigenous and these two remarkable women. His work can be seen in the Eliot Wing photo and story exhibit, and he will post photos from the show on his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/john.kaul. We were inspired by the water protectors and their deep respect for the earth and wanted to share what they told us about how you can help.
Ideas on How You Can Help from Tara Houska and Sharon Day:
Learn about the Honor the Earth organization. Tara Houska is the National Campaigns Director. Pull down the “Action” menu for how you can help.
Reshape your relationship with nature. Think about how everything you consume comes from nature, that everything around us, including our bodies, is of the earth. Connect to the idea that water and the earth are not resources to be consumed but a living thing with spirit that is endangered in Minnesota.
Contact Gov. Walz: Drop the charges against Line 3 activists. Minnesota Public Radio reported in September 2021 that nearly 900 people have been charged, most with misdemeanors but some with arbitrary and escalated felony and gross misdemeanor charges. Call Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and ask him to stop infringement on first amendment rights to peaceful assembly and to protest, and drop the charges against Line 3 activists: 651-201-3400, and/or tweet Gov. Walz: @GovTimWalz, #DropL3Charges
Donate to the Line 3 Rapid Response Campaign. The Center for Protest Law & Litigation is administering a fund to subsidize and support legal costs for people arrested in opposition to the Line 3 pipeline. If you prefer to pay by mail, write a check with “CPPL/Line3” in the subject line and mail to:
Partnership for Civil Justice Fund
617 Florida Ave, NW, Washington DC, 20001
Protect the Boundary Waters and water in Northern Minnesota from sulfide mining. For information on the legal case against PolyMet to prohibit this dangerous form of mining and to see what you can do, visit the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.
To stay abreast of the community outreach teams working on these issues at Unity Church:
Dayna Kennedy and Paul Rogne Discuss Landmarks on Their Soul Work Journey
Edited by Becky Gonzalez-Campoy, Beloved Community Communications Team
Next to my bathroom mirror I have posted two notes:
And I’m showing up differently. I make sure I’m not doing this work to “save” anybody. I clear out any part of me that is feeling like a “hero” for marching. Now, I listen for what is needed and do what I am able to do. Change begins within me. But so does action. When I am feeling overwhelmed or frozen by the authentic history I am learning, I remember that my white history has given me a weak muscle that I need to exercise to build up stamina. And my white privilege has given me a short attention span — I can turn away when things get tough.… and my life will be affected very little. Moreover, no one holds me accountable. This work is hard to do in isolation. One solution that continues to prove invaluable to me is Recovery from White Conditioning. This group provides me with a community of meaningful support and accountability.
Whether it is a phone bank or calling legislators, I hear the freshness and urgency in the voices of my BIPOC partners. The effects for them are now … and every day. I continue to ask myself, “Why, just because the pigment of our skin is different, do I not feel the same sense of urgency?” After all, as James Baldwin said, it is my soul which is at stake.
We often rely on words for education, self-reflection, and spiritual growth. Art, too, can be a powerful messenger to change how we see ourselves, our community, and the world.
Unity’s antiracism goals inspire my work as the chairperson of the Unity Art Team. We are the group that bring artists to exhibit in the Parish Hall. We also manage over 80 pieces of art in the permanent collection that are displayed throughout the building. A few years ago, we identified the pursuit of Unity’s Ends Statements as something to embrace, especially, “Create a multicultural spiritual home built on authentic relationships” and “Create brave space for racial healing and dismantling dominant culture.” Consequently, the Art Team has deliberately sought to bring greater diversity of art and artists into the Parish Hall and to expand the permanent collection with art representing a multicultural community.
In 2020-21, this led the Art Team to specifically recruit and select artists of color to exhibit in the Parish Hall. The team also has added six new pieces of art to the permanent collection: A weaving by the Karin Weavers, a fine art print by local Latino artist Ricardo Levins Morales, a powerful painting on the theme of immigration by Black artist Simone Spruce, an impressive diptych painting by Heather Friedli whose heritage is Anishinaabe and Mexican, and a painting by local Black artist Rose Smith inspired by her trip to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. We hope the addition of more diversity in the art displayed at Unity will have a positive impact on the congregation and visitors to the church. This effort will continue over the coming years.
So come take time to enjoy and reflect on our featured exhibits and permanent collection. Each piece has much to teach us all.
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.