The 5th Annual Oak Street Art Show offers celebration and a much-needed dose of inspiration for one young man.
It was sometime in the winter of 2013 that I found myself caught in a position of personal confusion. A stressful year of academics and tumultuousness had left me tired and ready for a break from being a theater student. I surrendered to this perfect storm of stress, quit school and headed back into my parents’ house in Silverton, OR. Not long after moving back there, I was invited to an art show by a friend at the Oak Street Church. Though I hadn’t spent much time perusing art galleries due to my theatrical interests, I expected that the decision to partake would probably do me some much needed good.
I was greatly delighted to find that my decision paid off in ways that I had not expected at all. I drove my car into the rainy downtown confines of a parking lot, opened the red doors to the church, and was almost immediately rejuvenated. I assumed it would be a casual event, but I opened the doors to the discovery of something totally alive.
Oak Street Church sits immediately at the bottom of a steep hill at the entrance to Silverton, my hometown. It’s one of many churches in this small town, home to a highly diverse array of faith communities. Its doors, under the giant tree bearing its namesake, greet visitors and newcomers with a sign displaying the words “All Welcome” many days of the year.
The church hallway extends into a single large room packed with crowds, ten foot tall metal stands displaying many different pieces of artwork, and a raised concert stage where musicians played hard. The artists mingled together, either examining one another’s work or enthusiastically moving to the rhythms of a band. Fantastic music filled the space with songs about friendly alien dogs, bird years, and being dedicated to yourself at times of uncertainty. T-shirts were sold, witty buttons were fastened to snapback hats, and drinks were poured. My exhaustion found a sense of place in that moment. It’s one I’ll never forget and I returned home feeling inspired, a feeling I’d been lacking for a long time.
Three years down the line from my first visit, Oaks Street continues to host its annual show. As is the usual procedure, the show’s coordinator, John Friedrick, sends a personal message on Facebook describing the year’s theme and a deadline for pieces to all corners of the talented, multi-generational Silverton art community. This year’s central theme was the ecology and animal loving Patron Saint Francis of Assisi.
One of the many powerful things happening at this church-based show is the way a range of age groups are coming together to produce and celebrate modern contemporary art forms in a spiritual setting that is radically different from your typical concert or gallery. Ings, a Seattle based band who makes the difficult drive to Silverton every year, is always a welcome sight. The alternative Lullaby rock band writes and produces songs detailing wonderfully eclectic and bubbly themes that have an amazingly progressive and urban feel to them. The music is original, modern, and celebratory, bringing a new meaning to what I traditionally think of when associating church with music.
It’s a professional concert in a community setting, which provides an amazing new feel. Oak Street’s art show is also unique in that it is coordinated as a community wide event where literally anyone can put a piece on display within the creative parameters of a provided theme. Professionals, students, adults, parents — even four year old children — display their work all together. Adding to the sense of community integration, the show is often catered by local restaurants or community members and features a number of local musicians who pick and select sections of music from many genres.
It stimulates my creative excitement to see more of this alternative experience find its way into the places people come to worship their experiences of life and God. John Friedrick, one of the show’s main coordinators and an architect behind much of the work being done at the church, collaborates heavily on the central theme of the show and is a driving force within Silverton’s creative community. He has brought culture, eloquence, and real style into a small town art scene in a highly progressive way that is both spiritual and alternative.
Each year the show’s contestants work with a central theme to begin the creative process. Like the concert portion of the show, what’s being created here is liberal and open-ended. Artists who work here have freedom from rigidness and judgement and are embraced for who they are and what they are capable of becoming. As a participant in the show several years ago, I remember submitting a piece that was personal to me, and feeling uneasy about how the work might be interpreted in a religious setting. This however, turned out to be a false impression and during the show, this fear was extinguished entirely.
Not only is this show creatively open-minded and accepting, it is also organized in a way that gives people the opportunity to execute a task within the boundaries of the theme they are given. A typical theme might be describing and expressing personal journeys and reflections of spiritual discipline and how it relates to being yourself. It is a free and nonjudgmental environment. If you want to create art here, whatever your personal background, you know you’ll feel welcome to do so.