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Art retreat builds community among students

JACKSON, Tenn.Nov. 15, 2013 – Every fall, the entire Union University art department does something no other department does. All of them – students and professors – go camping together.

It’s not a weekend trip for pleasure, however. It’s the annual art retreat.

This year, the retreat took place Oct. 4-6 at Chickasaw State Park. Lee Benson, the chair of the department, said they have done the retreat for 23 years.

Andrew Clark, junior art major, described the experience as a time that the professors set aside for the freshmen and the rest of the members of the art department to spend some time away from campus and with each other.

Students and professors carpooled for the 45-minute drive to the park on Friday afternoon. The night ended with a homemade dinner, karaoke and ice cream sundaes.

During the retreat, friendships are solidified, Clark said.

“It’s a way for them to promote the community of the department,” Clark said.

That sense of community is vital, said Caitlyn Miller, senior art major, who added that it has been an essential part of her college experience.

“If you’re an artist, you need community,” Miller said.

Benson agreed. “We are really intentional about creating community here, because artists live in community,” he said. “It’s one of the few professions that is community-dependent. It mirrors the Christian life that is also community-dependent.”

“I love being with the people,” Miller said. “Freshman year, it was weird at first, but I ended up making some of the best friends I have at college.”

Each year, a visiting artist attends the retreat to speak to the students and look at their work. This year, Rod Crossman was the visiting artist. Crossman began his career as a realistic painter, but has begun environmental installation work in recent years. Crossman’s wife recently died and he has not been able to make art since then, Benson said.

“I think that Rod was the greatest recipient [at the retreat],” Benson said. “I think he came here and experienced Christ’s balm in these young kids.”

Saturday, the students split up into groups of 12 to make installations out of found objects from the campsite. Later in the day, the students, Crossman and Benson walked around the campgrounds to look at and discuss the pieces.

That evening, a local band performed. After that, some of the students presented slides of their work. The final event of the evening was the Lord’s Supper.

“Saturday night is a time where we come together and worship and have communion and pray with each other,” Miller said.

The retreat ended on Sunday morning with devotional time. Nan Thomas, associate director of faculty development, gave this year’s devotional. She spoke on 1 Corinthians 13 and love.

This time of bonding and rest is a key moment in art students’ time at Union, said Julia Hembree, a senior art major who has made lasting friendships during the event.

“One of the best parts is that you make great friends,” Hembree said. “This year, I’m excited to hang out with my friends, but I’m also excited to meet and hang out with the freshmen.”

Benson said the retreat is a time to refocus. “It reaffirms in each one of these students the validity of Christ’s call into the arts,” he said. “It reaffirms their commitment to the trade. The end goal is to acknowledge God and bring him glory and to find others to bring him glory as well.”

By Kathleen Hartsfield ('14)


Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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