La Fonderie: Helping Christian Artists Find Their Place in France

Beginnings of La Fonderie
La fonderie is a ministry officially launched in the fall of 2002. It is, on the one hand, a natural response to a growing number of relationships with artists in Paris and around France; on the other hand, it is a step into the arena in which the synthesis of faith, art, and culture is not only theoretical, but also pragmatic and existential. The people in la fonderie are Christians working in artistic and creative professions, and the focus is on the individual in his or her art form, from music and dance to web design and architecture to poetry and film. La fonderie seeks “to value, inspire, encourage, and embolden” these artists.

In the first year we organized a series of artist gatherings—weekly meetings over a period of several weeks, with a short weekend retreat in the middle of each series. Each evening began with a meal and included some combination of creative expression, teaching, or storytelling; brief worship; and small-group discussion, response, and prayer. Included were debates and panel discussions, presentations of work by participating artists, and guest speakers from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

  
With notable exceptions, the French Protestant
Church is generally non-receptive to the integration
of art into the life and public expression of
faith and worship.

Alongside these gatherings, which have taken different forms throughout the years, we pursue and build relationships with believing artists, many of whom have no real sense of belonging in a local church structure or the larger community of faith. With notable exceptions, the French Protestant Church is generally non-receptive to the integration of art into the life and public expression of faith and worship, and at least passively inhospitable to artists who are often dissatisfied with its forms of expression and worship, traditions, and even its spirituality. Participants have included those strongly committed to a local church; those who are believers but not connected to a particular church; spiritual seekers; as well as Buddhists, Jewish, Muslim, and atheist artists.

Community of Committed Christians
We find a wide and positive response to the creation of a community of artists who have as their common ground a commitment to work as Christians in culture, as a part of culture, to listen and understand the real and perceived needs and questions of a secular society, and respond with art that communicates the heart of God and the full range of human experience. These artists struggle less with the content and subtlety of their communication than they do with ways of finding the means to produce the level of professionalism and excellence that is the obvious prerequisite for having a voice among the other voices in culture.

The minimum that the community of faith must provide is the spiritual and moral support that can enable the artist to stretch deep into culture, to take risks, to innovate and create, and to explore and express their vision with confidence. To value and encourage artists is to give freedom to interact with what they see and experience and understand of life, an expression of a worldview informed and shaped by their faith in Christ. This will bring them into confrontation with secular, post-modern culture, but they must not be seen as tools to speak to “the world.” Artists also have much to bring the church, including fresh messages of redemption, confrontation, repentance, reconciliation, and justice.

The French context is perhaps not unlike many others concerning the Church’s material and financial support of artists and their work. The existence of a “market” for work produced by Christians and for Christians allows the Church in the U.S. and other primarily English-speaking countries to support artists without the financial risk associated with avant guard and “confrontational” art. In those contexts, artists sing the songs, draw the images, and write the novels and plays of the church. The creation of these kinds of music and worship projects is certainly a valid and important role of the arts: God gives gifts to his people, and those gifts are for the Body of Christ. But they are also for the world, to bless and give hope.

In France, the artists with whom we are working are almost exclusively focused on doing their art as a part of culture, not as outsiders concerned with finding a way to market or sell a message contained in the art. It is true that clear communication of Christian spirituality may close doors in galleries, concert venues, production houses, and employment in certain firms. Yet by grace, excellence and innovation provides opportunity. We are committed to encouraging and walking with artists as they pursue training and excellence in their art, and to do so we organize ministry around their lives, helping them grow strong in the Lord and live revolutionary lives characterized by devotion to Christ.

Le Pave D’Orsay and Other Outcomes of La Fonderie in France
In 2006, la fonderie opened an arts space called le pave d’Orsay in the heart of Paris. This space provides an important tool for creative support, artistic exposure, and dialogue with culture. Primarily conceived as a non-commercial gallery, it is also extensively used as a small performance space for music and theatre. Currently, the activities of la fonderie, led by a French and international team, are focused in three areas:

  • the artists’ gatherings, which have evolved and take various forms, including conferences and discussion groups;

  • le pave d’Orsay schedules visual and performing arts events and continues to develop as an arts and cultural space serving artists; and
  • a broader group is seeking its identity as a community of faith not made up only of artists, but one in which creativity is seen as a natural result of spirituality.

Still, the focus of la fonderie is on the artist: his or her journey as an artist and as a follower of Christ. In the context of intense diversity of experience and expression, the community of artists in Paris continues to morph and evolve. We remain committed to creating space for artists to gather, to be together, to (re)connect with God, and to innovate and create culture.


Jim Beise is the founder and executive director of la fonderie. He is currently living in the U.S. with his wife and children, traveling often to Paris. Beise occasionally blogs at http://blueinfragments.blogspot.com.