In 1979, artists and recent MTS graduate Catherine Kapikian proposed the establishment of an artist-in-residence program to the Dean, J. Phillip Wogaman, and the President, Jack Knight. Convinced by her passion that theological education was incomplete without the arts, they assigned a modest space under the chapel to use as a studio, and appointed her to teach a two-credit course. The response to the artists that Kapikian invited to join her in the studio, and that first art history course, “Catacombs to Citicorp,” impressed the administration so much that they moved the studio to the large, airy, space in the middle of the Kresge Educational Building where it remains today. In 1983, the new President, G. Douglass Lewis, invited Kapikian to be the founding Director of the newly established Center for the Arts and Religion at Wesley Theological Seminary.
Two years later, during a major overhaul of the curriculum, the faculty included a required that every student take two credits in the arts. All courses that meet that requirement include historical and theoretical aspects of the artform; theological reflection on the practice and reception of the arts; and a sustained, practical engagement with the process of art-making. Choir and other music courses were already available, and the first drama course was added in 1988. Other forms of art were gradually added, and today, students may fulfill the arts requirement by taking courses in a variety of visual art media, drama, or music as well as liturgical dance, poetry and other literary arts, and Biblical storytelling.
The presence of the arts at Wesley became more visible with the creation of the Marjorie and Arthur Dadian Gallery. This museum-quality gallery had its first exhibition in 1989, under the direction of its first Curator, Martin Liberman.
The name of Henry Luce III was added to that of the Center for the Arts and Religion in gratitude for the three Luce Foundation grants over the course of nine years. These grants provided critical seed money and enabled a deepening and expansion of the program. Under Dean Douglas Meeks in the 1990s, the academic work of the center was consolidated into the curriculum as the Program in Theology and the Arts.
In 2009, Catherine Kapikian retired as the Director of LCAR, and was named Distinguished Artist in Residence. President David McAllister-Wilson and Dean Bruce Birch continued the long history of administrative support for the arts, appointing Deborah Sokolove as the new Director.
Today, the Center continues to flourish, offering a Certificate in Theology and the Arts to students enrolled in any of the Seminary’s Masters-level programs; many popular courses in the regular curriculum; annual workshops in dance and iconography open to the wider community; new Artists-in-Residence working in the studio every academic year; at least five new exhibitions in the Dadian Gallery; and frequent lectures, performances, and other events, including the bi-annual Heart the Arts celebration of the students, staff, and faculty members who are also accomplished performing artists.
We believe that the presence of arts will continue to grow in the Church of the future. Increasing numbers of students come to us with a yearning to include the arts in their ministries. Increasing numbers of artists come to us with a yearning to join their art to their faith. The Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion will look for new ways to serve them all with joy and imagination.