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This group is on a mission to help Catholic artists


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Ray Cavanaugh - published on 12/12/20

The Catholic Artist Connection supports both artists who create sacred art and those whose art isn't overtly spiritual.

Catholic actor and theater producer Cole Matson came to New York City in 2015 on a “mission to serve artists.” For one year, he talked with as many Catholic artists as possible, seeking to gain insight into their needs.

He then joined forces with the director and playwright Emily C.A. Snyder, and they decided to produce a newsletter to inform Catholic artists about the projects of their peers, along with telling them about opportunities and events. “A lot of artists were doing good work, but didn’t know about each other and felt isolated from a wider community of Catholic artists,” Matson says.

The first issue, which appeared in May 2016, marked the start of the Catholic Artist Connection. Based in New York City, the CAC currently has a total of 650 members. About 25% are from the NYC region, but more than half the members come from other areas of the U.S., and there is also a sizable number (about 15%) of international members.

The “Artist” in Catholic Artist Connection covers the whole spectrum of literary, visual, and auditory creation: stained-glass window makers, sculptors of holy icons, church organists, you name it. “We purposely have raised a big tent, with the intent to be a home for artists of every discipline,” says Matson.

The majority of members are in their 20s and 30s, but a good number are significantly older, and there are even octogenarians.

Many of the members – some of whom include clergy and seminarians – create highly spiritual art, while others partake in secular art. Matson points out how there are several other organizations that support the sacred arts, but not many groups that “support the artist as a Catholic, whether or not their art has any overt faith content.”

Matson tells how many Catholic artists working in a secular domain can find themselves in quite a bind. They “are not always supported by the Church, whose members can treat them with suspicion, assuming they’re guilty by association with the ‘den of sin’ that is Hollywood or modern art.” Such artists might even encounter a barrier of “fortress Catholicism” from coreligionists dismissing their work as “heretical.”

At the same time, the art world “can often assume that they are not real artists, but only … out to proselytize. There’s an assumption that art made through the lens of faith must be bad art.”

They might also feel isolated from their peer group. Matson tells of artists sharing the “common experience of feeling like they were the only Catholics they knew working in their discipline.” He mentions one Broadway actress who “could go over a year before meeting another Catholic in a cast, and she often found other Catholics by noticing a surreptitiously hidden rosary or cross, and asking them about their faith.”

Along with connecting on a spiritual level, most CAC members feel the greatest benefit is the weekly newsletter, which broadcasts “opportunities and events of interest to Catholic artists from around the country and the world,” Matson relates. “We’ve had actors find jobs, artists get commissions and gallery shows, writers get their first publication, people find housing, and artists find new collaborators and friends through the newsletter.” He adds, “It’s also encouraging just to see what fellow Catholic artists are doing around the world each week.”

The CAC has occasionally hosted retreats and face-to-face socials, but these events are on hiatus due to the pandemic. However, the group has recently launched weekly Artist Office Hours (held through the Zoom online videoconferencing platform).

“Artists can drop in each week,” Matson says. They can “share their joys, challenges, and prayer requests,” along with seeking advice.

In 2021, the CAC aims to revamp its website and will also seek to establish “regional welcoming committees” both in the U.S. and abroad. This way, Matson says, “artists who are moving to a new area can immediately hook into the local Catholic artist community.”

Becoming a member is as simple as signing up for the newsletter, and there are currently no membership dues. Matson relates the CAC covers its operating costs “almost entirely through individual donations.”

The group does not yet have a physical clubhouse, “but if anyone wants to offer space, we’d be happy to talk with you,” Matson says.

In the meantime, his organization will continue to serve both art and faith by nurturing the aesthetic and spiritual lives of its members.

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