After the potential placement of refugees caused conflict within the community, a new exhibit at The Phipps Center for the Arts is looking to inspire conversation among community members through art.
The exhibit, "In This Place: What makes a place holy?" features three Twin Cities artists, Sylvia Horwitz, Susan Armington and Hend Al Mansour, representing through their art three of the main world religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The exhibit was proposed about three years ago by the artists themselves, but took on new significance as it was set up this year.
"We could not have known just how this topic would relate directly to some of the things this community is really grappling with right now," Phipps Visual Arts Director Anastasia Shartin said.
Back in 2016, St. Patrick's Church announced it was asked to sponsor several Syrian refugee families, and opened up the decision to debate by its congregation and the community. In December, the U.S. State Department chose to transfer the case, and the refugees settled elsewhere in Wisconsin.
In response to the discussion that surrounded this decision, the artists and The Phipps decided to supplement the visual art of this exhibit with community programming to further foster conversation.
"The conversation that was taking place most definitely influenced then what we wanted to do with this," Shartin said.
These community programs include a lecture on Sacred Spaces in the three religions by University of St. Thomas theology professor David Penchansky on Tuesday, Nov. 7 and a community forum on shared visions featuring four panelists on Thursday, Nov. 9.
"The idea of having a lecture was really so we could learn more," Shartin said.
She said she wants these programs to address the lack of understanding and misunderstanding that may exist around these religions. Shartin hopes to engage people to learn about the similarities and differences between them.
"We wanted to create conversation and bring people together," she said.
And all of it fostered by art.
"I think art is an incredibly powerful tool, or can provide a real catalyst for conversation," Shartin said. "I think it's a really important role that art can take."
Through their art, the three artists explore sacred places within their religions. Horwitz's photography showcases her time in Israel, and the spaces she finds to be sacred. With mixed media paintings, Amrington explores the geography of places in the Middle East like Jerusalem. Al-Mansour's installations feature Mihrabs, the part of mosques pointed toward Mecca where Muslims face to pray, and explores the role of Muslim women.
"It is no surprise that three artists would come together and want to share an exhibit like this," Shartin said.
The exhibit gallery is open through Dec. 3, and public and private tours are available.
"I want them to feel very welcome and invited to come and experience this exhibit," Shartin said.
For more information, visit thephipps.org or contact The Phipps at 715-386-2305.