“Strange collection,” I thought. We were gathered in the common room at Sarum College on Friday night for the opening of their latest art exhibition. Canapé in hand; a strange purple non-alcoholic smoothie in a glass. “Not a very auspicious start to a Friday night,” I thought.
Keith spoke first. He welcomed us in a few carefully-chosen words on the subject of Sanctuary, the title of the exhibition. He spoke about Cathedrals and churches as safe havens in the past. Of sanctuary today taking on a wider meaning –places from which one could go out into the world, refreshed and better prepared. Of Sarum College, an ecumenical centre for Christian Study and research giving believers and unbelievers alike a sanctuary in which they can nourish their spirit.
Then John spoke; a leading and established sculptor some of whose works currently adorn the Close. He spoke about the men without whom his works could not be created – of quarrymen with knowledge, understanding and respect for stones who provided him with the raw material for his works. Of masons who cut and shaped and finished his designs. Of those who provided a home for his finished work. Giving them new life; sending them out into the world to inspire and confront and refresh. Of his art coming alive through others hands.
Then Susan spoke, an artist in her own right who for the last year has been working with a group of residents from Morning Star Salisbury, a charity giving support to those struggling with homeless and addiction. She spoke about those attending her classes discovering creativity and self-expression for the first time, about people whose lives had been hardened discovering a sense of fun, about creativity in collage – giving materials thrown out their own new life.
And finally Sharon – a volunteer and former resident from Morning Star. She spoke movingly about how she had discovered value in herself through art, about how it taught her that her creations didn’t have to perfect to be of value, loved and appreciated.
Distinctive speakers for a distinctive audience: staff and guests from a Christian College, the odd librarian from a conference in search of the bar, Artists, recovered alcoholics whose art was now on display alongside an Acadamician, Close residents, seekers of spiritual truth, passers-by, neighbours, hangers-on, a Canon or two from the Cathedral and Bill from the Journal.
Would we ever have met under other circumstance? What could ever have brought us all together to talk, listen and discover. Yet here we were. The opening of the exhibition provided the occasion. The audience and speakers provided the real collection.
So much of our time is spent with people who are just like us. At work. At home. With Friends. Who confirm that our world view is correct. Friday night was quite special and quite different. Each of us was given a glimpse into someone else’s world. Turned out it was a very auspicious start to the evening, after all.