Co-hosted by Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and UNC Asheville

Kimberly Bartosik, "through the mirror of their eyes." Maria Baranova

October 13-16, 2021

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and UNC Asheville convened the inaugural Faith in Arts Institute October 13 -16, 2021. This four-day event brought together acclaimed artists and scholars to explore the intersections of art, faith, and spirit. Public events included a tour of the exhibition Don’t Blame it on ZEN: The Way of John Cage & Friends curated by Jade Dellinger, Director of the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at FSW; film screenings; community workshops; lectures, and more.

The inaugural Faith in Arts Institute was presented by UNC Asheville and Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center with support from the Center for Jewish Studies at UNC Asheville, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, the Henry Luce Foundation as part of their Theology Responsive Grant program, and Bob and Carol Deutsch. Kimberly Bartosik’s participation was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Faith in Arts Insitute Archive

The Faith in Arts Institute was held at UNC Asheville, the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, and was made virtually accessible through Zoom. Below is an archive of select programs offered throughout the institute.

Public Events

Wednesday, October 13

7:30 PM“Religion + Art in the 21st Century,” Aaron Rosen (BMCM+AC + Zoom) – The image of the blaspheming modern artist, trampling on all that is good and holy, never fails to grab headlines.  But while some artists simply aim to shock and offend religious sensibilities, they are surprisingly rare.  Contemporary artists who engage seriously with religious traditions, themes, and institutions are much more prevalent and indeed much more interesting.  It is time to set aside old assumptions about the antagonism between art and religion and look again with fresh eyes. In this lecture, Aaron Rosen, a leading scholar on religion and contemporary art as well as a practicing curator and critic, explores some of the key ways in which artists today are reframing how we think about religion and spirituality and driving new approaches to ethical issues including climate care and racial justice.  Rosen will draw on his popular book on the subject, Art & Religion in the 21st Century, with a special focus on works produced since 2020, in a period of seismic change to our moral landscape.

Thursday, October 14

2:30 PM – “Community and Infinity in the Art of John Biggers and Daniel Minter,” Rachel Elizabeth Harding (UNCA Highsmith Student Union + Zoom) – This presentation will explore thematic parallels in the work of painters John Biggers (1924-2001) and Daniel Minter (1961). Separated by more than a generation, and each with his own unique professional trajectory, these creative artists share Southern roots, diasporic visions, and sensibilities grounded in both the materiality and the mysticism of African American life. 

4:00 PM “Original Zen: Its Art Then and Now,” David Hinton (UNCA + Zoom) – The arts were considered forms of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist practice in ancient China, and mountain landscape played an important part in that practice. Hinton will outline Ch’an insight. Then, starting from that understanding, he will discuss how Ch’an shaped the arts in ancient China, and how it migrated to America in the twentieth century, where it shaped poetry and visual-art in fundamental ways, a process in which John Cage and Black Mountain played a major role.

7:30 PM – Film Screening + Talk: “Testify, Beyond Place,” Testify, Beyond Place pays homage to the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church as well as its relationship to Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC. The year it was made in 2013 marked the 85th anniversary of the process of removal to expand the WCU campus. A marker at Robertson Residence Hall designates the original site of the church and approximately 100 graves. Testify bears witness to this event and provides a context for dialogue regarding social justice and sacred spaces today. Producer/Director – Marie T. Cochran; Cinematography, Sound Design and Original Music – Kevin Slamon; Editing – Kevin Slamon and Marie T. Cochran

Friday, October 15

1:30 PM – Video and Talk: “I Hunger for You,” Kimberly Bartosik (UNCA + Zoom) Guggenheim Fellow and Bessie Award recipient Kimberly Bartosik will stream clips and discuss the process around the creation of I hunger for you, her choreographic work focusing on the need for faith and the collective desire for transformation. Created for a cast of five professional performers and one child, in I hunger for you, deeply internalized forces of faith, violence, life force, and compassion pulse through bodies that exist in a mesmerizing, starkly beautiful, often dangerous world. Defined by light and its absence, the work looks deeply into the heart of the impulse to lose oneself in ecstasy, desire, and searching, riding an edge of barely controlled abandon and vibrating stillness.

2:30 PM – Conversation: Kimberly Bartosik and Christopher Rasheem-McMillan (UNCA + Zoom) Following the screening and discussion, Dance Scholar/Choreographer Christopher Rasheem Macmillan joins Kimberly in a rich conversation around their shared passion for questioning, through artistic practice, embodied pathways towards faith within a critical and compassionate understanding of our contemporary moment.

7:30 PMFilm Screening and Talk: “Theirs is the Kingdom: A Documentary About Poverty and Portraiture,” Chris Zaluski (Haywood Street Congregation | Zoom) – At the intersection of poverty and portraiture, Theirs is the Kingdom follows the rare creation of a contemporary fresco mural inside the sanctuary of a small church in Asheville, NC. This is a painting not of the rich and powerful, but of people battling homelessness, addiction, and mental illness.  From first sketch to final unveiling, the viewer witnesses the difficulties of this ancient artistic technique while also meeting an ensemble cast of complex characters.

Saturday, October 16

1:30 PM – Performance: Music of John Cage – Thomas Moore, piano (BMCM+AC + Zoom) – This performance of solo piano works by John Cage will feature compositions from the 1950s through the 1990s, including the often discussed but infrequently performed 4’33” — Cage’s “silent” piece of 1952 — as well as Water Music (1952), selections from the Etudes Australes (1974–75), and One5 (1990).

2:30 PM – “John Cage’s Lecture on Nothing and Its Inspirational Value for the Visual Arts, Kay Larson (BMCM+AC + Zoom) – John Cage became famous in several ways: By linking his music with Merce Cunningham’s choreography, so that each partner could boldly explore previously unimagined methods of creating. By taking risks with his music in parallel with his urgent quest to envision the qualities of spirit he discovered in Asian practices such as Hinduism and Zen. And by writings that continue, some 80 years after first publication, to provoke and explain by their example. In a recent review of German artist Gerhard Richter’s “Cage Series” of paintings, art critic Jason Farago wrote: “John Cage’s dictum, ‘I have nothing to say and I am saying it,’ could be Mr. Richter’s motto as well.” The phrase comes from Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” perhaps the most radical, most important, and most provocative of Cage’s essays. Published in 1961, in Cage’s first book Silence, “Lecture on Nothing” has much to say to creative artists. The lecture is also beautiful and tough-minded, and worth performing in its own right. In all his work, Cage sought to “get himself out of the way” so that vivid encounters with the world could “make their own art.” These methods are still useful and timely.

4:00 PM – “Displaying the Dharma: Buddhist ‘Art’ and the Modern Museum,” Pamela D. Winfield (BMCM+AC + Zoom) – This talk examines the tensions and tactics involved in exhibiting Buddhist visual culture in modern museum spaces. It first critically examines the ideological divide between sacred and secular that reduced powerful Buddhist icons into aesthetic objects within 19th century Euro-American collections of Asian “art.” However, it then also examines how Japanese Buddhist temples, in particular, persevered through periods of persecution, preservation, and paradox, as they ultimately installed temple “treasure halls” (hōmotsukan) that replicated the very kinds of western-style museums that had pillaged their temple treasures a century and a half previously. If the 19th century transferred the temple out to the museum, then the 20th century transferred the museum back into the temple grounds. The result is that both American and Japanese museums need to be understood as hybrid spaces, where the supposed boundaries between sacred and secular are porous and continually negotiated by diverse audiences.

7:30 PM – Film Screening: “A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff” (BMCM+AC | Ticketed | Free for students/faculty/registrants) – A hybrid of musical memoir and narrative fantasy, “A Kaddish For Bernie Madoff” tells the story of Madoff and the system that allowed him to function for decades through the eyes of musician/poet Alicia Jo Rabins, who watches the financial crash from her 9th-floor studio in an abandoned office building on Wall Street. Fueled by her growing obsession, real-life interviews transform into music videos, ancient spiritual texts become fevered fantasies of synchronized swimming, and a vivid, vulnerable work of art is born from the unique perspective of an artist watching the global financial collapse up close. Directed by Alicia J. Rose

JACK Quartet – World premiere of “Waves and Particles,” by composer John Luther Adams

The world premiere of John Luther Adams’ new composition “Waves and Particles,” performed by JACK Quartet. Presented on the opening night of the 12th annual ReVIEWING Black Mountain College Conference (November 12 – 14, 2021) and commissioned as part of the inaugural Faith in Arts Institute, a partnership between BMCM+AC and UNC Asheville. Video: IamAVL | Audio: Ben Hjertmann

Faith in Arts Conversation Series

In a lead-up to the institute, a series of Faith in Arts conversations have been hosted with a diverse group of artists, curators, faith leaders, and scholars to explore the role of arts in spiritual practice and religious life and the role of spiritual practice and religious life in the arts.

Faith in Arts Chapbook Set

Stemming from the Faith in Arts Institute, we are proud to announce four limited edition chapbooks published in collaboration with Atelier Éditions, including newly released Volumes 3 and 4.


John Cage: Art, Life & Zen is an exploration of celebrated avant-garde composer John Cage and the many ways Zen Buddhism influenced his inventive practice. Featuring Cage’s writings, stories, and artworks, with new contributions from artist Laurie Anderson, poet J Mae Barizo, author Kay Larson, and poet Richard Chess.

Stendhal Syndrome: Art as a Transcendent Experience looks at art’s power to bewitch and offer profound and spiritual experiences, featuring artist-designed chapels across the world, and contributions from author Chloe Aridjis and art historian James Elkins. The term “Stendhal syndrome” was coined by a Florence psychiatrist to describe the strange condition she observed in patients overwhelmed by the artistic wonders of the city.

M. C. Richards: Pots, Poems & Pedagogy conveys M.C. Richards’ life as a creative act, full of wisdom and wonder. Introduced by her longtime friend Julia Connor, this collection brings together a glimpse of the free wheeling artist’s far-reaching practice, from pottery and painting to poetry, pedagogy, and spiritualism. With excerpts from Richards’ writing, an array of her artworks and hand-written ephemera, plus contributions from choreographer Merce Cunningham, writer Sally Chakwin, and artists Grace Villamil, and Jennie Jieun Lee.

The Quiet House: Stillness in Lake Eden chronicles the significance of a small stone house on a peaceful grove in Lake Eden, North Carolina. Built singlehandedly by artist Alex Reed, this structure served as a sanctuary for reflection, frequented by a number of Black Mountain College artists and poets. This collection analyzes the building’s unique history, with photographs by Robert Rauschenberg and Hazel Larsen Archer, works on paper by Ruth Asawa, text from writers Michael Beggs, John ColmanWood, and Ellen Mara De Wachter, and a meditative exercise from Yael Greenberg.