Biola University Launches Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts

Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., is set to launch a center mixing Christianity and the arts due in large part to the vision of renowned philanthropic couple Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, who are considered among the top influential evangelicals in the U.S.

"This new center will seek to celebrate the role and promise of the arts in understanding our world and in representing a version of truth and beauty to a world that stands in need of a reminder," said David P. Nystrom, Biola's provost and senior vice president. "We hope the Center will prompt us to recognize the beauty and brokenness of our world, and to foster within us affection for it while recognizing that it stands in need of the healing that is the promise of God."

The Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts, which plans to have an opening celebration next Friday, grew out of Biola University's first "Year of the Arts" in 2011-2012. As Visionary-in-Residence for that year, Roberta Green Ahmanson contributed to bringing a wide variety of artists and thinkers to the Biola campus.

Lectures, concerts, random acts of culture, art exhibitions and a charette to design a sacred space for a ranch serving men recovering from drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and prison time were all part of that year, centered on the theme "Sanctuary and Sacred Space," Biola officials said.

"We have launched the Center because we believe in the power of art," Nystrom writes in an announcement on the school's website. "It is especially needful, perhaps, in an age prizing immediate and utilitarian visions. Art has the capacity to remind us of who we are, of where we have been, and of that to which we should aspire. It can open before us the long story of human endeavor, of our brokenness and our capacity for beauty and our need for healing and reconciliation. It has the potential to express the deepest truth about ourselves."

He added that, through the Center, the college hopes to afford the Biola community and greater Los Angeles with a wide variety of opportunities to "experience and think about the arts and about that which artistic expression can teach us."

The university program also hopes to encourage younger artists with "visions for the possible" and for accomplished artists to have a gathering space to learn from each other and to grow.

Howard and Roberta Ahmanson have supported the arts for several decades. They have sponsored major exhibitions at the National Gallery in London and at the Hirshhorn Museum at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., according to the university. In addition, Roberta Ahmanson is a member of the Collectors Committee of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. She is a frequent speaker for the International Arts Movement in New York and has spoken about the relationship between faith, culture, and the role of the arts in public life throughout the world.

In 2005, Time Magazine listed the Ahmansons among the 25 "most influential U.S. evangelicals." The Ahmansons make their contributions through Fieldstead and Company, a private philanthropy founded by Howard Ahmanson in 1979.

Biola received a $750,000 grant from Fieldstead and Company to establish the new center.

The opening night event on Friday includes the newly renovated art gallery featuring the show, "Amass: The Paintings of Linnéa Gabriella Spransy." Later in the evening, a formal program will commence outside the gallery featuring Dana Gioia, Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture, USC, and Howard and Roberta Ahmanson. The gallery will be dedicated to Roberta's parents, Earl and Virginia Green.

The event, open for free to the public, will also include a jazz concert on the lawn in the middle of Biola's campus adjacent to the art gallery. Biola professor and renowned jazz musician Rique Pantoja has assembled four other powerful jazz artists to join him. The five musicians – Rique Pantoja, keyboard; Alex Acuña, drums and percussion; Abe Laboriel, Sr., bass; Mike Bagasao, sax; and gospel vocalist, Linda McCrary – share a spiritual and artistic depth as they play across musical idioms encompassing jazz, contemporary Christian, Latin and gospel music forms.

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