The Backstory of Creative Tithing

I’d like to tell you a story about tithing. It’s a story about how Sarah and I stumbled into an ancient practice and over time, with others, discovered this spiritual practice’s capacity to reshape the way we look at the funding and creation of art.

This story is also an invitation for you to join us in the exploration.

Although tithing is millennia old, Sarah and I really started to step into it, in a non compulsory way, in the early 2000’s. We were living in Hollywood, and had just left the lovely Presbyterian church we had been attending. After we left that familiar structure, we bought a map of Los Angeles, outlined the word "NUM, BERS" across the gridded page, shaded the rest of the squares, and then spent months randomly selecting and visiting churches within each letter. This process lasted a couple of years.

This is, apparently, how Sarah and I follow God.

During this period, because we no longer tithed to a specific congregation, we began to explore what we called "creative tithing." What it meant back then was that we would give a tenth of our income to artists whose work we felt moved to support. We would prayerfully discern who we would approach, and if they were willing, we would offer our tithe to their art practice. It wasn't much, but it was something. Some artists worked on a project, some paid bills, some bought materials. Everyone was different. It was a joy.

For years we thought about sharing and expanding this process with others, but it never moved past the casual conversation every once in a while. There was, however, a seed.

We moved from L.A. to Detroit in 2012, and our time in this new city has profoundly transformed us as people, and by extension, our creativity. In L.A., we had become used to viewing our art career as a vertical trajectory, but that perspective slowly changed as we realized that Detroit didn't have the same creative infrastructure. For better and for worse, there was no "up" to ascend to, no big shots to impress. Over the decades, the city's creative life had been configured differently. The shape was powerfully horizontal. Nobody was going to get you famous in Detroit, at least not like they could in L.A. This reality led to a dramatic shift in my thinking about art: If I'm not making art to get famous, or to blow up, or to make more and more money...why do I make art?

Thank you, Detroit, for this question.

Let me take a pause to give you a little 2011, after years of frustration with the separation of faith and art that existed in my culture, in a fit of spiritual loneliness, I actually...literally... with real fingers on a real keyboard and a pained earnest furl in my actual brow, googled, "Where the fuck are the Christian artists??"

Ok now flash forward to 2015.

Enter ONE.

ONE is a collective of faith-based artists. As a community, we explore art through God and God through art. Instigated by Yvette Rock, we've been meeting every other week for more than four years.

Because ONE is a group of artists who explore faith and art, it makes sense that we would explore faith inspired models of arts funding and distribution. How we seek to make money affects the art we create.

Reenter the creative tithe.

Recognizing that the current model of an art career is broken, outdated, and works for so few people, a few members from ONE met for half a year and discussed, prayed, and wrestled with what it would look like to apply the economics of Jesus to the art market.

Many religions tithe, the Jewish tithe has proven itself a powerful spiritual/economic model for thousands of years, and Jesus spoke on money more than anything else. We want to mine these economic principles and see how this alternative perspective can create a more equitable and accessible art community.

So now, in 2019, three artists from ONE are going on a journey to find out what happens when you accept tithes to support your practice and then give your work away for free.

Our model now looks like this: a tenth of a tenth (1%) of a person's income is given to an artist’s practice, the work made is then given and shared as a gift.

Groups of two or three creative tithing artists will fundraise together to remind us that we are supposed to look out for each other. Once the preset amount of their practices are covered, any additional support will be directed toward other creative tithing artists. In doing so, we look to support a system of art making that strengthens the type of horizontal community that we have experienced in our city.

We want to, as a creative tithing community, open up and reconfigure the front and back end of the creative process. On the front end, what new influences would be allowed to enter into a work if the work didn't have to limit itself to what was sellable to communities with purchasing power?

And on the back end, if the work, because of the support of tithers, is given away without cost, who now can receive art that wouldn't be able to otherwise?

There is still so much to explore and figure out. As we launch this iteration of creative tithing, there are only two groups to support: Upended Teacups (Stefanie Cohen and Corey Gearhart) and myself. We hope over time, there will be many more in many different communities.

The more horizontal the art community, the more we realize that art doesn't start or end with the artist. Your support and ideas are going to be how this thing becomes anything interesting or beautiful in the world.

Peace and thanks,


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