Becky De Oliveira on how the festival helped pull her out of an all-time creative low
I grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist context in which most forms of artistic expression were either ignored entirely or considered mildly suspect. At best, they were a waste of time that could be better spent on other activities. At worst, they were downright sinful. The only truly acceptable art form was music—specifically classical, orchestral music.
But I was fortunate, because even though I lacked any ready-made outlet for my own forms of creative expression (writing, the visual arts and cutting up my clothes), I had lots of support from family and individual church members and teachers who noticed my talents and encouraged me to use them.
They never suggested art and Christianity were mutually exclusive, although I believe many other creative people have been alienated from spiritual life because they’ve been made to feel they must choose. It’s always easy to choose against the place that makes you feel like an outsider. Our church has lost too many good people because it hasn’t always known how to value them.
I came to the Manifest Creative Arts Festival in 2014 as keynote speaker at an all-time low in my own creative life. I was just beginning to come out of a period in which I’d felt enormous self-doubt and inertia. I was not sure whether I could ever create anything again. As is so often the case, I came to Manifest to minister to other people, but I was the one who gained the greatest blessing from the experience.
I needed the collaboration with fellow Christian artists that Manifest provides. I needed to see the gallery of paintings curated by Shelly Poole, to see the beautiful film produced by Pat Arrabito, to read the stories submitted to the contest I helped judge, to listen to Robert Wolfgramm and his collaborators re-create their music, and to hear the amazing work Kylie Stacey does with drums. Jo Darby’s house—filled with her own paintings—brought me inspiration. Gabe Reynaud Award winner Graeme Frauenfelder—whom I first met almost 20 years ago in England—brings a completely fresh approach to the way he thinks and to everything he does; his example gives me strength. The many hours I spent talking about writing with Nathan Brown (all the way from Melbourne to Newcastle in a car) reminded me of why I like to write and why it’s important I continue to try even when my courage fails me. Rochelle Melville’s beautiful art journals have frequently made me wonder why I can’t be as productive as she.
Even before I left Australia, I decided I would return to Manifest in 2015 to experience it as a participant, because I know I will gain creative inspiration from the people I meet. I hope, of course, I can give some of that back to them as well. After all, I am the same person who swore that one day when I grew up and had the power (ha!), I would use it to help those who might need just a little boost of confidence.