By Bronagh Daly, Faith and Creativity Lead LCI

SPARK Social Justice logoFaith and creativity are interconnected in helping us to discuss and convey hard to explain messages. Whether it is the banner on the protest march, or the font type we choose to promote a retreat, we would be hard pushed to find a faith or justice movement where creativity isn’t utilised to lead people towards change. Before we were literate, we communicated the gospels through illustrations of the saintly and heavenly in stained glass windows, crosses and icons. Bringing the ‘Good News’ to a wider audience can take courage. Creativity takes courage.

Young people who attended the SPARK Social Justice and Leadership event at Leeds Trinity University explored the values and traits needed to lead through conversations with activists, theologians and justice practitioners, set to the backdrop of a pop-up art exhibition curated by myself as the Faith and Creativity Lead at Leeds Church Institute.

Artwork included ‘Journey to the Manger’, an illustration by graphic artist, Luke Walwyn, depicting the many obstacles Mary had to overcome on her 90 mile journey to Bethlehem most likely by foot set in a modern context here in the busy Kirkgate Market. The artwork was created as a reflection on the reality of young women who arrive in Leeds, with no accommodation and are confused and isolated. The artwork helps us to explore themes of asylum, migration and maternity streams of sanctuary here in Leeds.

Also featured in the exhibition, young people interacted with a movable felt installation by textile artist Pippa Woodhams. Her work, featuring felt making in three dimensional and geometric shape, uses natural fibres of wool, colour and layers. The felting process takes time, it is contemplative. It encourages metaphor and is deeply connected to our understanding of spirituality with the circle and sphere. Pippa’s work is tactile and beautiful, and encourages the onlooker to play around with perspective and allows us to pick things up, and view them from a different perspective, spatial skills crucial to strategic planning, management and leadership.

Freda Shafi’s two pieces included a sketch of her mother’s allotment where she grew coriander, scarce when she arrived in Yorkshire from Pakistan in the 1960s, when migrants were encouraged to assimilate. Her mother grew a bounty of coriander, enough to share with her Sikh, Christian and Jewish neighbours, inspiring Freda’s work on ‘Food, Faith and Unity’. Accompanying the sketch of the allotment where the coriander grew, a photograph of her mother’s elderly hands are seen holding a plate of coriander dahl, a dish which was shared with friends and family over the decades. Freda’s work helped the young people at the leadership and justice session to explore the myth of scarcity and offer an opportunity to reflect on the concept of a liturgy of abundance. The art exhibition allowed conversation on poverty, food banks and racial justice. Difficult social justice issues, discussed with art as the conduit.

Human beings are visual learners, and in listening to the young people at the LTU  session, I was able to sketch in graphic note taking form, three A2 posters during the event, acting as a legacy image for the session, which can easily be re-used at further listening sessions as a dynamic record of what was spoken by the young people present. (click here to see one of the images in the main post about this event)

Faith and creativity in action helped us to learn as a faithful city and allowed the young people at the event to see how powerful photography, drawing, graphic design, textiles and illustration can be as a leadership tool to challenge the status quo.

Leeds Church Institute is a faith based charity with a mission of resourcing Christians, churches and faith organisations to learn as a faithful city for the benefit of all.

Grants are available for Christians, churches and faith organisations to host art exhibitions, contact me at for more information about bursaries and support available.