A ministry in the diocese of Edmonton is practicing the art of community.
Bleeding Heart Art Space is a gallery and community space in Edmonton’s inner city. Partnered with St. Faith’s Anglican Church, the space acts as a bridge both between artists in the community and the worlds of art and faith.
“I’ve also always had a passion to see creativity strengthened in the church,” says Dave Von Bieker, arts chaplain of Bleeding Heart Art Space and St. Faith’s Anglican Church. A singer-songwriter, Von Bieker long struggled with the tension between his faith and his artistic practice. “I felt like my art would have to suffer for my faith, or my faith would have to suffer for my art, one or the other.”
His aim is to bring faith into artistic spaces and help other artists “who might feel that same dichotomy…to discover that God is creative, after all.”
The gallery is situated on Alberta Avenue, one of Edmonton’s oldest neighbourhoods. An area known for crime, drugs and prostitution, it has been undergoing a revitalization thanks to the arts community, spurred by local organization Arts on the Ave, and has become known for its galleries and yearly arts festivals.
Bleeding Heart began in 2012 as a project of Pentecostal church plant Urban Bridge Church. When the church dissolved in 2014, they struck up a partnership with St. Faith’s, which is across the street. Von Bieker’s role is to help integrate the two communities. On the first Sunday of every month, he runs a Bleeding Heart Service, an arts-infused liturgy that incorporates the gallery’s current work as well as music, poetry and interactive artistic elements.
The gallery does not receive financial support from St. Faith’s, relying on private donations and some art sales. An outdoor installation in 2016 by the Rev. Lori Calkins, which was facilitated by the art space and the diocese’s Indigenous Ministries, received a grant from the Anglican Foundation of Canada.
For Pam Baergen, Bleeding Heart’s artistic director, the gallery’s greatest impact is in creating a community with space for both faith and art. “There are many artists who feel on the fringes of Christian community, or they just don’t feel like their gifts can be used.”
The gallery works hard to walk the line between inclusivity and striving for excellence, Von Bieker says. While Baergen’s role is to ensure gallery programming matches the project’s mission, exhibit selections are made by jury. The space allows for six to eight shows per year (though in the past year they received upwards of 30 submissions), and balances selections among five categories: social justice, liturgical, community, emerging artist and professional artist.
Exhibits offer meaningful opportunities to engage with the neighbourhood. The annual Open Walls exhibit, styled after an “open mic” night, allows anyone, regardless of experience or age, to submit one piece of artwork.
On one occasion, the gallery curated a show of works by 70-year-old community member Bernice Caligiuri. “She’s always making some kind of different craft or art,” Von Bieker says. “And she always has a camera with her, so she’s always walking around taking photos of everything. You’ll literally be at an event, and you’ll be getting coffee or something, and she’ll just walk up out of nowhere and give you two or three photos of yourself.” The show featured dozens of photos taken in the neighbourhood over the past 10 years as well as acrylic paintings, sculpture and poetry. It was a healing moment. “Her husband had died almost 10 years ago. And it was, from what I understand, a fairly oppressive relationship…Once he passed away, she really found art as a way to open up and express herself.”
Bleeding Heart also hosts regular “ArtLucks” in which participants each bring a piece of artwork and a dish to share. “It’s kind of show and tell for adults for a couple of hours,” says Von Bieker. “Quite often because people’s artwork is so intensely personal, and often intensely spiritual, the conversation will go to really deep places just all on its own. People start to encourage each other.”
The gallery offers an opportunity to open up conversations of many kinds. “We’re hoping that through what we exhibit, people can come into conversations about art and faith and justice and hope, even to bring up to some questions that we have related to faith,” says Baergen. The gallery does not specifically seek religious work, though she says “there are some aspects of religion and religious imagery in some of the shows we book.”
For an upcoming project, Baergen will be creating ties between churches within the diocese through commissioned pieces from local women artists based around women who appear in the gospel stories. She hopes to partner with churches to sponsor some of the commissions, as well as tour the final artworks to local churches.
“Artists sometimes have a hard time in the church, because the nature of art is, I think, to ask questions, and to pull things apart, and to investigate, right? And to push boundaries. Whereas, often the nature of our faith communities is very opposite to that. It’s a lot more about answers, and things that are comfortable, and tradition,” says Von Bieker. However, he believes in the ability of art to foster conversation and change minds. “Art has this really amazing power to kind of get behind our barriers, and sneak up on us with questions, and beauty, and meaning; stuff that we may not be expecting when we just walk in the door.”
Bleeding Heart Art Space recently moved to a slightly larger, second-floor space next door to its original location. Renovations are ongoing, as the gallery hopes to raise funds to install a community bar and open the space for co-working during the day.