Public Art on Pilgrim's West Lawn

The young adults at Pilgrim have been participating in a discernment process through the Riverside Innovation Hub since June 2018. The Riverside Innovation Hub (RIH) is a collaborative effort sponsored by Augsburg University’s Christensen Center for Vocation and supported by Lilly Endowment, Inc. The goal of this project is to help congregations innovate new connections with young adults at the intersections of their faith and their public lives.


Public Art Vision

After a lengthy discernment process Pilgrim’s young adults have chosen to use a portion of the RIH-sponsored grant funds to commission a public art piece. We have hired experienced local artists Sandy Spieler and Luisa Cabello Hansel. Sandy and Luisa have proposed an inspiring vision for transforming the west lawn of the Church into an interactive space for contemplative, creative worship and multi-generational engagement. This proposal stood out to our team because this art installation does not center around one object, but makes use of the whole space available to create an immersive experience.


The installation will animate the space by offering a variety of interactive features. Firstly, a spiral path incorporated into the lawn will entice worshipers or passers-by to “journey in and journey out”, inviting meditative contemplation or play. The beginning of the spiral will be blessed with a land acknowledgement to honor the Dakota and Ojibwe grounding of this place. On the brick walls of the church surrounding the lawn a path of mosaic illuminations will be mounted. Each mosaic will represent an aspect of our congregation’s identity or celebrate a partnership, with the intention to foster gratitude for our shared world. The artistic aesthetic will echo the stained glass windows in the sanctuary. Finally, rows of silk-screened flags will be draped around and above the space. These will be emblematic of prayer flags and can be exchanged for different seasons or celebrations.


Community engagement in the artistic creation process will be integral. Public art mosaics are Luisa’s specialty, she has trained and mentored mosaic groups at Edina Community, Holy Trinity, Gethsemane, and Redeemer Lutheran Churches, and guided them in creating public art on their campuses. Luisa’s sentiment is that anything and everything can be mosaic, from a broken piece of pottery to a stained glass window shard. We too are broken pieces and by coming together in community we make a beautiful tapestry. In the coming months the Public Art team will engage with Pilgrim to design mosaic illuminations representing individual gratitudes. We hope to invite members of the Pilgrim community, neighbors, and partnering organizations to help lay tiles for the mosaics, depending on updated COVID safety guidelines. Similarly, design and creation of the prayer flags will be a fun and interactive ongoing activity.



Figure description: Public artists Sandy Spieler and Luisa Cabello Hansel have designed a diorama to visualize the proposed public art piece, including four main elements: A spiral path on the lawn, a land acknowledgement installation (right, pole at the beginning of the spiral), mosaics mounted on church wall, and prayer flags.


The Pilgrimage to Public Art

The Riverside Innovation Hub (RIH) project is rooted in the theology of the Public Church Framework which invites faith communities to move into “their neighborhood’s story, into God’s story, into their own story, and into a time of discerning how God might be calling them to be proclaimers of good news into their neighborhood and with their neighbor.” This process includes four stages: accompaniment, interpretation, discernment, and proclamation. As the young adults worked through these stages over the past three years, we sought to answer questions such as: Who is our neighbor? What are our neighbors’ hopes, dreams and desires for our shared neighborhood? What are the assets and anxieties that shape our faith community’s identity? How can we put God’s story and our neighbors’ stories in conversation with one another?


During this contemplative process, we learned in partnership with an RIH “Innovation Coach” and alongside 15 local congregations that were discerning their own paths in ministry. The four stages were often cyclical and invited us to reflect back on the learnings of previous stages. The young adults distilled our findings into two main themes: a need for a stronger and more deliberate young adult community, and a need to be more visible and inviting in our neighborhood to spark spiritual conversations. These themes grew into two projects: the young adult monthly meeting More Than Happy Hour, and a Public Art installment.


We were drawn to the public art concept because of the abundance of artistic expression woven into Pilgrim’s identity. Our conversations revealed that Pilgrim’s celebration of art attracts many of our new members, whether in the form of visual art, music, poetry, or children’s play. We simultaneously experiment with new ways to worship and preserve traditions. Our innovative services are inter-generational and interactive. But the young adults felt some anxiety that our congregation’s values are not always visible outside the walls of our traditionally-styled, somewhat imposing church in an affluent pocket of Saint Paul. We asked: How can we better engage in conversations with those who do not feel comfortable setting foot in a sanctuary? Public art is our answer.


We assembled a multi-generational Public Art team, composed of six members of the Pilgrim community who are involved in art creation professionally or as a hobby. A consultant from Public Art Saint Paul was hired to help navigate the process of recruiting a public artist and defining a concept. We held a public art engagement event to identify what type of art the residents of Macalester-Groveland neighborhood would like to see and engage with. Nineteen artists responded to our request for qualifications, and we chose four artists/teams to develop proposals for the art piece. Our final decision was to hire Luisa Cabello Hansel and Sandy Spieler, both experienced public artists.


Engagement with Pilgrim Congregation

Now it’s your turn Pilgrims! We are looking for feedback about these public art concepts. We invite you to answer the question: What would be important for you to incorporate in this art?


We are specifically hoping to crowdsource ideas for the mosaic illuminations which will be mounted on the brick walls of the church surrounding the west lawn. Each mosaic will represent an aspect of our congregation’s identity or celebrate a partnership, with the intention to foster gratitude for our shared world.


We are currently hosting opportunities for congregation members to share their ideas and input about the proposed public art project. Thank you to everyone who stopped by our table after the in-person worship service on May 2. There are two more opportunities to connect with our team on May 12 via a Zoom meeting and May 16 in person prior to the evening outdoor service. Please fill out this short google form to share your input.


Photos from the public art project table at Pilgrim's May 2nd outdoor worship.


The Public Art team hosted a forum after Sunday worship on May 9 where they discussed the planned public art piece in more detail. Download the slides from the presentation here.



Public artists Luisa and Sandy are hard at work designing and fabricating mosaics that will be hung along the church wall by the west lawn. The picture above depicts a working mosaic that was constructed to test materials.


June 18 Update

The Public Art committee continues to work with public artists Sandy and Luisa to finalize design components and begin fabrication. Pilgrim members who crafted our Land Acknowledgement statement for worship have become heavily involved in designing the pole component which will represent a visual land acknowledgement as journeyers enter the spiral path. It will likely include phrases of remembrance and honor along the pole, topped with an interactive bird sculpture. This process has sparked great discussions beyond the visual elements of the public art project as we grapple with our responsibility to acknowledge and seek to reconcile the brutal, painful truth of our relationship with the people who called this land home before us. The artists are also collaborating with a metal worker to construct/mount the post, and hope to have it completed by mid-August so that it can be installed as the spiral is installed, which will begin in July.


The mosaic pieces are also taking shape. During the week of June 21, the artists will meet in person on Pilgrim's lawn with groups to assemble some of the mosaics. Groups will include adult leaders, young adults, 6th-12th graders, grade school, preK, and all ages. We look forward to seeing this beautiful art come alive!



Photos from the June 24 young adult public art event.



Flags have been placed around the west lawn to mark the locations where bricks will be installed to create the inlaid spiral labyrinth, one of the key aspects of the public art piece. Stone Mason Richard will be helping Sandy and Luisa install the spiral.