Happiness is the theme of the inaugural Ashrei art exhibition currently running at Woollahra Seventh-day Adventist Church in Woollahra, New South Wales, Australia.
In early 2017, church pastor Daniel Przybylko was looking for ways for the Woollahra church to connect with the surrounding community. He decided to start a painting group, as he enjoyed painting himself and knew a professional artist, Christina Rogers, who would be willing to give lessons.
Using the Meetup platform, Przybylko created a group for people interested in taking painting lessons. For AU$30 (about US$22), people could attend a Sunday painting class and enjoy a vegetarian lunch afterward. To his surprise, about 20 people from the community came to the first class.
The classes continued each month with anywhere from 6 to 15 students attending each session. Przybylko then decided that the next step should be to have an exhibition, so that students could display their artwork and members of the community could come in and appreciate it. He also chose to add the incentive of a $AU1,500 (about US$1,088) cash prize, advertised as the Ashrei Art Prize.
While reading a book about the psalms in the Bible, Przybylko had come across the word ashrei and learned that it was a Hebrew word meaning “happy” or “blessed.” He thought it would be a good theme for the exhibition and encouraged entrants to create art that would uplift people and motivate them to live happier lives. He then distributed postcards advertising the exhibition to cafes, art schools, and local galleries.
The Ashrei exhibition was launched on September 16, 2018. Almost 40 artworks were displayed in the main exhibition, including paintings, photographs, and sculptures. In a separate room, people could view copies of paintings featured in the Hope Channel series “Masterstroke,” and screens where they could watch the short films that accompanied the Masterstroke artworks.
“That room is a highlight for me,” says Przybylko. “It added a spiritual dimension to the event.”
Judges voted Eunjoo Jang the overall winner for her painting entitled “You Are Here at the Rocks!” Artists still have the opportunity to win the People’s Choice prize through votes submitted at the exhibition.
As they leave the exhibition, people are invited to join the Woollahra church in doing the Live More Project, a 10-week wellness initiative created by the South Pacific Division region of the Adventist Church. More than 20 people have already registered.
“Around 150 people attended the [exhibition] launch, and most of them were from the community,” says Przybylko. “The reaction I’ve had from church members is that it was an amazing event.”
Przybylko acknowledged that putting the exhibition together was a lot of hard work. “But yes, I’d do it again,” he said. “We live in a community that is interested in art — it makes sense to do it here. I’d encourage every church to think about what their community needs or is interested in. Then do it.”