In the 1970s–’80s, many artists made Berlin, Germany, their home because moving there exempted them from two years of mandatory military service. Currently, up to 50,000 artists live there.
To meet the spiritual needs of this large population, Alliance workers Mike and Elissa Picconatto, with the help of their partner church in Berlin, started an art gallery called Gallery2. “This art gallery was designed to be a greenhouse: a place where artists can develop and grow their gifts,” Mike says.
The Berlin congregants knew that they wanted to increase their influence in their community, but they hadn’t decided how they would do so.
“We went into [the ministry] backwards. Instead of having a plan and then finding a space to fit the plan, we found these amazing rooms,” Mike says. “So we just moved in and started praying.”
Breaking the Mold
The Picconattos have found unique ways to run their gallery that benefit the artists. Most galleries in their area offer the artist 30–50 percent of the profits and only exhibit a small number of artists.
Thanks to generous donations to the Great Commission Fund, most of the costs of running the gallery are paid off. This allows Gallery2 to give the artist 60–70 percent of the profits.
Mike and Elissa also aspire to “give newer artists a chance as well as giving older artists—who haven’t exhibited in a long time—a new chance” through hosting a wide range of artists’ exhibits unlike other galleries in their area. “We’re rebels in our community,” Elissa says.
Not only is Gallery2 breaking the mold in the community, but it also is changing the way that artists and Christians relate to one another.
According to Mike, the church and artists have not had a well-maintained relationship for quite some time. “When artists started to test boundaries and become more expressive of emotion, the church became very condemning of them,” Mike says. “We’re trying to rebuild bridges between the artist and the Body of Christ.”
Gallery2 has become a place where artists are able to express themselves freely. Those who exhibit their work are encouraged to interact with people about their creations, including a special “Artist’s Talk” where the artists spend half an hour answering questions and talking about their art.
The art displayed in Gallery2 has opened many doors between the art community and the church. “Believing that God made us in His image changes the way that I look at art,” Elissa says. “And I’ve been able to share that with people because art has an ability to quickly cut through the superficial.”
One of the relationships the couple has formed is with their curator, who came into the gallery to have her own work exhibited. She and the Picconattos had long conversations. This led to her saying, “I’d like to help you, but I need to know what you believe first.”
The couple sent her to the Alliance Web site, where she read some A. B. Simpson quotes. She still believes Mike and Elissa are crazy for believing that the Bible is true, but she decided that she could work with them because she agreed with some of Simpson’s ideas.
Her relationship with the couple has allowed many non-Christian artists to be comfortable with exhibiting their work in Gallery2. As a result, Berlin’s art community is slowly being opened to the love of Christ through the Picconattos’ authentic witness. “A lot of things are happening in slow motion,” Elissa says. “But we are building a bridge to people we may never have come into contact with otherwise.”
Read about what another Alliance church did for their artist community during the season of lent.