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Urban Grace: The arts place

A church that goes above and beyond to support arts in the community

Pastor Tad Monroe says Urban Grace has a “commitment to the arts.” Photo by Adam Ydstie

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Urban Grace Church is an ecumenical church in downtown Tacoma and it is anything but your average place of worship - this church, headed by pastor Tad Monroe, is intrinsically intertwined with the arts. And just like the Catholic Church patronized the Renaissance greats and filled the streets of Rome with sculptures, Urban Grace is supporting the great artists of Tacoma. Someday, some glorious day, when Tacoma art is the center of a new Renaissance, Urban Grace will have helped to get it there. You may or may not have guessed that this church plays a role in the artistic boom rattling downtown Tacoma, but it does.

"One of our core values as a congregation is a commitment to the arts," says Monroe. "We see that in a lot of different ways. One, it's a commitment to our own context and ethos of worship here as a congregation that we incorporate the arts into what we do. Two, we make an intentional effort to build bridges between the faith community and artists. Three, we're very cognizant of wanting to be a part of the renaissance and development of this neighborhood, with the arts a key part of that."

See, I told you Tacoma was going to be at the center of a new Renaissance. Just give it a couple years and Berninis and Michelangelos will be fricken everywhere in this town.

"With some of the studio arts, the hope is that it will invite people to interact with the art," says Casie Danielson - unofficial director of the visual arts at Urban Grace. "Sometimes that's through movement, sometimes that's through co-creating, sometimes that's through seeing it and co-relating."

Services at Urban Grace often incorporate art on Sundays too. The church has a congregation that is diverse in just about every way, and art serves as a touchstone for everyone who attends services here. Poetry is woven into sermons and sometimes serves as prayer. Where many churches might have a worship team or maybe a pianist, Urban Grace has a number of bands that take part in services, and they play everything from gospel to bluegrass to contemporary Christian to Celtic and traditional hymns. Churchgoers even folded their Lenten laments like origami.

Support for the arts goes way beyond the services at Urban Grace. The gargantuan building houses two gallery spaces that invite artists from most walks of life to show their work. While there are some restrictions as this is a church building (e.g., keep your Kama Sutra art for another venue), these galleries are largely open to almost everyone.

"With the gallery spaces, we don't ask that they are Christian or a member of the congregation," says Danielson. "But we ask that somehow the art fits one or more of our values of faith, arts and community justice."

Other community arts programs use the church spaces as well. Tacoma School of the Arts has classes, rehearsals and showcases in the building. MLK Ballet, Ballet Arts Tacoma and another dance studio called Freedom Dance are all housed here. The Tacoma Youth Symphony uses church rooms for rehearsals and shows; there are several non-church music concerts and events that take place here; and Urban Grace currently sponsors the Tacoma Poet Laureate program.

But still the artistic prowess of this big gray building busts right out of its formidable stone walls and onto other stone walls nearby. In partnership  with Tacoma urban youth art program extraordinaire Fab-5, Monroe and his team spearheaded the mural on the Rialto across the street.

"We had them define the piece knowing it would be a bit controversial as graffiti art, especially on a historic building, but we felt that was the kind of fusion and relationships we wanted to explore," says Monroe. So if indeed the graffitied wall is controversial to you, now you know where to direct your complaints.

"My hope is that everything we do as a church would keep the arts in mind - that's my vision," says Monroe. "Great art really does speak to the human journey and all the questions that we have as human beings. While not all artists are asking the same questions as we are as people of faith, we are asking a lot of the same questions."

Urban Grace — the Downtown Church, 902 Market St., Tacoma, 253.272.2184

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Comments for "Urban Grace: The arts place" (2)

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zach powers said on Dec. 23, 2010 at 4:03pm

Great article about a truly special church. I was really happy to find Urban Grace a few months ago, and the more services I attend the more I come to appreciate its mission

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Coach CB said on Dec. 24, 2010 at 4:48pm

Thanks for the great article Kristin. Urban Grace has been growing and changing a lot over the past couple years. May the church grow to fit the needs of the city and provide justice for all people. And may the city grow to meet the needs of the church and challenge its people.

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