What is a Servant Artist?

Someone asked me recently to talk about the idea of being a Servant Artist. I have heard mentors, teachers, and people I look up to teach on this in the past, but this request for me to speak on it made me think hard about what it means to ME.

Growing up, I trained for many, many years to be a professional ballet dancer. Most honest: I think this process both gave me immense tenacity as well as an immense amount of identity crisis. When you pour your entire life into anything other than the Creator, at some point, the cards fall down and you are left with the only thing that was always there…just you and God.

When this identity crisis hit me with all it’s force at age 20, I had to dig deep to remember what was planted in the first place. My whole life had been about developing me, my art, my future in ballet. And if we’re honest, this is where a lot of artists sit: at the table of Self. Don’t get me wrong, there can be great value in developing yourself as an artist and this is quite necessary. However, let’s not stay there.

My name, Abigail, comes from a story where a girl reminds a King losing his temper who he really is and what really matters. This, this one thing, has so defined my life and what I believe a Servant Artist really is. Reminding people of who they really are. At the core of it all…no matter their history, choices, or failures, they are valuable and they have something to say.

The arts have this amazing ability to bring out all the voices in the room. Not just the loud ones but Every. Voice. I’ve watched kids walk into a room silent and scared, believing they had nothing to say that mattered to anyone…and walk out knowing their voice MATTERS. 

This is what I love most about every arts classroom I’ve been a part of: seeing kids, young women, and just PEOPLE discover that their voice MATTERS. 

And this is what I think a Servant Artist is. It’s someone who doesn’t have to be THE one. Someone who can step back and say, “It doesn’t have to be me.” Someone who doesn’t need the credit. Who is more interested in the whole mural than in their one part.

We know that a voice is not just talking…not just singing…and definitely not just yelling. Some of the most powerful voices I know are the ones behind the scenes, doing the work every day even when it’s not pretty or cool or even profitable. Yep, I said it.

And in this world we now live in of international development, I believe this to be more true than ever. In a world where multiple organizations are doing the same work without communicating, we have to examine why we are doing what we are doing. We are all creating an idea of who we are and what really matters to us.

No matter what the work is we are putting our hands to, we need to be doing it in the grace of the Servant Artist, who continually puts down the paintbrush (or the guitar, or the pointe shoes, or whatever it is!) and says “It doesn’t have to be me.”

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