Beyond art: Artists (and everyone) welcome at Stone Village Church's art gallery

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

When looking for thought-provoking, often envelope-pushing artwork, church probably isn't the first place one thinks of. Stone Village Church in Italian Village is going to change that.

"We do this with a degree of intentionality, try to push the envelope. Stone Village is first a faith community, but clearly a non-traditional faith community in a non-traditional space. So the art that we celebrate and exhibit is just as non-traditional, edgy and unexpected as we are," said Pastor John Wooden, who acts as co-curator of the gallery along with local artist and Stone Village patron Sonya Lucas.

Stone Village is not a typical church. As its website states, "We are a church that is audacious. We are a church that is relevant … every human being is invited to be a real part of the church, regardless of background, belief, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, age or any of the other categories people use to separate or exclude."

How does a church's ethos represent it as an art gallery? That Stone Village exhibits a new local artist every month speaks to its dedication to the community. But the rationale behind the exhibitions involves more.

"Stone Village is a church developed to reflect the community where it lives. So we wanted to have the space where local artists could be seen," Lucas said sitting with Wooden in his office after Sunday services. "The other component is the Short North has changed so much. It doesn't feel like it's open to all, in terms of the art world. We have so many wonderful artists in this city … but they don't seem to have a lot of opportunity to show and be celebrated."

When Stone Village opened in March 2012, Wooden asked friend and artist Chris Rankin to hang some pieces for the event. Once the paintings were on the wall, Wooden saw a gallery he never wanted empty.

From that moment, Stone Village was a gallery as well as a place of faith, something Wooden never envisioned initially but fit perfectly with the church's community-oriented objective.

"Then we started to hone how we were going to use the space and the exhibits each month, not just to convey Stone Village's identity, but our support of the artistic community in the core of Columbus," Wooden said.

It didn't take long for word to spread and local artists to embrace Stone Village as a gallery. Lucas said she's seen more people come for opening receptions during Gallery Hop, despite its location away from High Street.

Art enthusiasts and patrons now know Stone Village is a place to check out during the first Saturday of each month (when it's open to the public, all other viewings are by appointment). As artists saw they could reach a committed audience they took notice as well. And Stone Village's gallery policy made exhibiting there even more enticing.

"The focus here, unlike traditional galleries, isn't really on the sales as far. It's more about community building. When we have artists come, we're just sharing that experience with an audience, not trying to push the sales of the work. If sales happen, that's awesome. We're not trying to schlep the work to get our percentage. We just really want to understand the work, and [let] the experience be about … how these ideas that we're putting on the walls relate to people's lives," Lucas said.

At the end of the day, Stone Village Church is only about supporting and embracing its community, and the best way to do so is through art.

Stone Village Church

139 E. Second Ave., Italian Village