headshot_j nygren

Life, art and loving the Lord… Justin Nygren’s story

July 26th, 2011 at 6:00 am

To create, to participate in art is an act of “mingling with God,” according to Justin Nygren, former pastor and co-founder of Dallas-based Art Love Magic. Creating, at its essence, is a way for faith to meet real life.

“If I don’t create, I die inside. I find myself going crazy. I find myself losing touch with my relationship with God. I find myself slipping. It’s bread in a sense to me, almost on a level of the discipline of studying the scriptures. It’s an act of co-creation and mingling with God.”

For Justin, his journey in creating and engaging faith started back when he was in high school. Growing up in a single parent home and struggling through school, Justin was far from God, wrapped up in drugs, partying, depression and thoughts of suicide.

Then he encountered Christ and everything changed.

“I found myself literally taken from one world to another,” he said. “My old world was very free and loosie goosy and about partying. And then I found myself in southern Baptist life. I really did have a change of heart and become passionate about spiritual things.”

As he began to experience faith and church, he desired to go deep and “wanted more out of my faith than just going to church on Sundays.”

By 1994 when he had turned 20 years old, he had taken the pastorate at First Baptist Church in Presidio while he was attending Sul Ross University in Alpine. He worked with a few other churches during his time in school. But after meeting and marrying his wife, they moved to Dallas where they soon felt the call in 1999 to help with a church plant in the area, Mars Hill Church.

Justin led worship for the church plant and worked with two other men to lead the church. Eventually, Justin and his wife stepped up to be the main leaders of the church. Through the years of being a pastor, art resonated deeply with Justin, but he didn’t have much time to focus on this passion and calling, knowing at that time God had called him to shepherd this group of people.

“At that time, I felt like I had to set my art [music, photography and producing live art events] aside to study the scriptures and lead the church and be in the left side of the brain. I know this is what I should be doing but I feel like I can’t breath,” he said.

Then reality hit. Justin, his wife, 11-week old daughter and a friend were driving back to Texas from a worship song writing retreat in Colorado in January 2006 when they hit a patch of ice on the road while driving 75 mph. Their car spun out of control and flipped end-over-end before landing in the opposite lane of traffic. By the grace of God, they walked away with some bruises and scratches, but that was it, Justin said.

“That was the defining moment for me when I came face-to-face with mortality,” Justin said. “We ended up talking as a church and agreeing that God was done there, not done with us as people, but done with us as an intentional community. It was time to just go out and live what we have learned the past few years.”

It was time for creation to take a more prominent place in Justin’s life. At the same time the church agreed God was moving them all in a different direction, Justin was approached by Dave Rodriguez, a family friend and former co-leader of Mars Hill, about helping start a local arts organization that would help connect “the staggering amount of artistic talent in the Dallas area that was going unrecognized or undeveloped.”

Justin felt this was the next opportunity the Lord had for him and his family so he joined with Dave Rodriguez and Michael Lagocki in January 2007 to form Art Love Magic, so named to gave a special vision, specific message to the efforts they were taking. Justin, a live event producer, musician and photographer, said that his focus became “creating events and spaces for artists to shine.”

“When you mix art and passion and love, there is something magical that happens, and you can’t explain it,” Justin said. “It’s an equation that God put together to better this world. When you take artists and foster their creativity, there is nothing like it.”

For the group’s first endeavor, they hosted a live art event where artists could display their work but also create right there in the gallery on the night of the show. More than 300 people came, overwhelming the Art Love Magic staff with joy because so many individuals were interested in their endeavor.

“I think Dallas is looking for something positive in the arts sense,” he said. “And I think we were being obedient to what God called us to.”

Though the organization is not a professed Christian organization or affiliated with any church, two of the three owners are “outspokenly Christian,” Justin said. But through “creating events and space where artists can shine,” feel valued and cared for, Justin has had many spiritual conversations about life and faith as he has lived out his love for Christ daily.

“As I get into these conversations with artists, I am very open with the fact that the only reason I am able to do what I do is that I believe it is what God created me to do… What I do is disciple artists without them knowing it. I walk them through their identity, their calling and hopefully how to make a living out of what they do… I have had more conversations about faith and Jesus and how art fits into that since I left the church, since I ever did prior to this,” he said.

Though the Art Love Magic art shows and connection points involve all types of art and artists, Justin sees his gift of producing live art events as a way to bridge faith and art to those he encounters.

“Having come from the world and not coming from the church, then spending time in the church trying to reach people outside the church and kind of exiting the church again, one thing I have learned is people who are outside the church are outside for a reason,” Justin said. “It may be because they don’t know about church, like me [when I was a kid]. Or two, they have had some kind of experience and said they are done with church and don’t want to be part of this.”

Because Justin understands this, he is able to approach any type of artist with authentic love and care while hoping a more eternal message is conveyed through involvement with the live art events.

“These live art events are to tear down the wall between the creator and the spectator,” Justin said. “When I am creating a live art event, I am creating a symbolic picture of what happened through Jesus. God, through Jesus, was tearing down the wall so that we could be with Him. He was tearing down the veil.”

But encouraging, supporting and engaging artists doesn’t just have to come through live events, Justin said. It can come through the Church entering into authentic relationships with artists, caring about what they do and the things they are going through.

“Give people the place to wrestle with their doubt and calling,” Justin said. The church needs to “be very intentional with allowing those conversations that take place, creating space for those conversations – where faith fits in arts and where does art fit in faith. They are delicate conversations and they have to be led by the people who have been there.”

Another way to connect with artists, reaching out in authenticity, is to engage them at their local art shows.

“I think the other thing is supporting the artists in their natural habitat,” he said. “Take a Friday night, get a baby sitter and go out and support the artists who are doing this. I think that you will see that this is where you will get the most success – out in the world will be where you have the most success.”

To learn more about Justin’s work and ways to get involved with the organization’s live art shows and monthly Art & Coffee nights , visit Art Love Magic’s website.

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