|SAINT PAUL — Troy and Sara Groves met Charlie Peacock many years ago. Peacock produced one of recording artist Sara Groves’ albums nearly a decade ago, but it was more than just Peacock’s producing abilities that drew the local couple to him.
“When we pulled up to their [Charlie Peacock and his wife Andi Ashworth] house to work on the music, we’d been told they live in a place called the Art House,” Troy Groves recalled. “We pulled up, and it was a 100-year-old church [that they had made into their home]. There was just something that we felt that resonated with us.”
Founded in 1991, the Art House in Nashville is a place where artists of various stripes gather for food, hospitality, conversation and “imaginative creativity.” Its goal is to create a space for people to explore the connections between art and faith.
“There was just something that we felt that resonated with us,” Troy said.
Through the years, Troy and Sara continued to visit the Art House in Nashville when they were in town for music-related purposes. One of the things that attracted the couple to the Art House was its family feel, where conversations among a wide variety of people would occur around the dinner table.
“Andi would host dinner, and whoever was in town, you would just find yourself at the table with maybe … a Country [Music] new act of some sort and then an author from Washington, D.C., and then a designer from New York City and someone from International Justice Mission,” Troy said. “Nashville is kind of a stop-over for a lot of people.”
After their continued exposure to the Art House in Nashville, the couple thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something like that here in the Twin Cities for creative people that were interested in that kind of thing?”
So the couple moved to St. Paul and, one year ago, bought an old church and named their new endeavor Art House North. In addition to the Art House in Nashville, there is one located in Dallas, Texas. Art House North’s first event was in February of this year.
Now they are trying to connect artists of various levels into this new community.
“We are sort of connected with the music community, obviously because that’s what we do, but we have a broad term of what an artist is,” Troy said. “We think entrepreneurs are very creative people in our world, even the culinary field, even, I think, it’s going to take a creative person that will come up with the cure for cancer. We really want to keep a broad view of that.”
“What we are doing is attempting to … it’s kind of a greenhouse of sorts,” Troy said. “A place for artists to come and grow deep and grow tall in this place and then go and take that outside. We’re interested in meaningful friendships and meaningful collaboration and all pointing to the way of Jesus, the kingdom mindset.”
The couple doesn’t see Art House North necessarily as a separate community but as an “extension of our home. We want to invite people to come together and collaborate and be in a setting that’s more home-type setting than institutional,” Troy said.
“We get to travel, meet amazing people, tour with amazing people, be in conversations with amazing people, and we come home and want to relay all that information and all that kingdom way of life … we want to somehow share that, and that can be difficult,” Troy said.
However, that’s why the “extension of our home” concept was adopted, and it is perhaps the reason Art House North seems to be prospering.
The first few events hosted by Art House North—music, lectures and discussions—have been well attended, with some people coming from outside the Twin Cities area to experience what Art House North is endeavoring to accomplish.
Buying a church and using it occasionally for events can be financially risky, so the couple also rents out the property to two churches and others for concerts and various events, including weddings.
Another challenge of owning an old church is keeping it usable and up to date. The couple hopes to slowly remodel the property and make the sanctuary more like a living room. They already have plans to take out the pews and to donate them to a church in Haiti. They also want to level the floor so as to make it more conducive for couches and coffee tables, thus enhancing the living room feel.
This piecemeal approach to renovation is a challenge for Troy.
“It’s definitely outside of my comfort zone to work on it piece by piece,” he said. “I’m more of the type who would say: ‘Bring in the professionals. We’ll take out the big fat loan and then we’ll just—boom—we’ll get it done to where it’s perfect and we’ll enjoy it, and I’ll be paying off that mortgage for the next 30 years.’”
However, that’s not what the couple felt the Lord was telling them.
“We felt like the Lord was saying, ‘You know, I think working on this place will be part of its ministry. You’ll be engaged in pulling carpet up or getting these doors to slide …’ Every day I’m here working, there is always somebody here helping out.”
In the end, the couple said they have adopted pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson’s “long obedience in the same direction” mentality.
“Our goal is that in 20 or 30 years, we look back and someone has been impacted by what’s gone on here,” Troy said. “They’ve heard a speaker, they’ve met a friend, they’ve connected and then they’ve reflected that in their art, so that their art has taken on a kingdom attribute to it. Someone 20 or 30 years down the road would say, ‘Yeah, I’m doing this for the kingdom’ and that the Art House would have been a seed maybe … planted in their lives.”
ACTIONPOINT: For more information about the Art House North, visit www.arthousenorth.com.