Who said you have to wait until after you graduate to start changing the world? Art on the Sly is a project created by five friends to provide platforms for creativity of all types, for people who otherwise might not have an opportunity to show or perform. These events bridge communities by not only bringing together both ‘artists’ and ‘amateurs’, but also by inviting people to collaborate together, without fear or judgement. Here, one of the founders, second year student Rosie Park, tells us about how the dream became a reality and what God is teaching her through it…

Art on the Sly actually had a very accidental beginning. During my first year of university, myself and a friend (both Architecture students) attended an architectural talk on the theme of protest. One of the speakers spoke of a project he was involved in, entitled the ‘Gaskell Garden Project’, which is a garden space created to advance social and emotional well-being and combat social isolation among refugees and asylum seekers. The whole room was moved by what he was saying; he spoke with such fire and conviction. Being an eager first year (myself and my friend both laugh at this now), we went and spoke to him at the end. It was through this connection that we held our first event in an unoccupied building that he and some others were residing in near Piccadilly train station. 

To this day we are all quite baffled by the success of our first event. We estimated that around 400-500 people came, which is even more surprising considering we had only a week to execute it! Initially, I think the appeal for students was that the DJs played until the early hours of the morning and the location was an abandoned building (definite street cred!). Yet, the ethos of this event was unequivocally different to a regular night out. On our event page we encouraged people to bring artwork they had made, or to bring along materials to create something on the night. It was really powerful to see people taking pride in their work, instead of it remaining unseen in bedrooms! The fact that the venue was technically a squat gave people the freedom to paint on the walls, and to assemble and curate the artwork that they had hauled all the way across the city. We were so encouraged by how people engaged with this part of the event. We found that a lot of the students who came got into conversation with those who were occupying the building, and it was this creation of unexpected community that we have tried to maintain as the driving force of our events. Since that first night, we have put on several similar events, but have also run poetry and collage workshops in other abandoned locations around Manchester.

We are aiming for Art on the Sly to become a registered charity. Our big vision is to keep doing what we have been doing but on a larger scale. This would enable us to outreach into different communities and bridge together social groups that wouldn’t naturally associate with each other. It would be incredible to be in a financial position where we could significantly impact people through regular events and smaller scale workshops. 

Throughout both Art on the Sly and my university experience, I feel like God has taught me three key things:

1. Dream big. It’s inspiring to think that God is behind the seemingly mundane decisions (ones that our secular world might put down to chance) that build up to the birth of something. We’ve had six events now, and I believe that their success comes down to the fact that, as a group, we are utilising the skills we have. Consider your strengths, pray it through, and ask God to open up opportunities through the skills He has given you! 

2. Integrity of character. I regularly think about Romans 12:2 (sorry, I know this quote is a church classic). I think this is perhaps more relevant in terms of my life as a student but, having a fully secular friendship group, I meditate regularly on the challenge of not conforming to the patterns of this world. I think God has shown me that just because the majority chooses to do something, that doesn’t validate a decision. Jesus called us to be in the world but not of it, and actually I’ve found that God uses situations where you choose not to conform or participate in something as opportunities for people to raise questions. 

3. Boldness. The Bible talks so much about boldness and courage, and it is only more recently that I’ve felt like I’ve had enough of both to share more openly about my faith. I’ve often found that people are surprised when I share it, that they have a string of questions, but they are always receptive. In terms of ‘showing up’ outside of church, I think often just being a springboard for people to query stuff and ask questions is really valuable. I got baptised this year, and inviting friends along who I knew had no background in church was a big deal for me. God wants us to be bold and intentional in the places He’s put us. I’ve learnt that if our steps aren’t intentional, we will just drift along with the strongest pull of ideas – I know I have been guilty of this!

In a podcast I was listening to recently, I heard someone say that when it comes to taking risks, their longing to see God move was greater than their fear of failure. What a place to live from! As I go into my third year I want this to be a posture I adopt in all situations: in Art on the Sly, in my degree and in my relationships with the people around me. 

You can keep up with Art on the Sly though their Instagram page @art_onthesly