The Fashioner: A Book Exploring the Role of the Arts in Building Community

It’s interesting to see Baha’i-inspired book publishing flourishing and covering a wider and wider array of subjects and genres for a growing diversity of audiences. Jenina Lepard, for example, just released a book titled The Fashioner: Reflections on the Role of Music and the Arts in Building a Global Community with a suitably vibrant and eye-catching cover by Misha Blaise  — I know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover but I totally do when the cover is something I can’t stop looking at!

The Fashioner explores the various ways in which the arts can touch people’s lives by drawing on quotations from the Baha’i Writings, as well as concrete examples of the transformative power of the arts. Jenina discusses a variety of art forms, she looks at the way in which Baha’i artists have applied principles of the Faith to their art, and she shares the ways in which the arts can be used to inspire and enhance core activities.

This is subject close to my heart as Baha’i Blog aims to create, celebrate and explore Baha’i-inspired content, artistic expression and use of media. I was thrilled when Jenina agreed to tell us a little about her book. Here’s what she shared: 

Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background as a writer?

Hello! My informal background as a writer is a lifelong appreciation and love for the written word, although I am primarily trained as a classical musician, and my profession is that of a clinical social worker. In 2007 the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies published my article entitled “Obstacles to Interracial Unity: Some Psychological and Spiritual Insights.” In 2009 Baha’i Publishing published my book for youth, Diamonds in the Rough.

 Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little bit about the book?

Author Jenina Lepard

The Fashioner is meant to open conversations and contemplation on how the arts can be utilized to help build the global community for which we as Baha’is – and our friends in the field of service – are striving.

The first part of the book contains a series of chapters, each one devoted to specific art forms. They draw upon passages from the Baha’i Writings as well as input from artists in each discipline (e.g., Red Grammer, Van Gilmer and Rainn Wilson).

The second part of the book addresses each of the core activities of the current Baha’i global plan (devotional gatherings and home visits, children’s classes, junior youth groups, study circles as well as youth in service and Feasts and Holy Days), and includes comments from people who have been utilizing the arts as part of core activities taking place at the grassroots of their communities. These examples are intended to demonstrate how the arts help these endeavors become more alive, enriched and heartfelt. Since most of the interviews were carried out over several years, I presume that much has happened since that time – much more learning, much more experiences – but I hope that the examples that are included will be useful to readers who are motivated to find ways to make greater use of the arts at the grassroots.

The third part of the book , the conclusion, is really an envisioning – only one, mind you – of a future global society in which the arts will be at the forefront of all human societal endeavors.

Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to write this book in particular?

While I have always been focused on the arts, the idea for a book came from the Baha’i Publishing Trust’s former director, Tim Moore, back in 2010. I don’t regard myself as an “expert,” and there are a great many gifted people out there (some of whom I was fortunate enough to talk with for inclusion in this project) who have a great deal to say on this topic. I hope they will continue to do so, and that there will be ongoing collaboration worldwide, as we strive to build an ever-advancing civilization.

As I began to think about how to structure the book, the plan emerged to include examples of both professional artists and local grassroots artists. This is a continuum, rather than a dichotomy, as we are all blessed with the capacity for imaginative creativity.

Baha’i Blog: What’s something interesting you learned while making the book that you can share with us? (It can be practical or spiritual, simple or profound. It can be anything.)

I learned a great deal from the contributors, each in their own way. It’s amazing to hear the depths of profound thinking from artists and souls dedicated to working at the grassroots. Their vision and commitment give me hope for the future.

Baha’i Blog: How do you hope the book will affect children who read it or have it read to them?

My best hope for children and their caregivers is that fresh importance will be placed on each child’s creative expressions, with open minds and hearts.

Baha’i Blog: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Yes – I’d greatly appreciate hearing from people, to continue the dialogue. My email is [email protected].

Baha’i Blog: What are you working on now?

At present, I am contemplating a new project. I would like to learn from people who are not first-generation Baha’is how they came into their own as followers of Baha’u’llah. Since the Writings warn against blind imitation, each individual heart must respond to the Baha’i Teachings in his or her own way. I would like to hear people’s stories and share them. For example, my husband’s parents were first-generation Baha’is, but he is second-generation. His story is not that of his parents’, it is his own journey. Our children are third-generation, and they have their own experiences.

I would also like to know how people’s connection to Baha’u’llah has in turn helped them connect with the Universal House of Justice and its global plans. After all, we each have our unique talents and faculties, and our personal journeys are both similar to and different from our fellow Baha’is.

The purpose of this project will be to articulate what has not necessarily been recorded regarding the thoughts and feelings of second- or more-generation Baha’is. I will be looking to interview people, so if anyone reading this blog would like to participate, by all means contact me.

Baha’i Blog: Thank you for sharing this with us!

If you’d like to read The Fashioner, it can be purchased from the US Baha’i Book Distribution service: www.bahaibookstore.com/Fashioner-The

 

About the Author

Sonjel Vreeland

In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a mother, a wife and a bookworm but professionally she is a museologist and a library technician. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.

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