The heart behind Biola visionary’s theme Sacred Space

Visionary-in-residence, Roberta Green Ahmanson discusses her vision for the year.


Katie Juranek

Maja Engelhardt, the artist whose art is being featured from September 20-October 13, poses alongside Roberta Ahmanson, Biola’s visionary-in-residence. | Ashley Jones/THE CHIMES

Abbey Bennett, Writer

Maja Engelhardt, the artist whose art is being featured from September 20-October 13, poses alongside Roberta Ahmanson, Biola’s visionary-in-residence. | Ashley Jones/THE CHIMES

The idea of sacred space stems from the avenue of the arts. Roberta Green Ahmanson, Biola’s visionary-in-residence, defines it as “a place where the present meets eternity.”

Deemed by Time magazine as one of “The Top 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America,” Ahmanson and her husband Howard give generous philanthropic gifts through their company Fieldstead and Company. She also worked as a religion reporter for the Orange County Register.

Becoming the 2011-2012 visionary-in-residence

From May 1987 through September 1989, Ahmanson was welcomed as an adjunct professor in Biola’s communication studies department, which at the time included journalism. She also served as the adviser for the Chimes during her time here. Her involvement in philanthropy, art and Biola make her the perfect fit for the 2011-2012 visionary-in-residence.

While President Barry Corey has deemed 2011-2012 “The Year of the Arts,” Ahmanson originally coined the theme Sanctuary and Sacred Space.

“Biola is one of a select few institutions nationwide with a new educational paradigm incorporating a visionary-in-residence which will bring an individual to campus whom will interact in lively, cross disciplinary conversations,” wrote Jenna Bartlo, Biola’s media relations coordinator, in a press release.

Seeing God through art

Ahmanson believes God uses the arts to create a sacred space and to remind Christians of their true citizenship.

“The arts are one of the things that God has used to bring us into the space where we know we are here and alive and are also citizens of another world as well,” Ahmanson said.

At the opening of Biola’s gallery exhibit by Maja Engelhardt on Tuesday, Sept. 20, Ahmanson sat in awe of the sacred space right there.

“It’s a place where the present meets eternity,” Ahmanson said. “It has been often in churches, but also can be in this art gallery.”

Her current intrigue in church architecture and history evokes beautiful descriptions of heaven in the arts.

In centuries past, the church was home to some of the most majestic art ever created. Every facet, whether the paintings on the ceilings or the music filling the air, was intended to give those in attendance an invitation to enter the throne room of God.

“From the third century on, the church was the place where on Sunday, well, whenever you went to worship, you were going to heaven,” Ahmanson said. “The architecture and the art that were in the church was designed to give you images of heaven.”

Ineffable beauty and passion exudes from this incredible view of heaven on earth. In Ahmanson’s intentional desire to allow for Biola students to see God in the arts, she has generously supported the school in a variety of ways.

“I’ve been involved in the arts for a long time, and my husband and I have been involved in Biola for a long time,” Ahmanson said. “We care about this campus, the students, the faculty and all the people here.”

Supporting the arts worldwide

There are many things Ahmanson cares about, seen in the way she and her husband support and host art shows and galleries around the world. Yet she desires for Christ to be seen clearly in this gallery exhibit from her personal collection and in her role here as visionary-in-residence.

“It’s really important for a campus like Biola, an evangelical Christian college, which is rooted in its faith in Jesus Christ and its high regard for the Scripture, to also understand that Christ is the Lord of all culture and that is something really important for us as Christians to be involved in,” Ahmanson said.

Becoming involved in the L.A. community

The close proximity to Los Angeles creates an easy answer as to where to go to interact with the arts. Ahmanson encourages Biola art students, as well as all evangelical Christians, to immerse themselves in culture.

In her high school and college years, Ahmanson began to drive to art museums and galleries to observe art, hear music and attend the theater and recommends that all students do the same. The art scene in the greater Los Angeles area is very active and worth being a part of, Ahmanson said.

As Christians experience and create art, they make bold statements and can carry on the message of the early century church. Whether a spectator or a creator, a step is taken into the shaping and creating of culture.

“Culture is everywhere around us,” Ahmanson said. “You hang a picture on your wall and you make an artistic statement. It’s a step into the long tradition of the church.”

This, in large part, is the heart of sacred space. There are many opportunities to be involved in the arts, culture and the church on and off campus.

“It’s a part of our heritage and it’s really great to see evangelicals embracing [culture],” Ahmanson said.

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