Creating Community through Art
Steve Coll’s perfect quote for a bumper sticker would say, “Have you hugged your community today?” Steve’s passion is community building. He uses his creative talents as an artist and musician to bring people together locally and internationally in the pursuit of peace and harmony.
Steve views social concern as the need to be creative and to foster creative expression in others. One way he has done this is by serving as curator of the Peace Church gallery wall, which Steve has done since 2003. Among his most memorable hangings was Native painter and social justice activist Carl Gawboy’s 2009 exhibition. While his paintings were on display, Gawboy gave a series of lectures on peace and social justice in the sanctuary. Another favorite gallery exhibition was the 2011 showing of Joel Cooper’s prints, along with poetry by Deborah Cooper, Duluth’s 2012-2014 Poet Laureate. This showing was such a success that it was up on the gallery wall for nine months.
Steve believes that “faith is about being able to question things.” He does not believe that being faithful is having a locked-in sense of what is right and wrong, and what one must do and when they must do it. Faith is putting all of one’s questioning into action and just showing up— showing up at the right time and lending support by just being present. Peace Church has been important in his faith journey. Pastor Kathy has been an encouraging force along the way, supporting an open-minded approach. Steve was a regular attendee of the long-running group “Questions along the Way.” During its tenure, this group suited Steve well because of its flexible agenda: no book, no mission, just show up and talk. The credo of the group was, “There are no right answers, no dogma, and by experiencing doubt you can become more faithful.”
Steve moved to Duluth fifteen years ago, landing in the Hillside neighborhood next to the Bowen-Bailey family. He has dubbed himself the Bowen-Bailey children’s “gay uncle” and credits this active Peach Church family for steering him towards our church. Other Peace Church members who Steve names as being close friends and supporters of his faith and creative endeavors are Steve Horner, Tom Liddle, Gary Boelhower and Gary Anderson. Gary and Gary insisted that he play the piano at their wedding.
Susan Ranfranz and Annette Strom are close friends who are regular dancers in Peace Church’s Cabaret. This beloved annual event at Peace began nine years ago when Steve voiced interest in putting on a cabaret and received support from the Worship and Arts committee to make it a reality. He laughs as he states, “if you do something well, they expect you to do it annually.” He is grateful for the opportunity to bring together talented Peace Church and community members for this show. He recalls the very first production when the flutist he had lined up as the opening act cancelled two hours before the show. Young Paul Winchester, who was scheduled to perform, stepped in and called his father Dave, who came out and opened the cabaret with a bang! Steve states, “It’s how our church keeps vital, keeps doing what is right over and over again.”
Internationally, Steve has been an active participant in bridging relationships between Americans and the people of Cuba. He has travelled twice as a member of Witness for Peace delegations. He admits that at first he was drawn to the romantic idea of going to Cuba; however, once he had experienced the rich Cuban culture and generous people he was captivated. He loves the “wildness” of Cuba and was able to paint watercolors with themes including organic farms, green mountains, native people and animals. He is excited about continuing his relationship with the Martin Luther King Center in Havana. The Center is a community gathering place, with a watering hole. There is a water purifier at the Center and people come to collect fresh water. He feels a likeness between Peace Church and the MLK Center in Havana—both are places for the community to gather, quench its thirst, and support one another.
It was such a pleasure to talk with Steve. I was impressed with his excitement over the importance of community building. His laid-back, simple recipe for making a difference in the community gave me the hope that all of us can make a difference. Remember all we have to do is just show up!