No News is Good News
Heaven is wedded to earth… so Christians celebrate in every Eucharist, and so the Church celebrates in the Holy Icons, and so the reality of the Incarnation, of the Word become flesh, is extended into all the world.
The icon school is now four years old, and we have just celebrated our second year in the Hosh Abu Jarour. The students on the Diploma course have just completed their first year and are half way through their course - how time has flown. We have much to celebrate and give thanks for, in our difficulties as well as through our successes.
2016 not only saw the launch of the Diploma In Icon Painting from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London, but also the six week summer visit to Lichfield Cathedral. If you are close to Lichfield and haven’t yet made it to the cathedral do take a look at the two icons we executed and which are now installed, dominating the nave. It was a real treat to work with three of our students on such a prestigious project, and a testament to what team work can produce.
While we can point to these successes, and to others such as the groups large and small which come to visit the Centre, and the popular one week intensive courses which are always a joy to teach, we also faced some real struggles in 2016. New regulations have made it temporarily impossible for us to receive deposits from abroad, and as of December we are down to our last £50 in the accounts. Ironically we have funds which the Holy Land Iconography Trust in the UK is waiting to send us, but we have to be vetted so that the authorities here can be sure we are not a conduit for terrorists! This being Palestine, it has taken until now, mid December, to reach the last stage of gaining the necessary permissions, and I am hopeful that the problem it will be resolved before Christmas - with your prayers. Needless to say it has been a source of worry, not least because there are the salaries of our employees which we need to pay.
On a more positive note I think the time is now here for us to up our game. There are so many opportunities here, but I lack the skills, time and resources to address them all. For example, we need a proper marketing strategy: more people need to know we are in Bethlehem and what we are doing: that we offer places for international as well as local students and run courses specifically for visitors. We also have our art supply shop which could be a real going concern. We need more outreach to local Christian communities and pilgrim groups and others. Fundraising needs to go up a notch or two.
I also need to encourage and develop local involvement in the Icon Centre with the aim of putting the school into the hands of local Palestinian Christians. This means taking on staff and paying salaries based on a fair wage so that there is respect for the institution and the employees can live with dignity.
Therefore I am thinking seriously about expanding the operation with a view to standing aside as the Director and assuming the role of senior tutor and running the workshop, while still remaining Chairman of the non-profit company. We need the right person gradullay to take over my role as Director, and also some support staff. I would like to employ some former students of Aidan Hart as occasional tutors, perhaps for one of the two month terms, to ensure the quality and breadth of teaching available to the students, and also to increase the number of intensive one week courses and the range of subjects on offer: for example we could do more on mosaic, illumination etc. (If you are interested in this opportunity then please be in touch.) This would mean that taking a big step this year and increasing our overheads significantly in the hope that by doing so we kick start the expansion of the School and the Centre to the next level. Do please keep these ideas in your prayers.
For those of you in the UK, do also keep an eye on the press, as there are likely to be articles about us in the Telegraph and Daily Mail, as well as on the BBC, notably radio and the Today programme, over the Christmas season. Over the past couple of weeks we have had numerous media folk around, making films and taking interviews, and coverage is likely in Germany, France and Spain. It’s a sign of how attractive our little project is, how it touches a nerve.