How Storytellers Creative Arts Is Working to Connect Faith With the Arts, Artists With Each Other and Talents With Challenges to Transform Lives
Bill Barnett is a man on a mission. A mission he’s been on since 1991. A mission he first felt was his life’s calling 27 years ago.
That mission is to utilize his skills as an artist, combine that perspective with a passionate Christian faith, and create opportunities for artists — of all talents, styles and genres — to reach out to each other, as well as to persons (young to old) of our community who are in various ways challenged, to affect positive change and transform the course of a person’s life.
If that sounds like a lofty goal, well, it is. But Bill Barnett is not a man to back down from tough circumstances, or his life’s purpose. Bill was raised in a single parent home, one of six, facing many challenges that would try to thwart his realization of dreams to one day make a difference in the world. The arts were his passion. “I attended a high school for the arts in New York, with close to 2,000 creatives and a lot of pressure to perform. Creating art was my escape — my way of connecting with God and experiencing acceptance, love and affirmation, which relieved these pressures, and gave me true identity.”
Eventually, Barnett left school, and began serving the church and community by starting a graphic arts business. “The burden that I felt as an artist,” he recalls, “relating with my peers and other creatives, led me to want to find ways to nurture creative souls, connect them with each other, inspiring them to heal and transform lives through faith and the arts.”
Ephesians 2:10 “affirms that we are God’s masterpiece and that He has called us to create, to glorify Him and impact the world…with creative gifts that can transform the lives of the least, the last and the lost.”
Today, Barnett is realizing that vision as President of Storytellers Creative Arts, a faith-based, non-profit organization serving Collier and Lee Counties with the purpose to “heal and transform lives through the arts.” The board of seven creative and highly competent men and women are passionately driving the mission, enhancing the impact of Storytellers.
Barnett explains that in the Bible, Ephesians 2:10 “affirms that we are God’s masterpiece and that He has called us to create, to glorify Him and impact the world. Our stories are connected to the story of the One who has made us unique — with creative gifts that can transform the lives of the least, the last and the lost.”
Barnett, a graduate of Warner University, moved to Southwest Florida in 2003, and purposefully sought out the arts communities, focusing part of his efforts on connecting artists with each other for professional purposes and camaraderie — such as the Storytellers Creative Arts conference that presents inspirational workshops featuring artists in visual arts, film, acting, writing, music, the media and more. Storytellers also hosts social gatherings for artists, performers, writers and similar creative artists, as well as small community groups, concerts and art shows.
At the same time, given his background, passion and faith, Storytellers also focused on reaching and helping artists struggling with emotional or lifestyle challenges find hope, direction and positive outcomes.
Ultimately, that focus expanded to include more diverse needs — from dependency and recovery, to physical or developmental disabilities, to at-risk or disadvantaged youth. Today, his team of artistic volunteers and mentors, now numbering some 60 women and men, are regularly reaching out to transform lives in the community, partnering with organizations such as the David Lawrence Center, St. Matthew’s House, PACE Center for Girls, Lighthouse of Collier (serving the blind and visually impaired) and even after-school programs. The ministry has expanded to other parts of Florida and recently, Georgia and Virginia. In all, Barnett estimates that close than 3,000 lives are touched each year by the ministry of Storytellers Creative Arts.
“We’re connecting the arts to faith, and that’s our unique niche.”
“We have a two-part mission,” he explains. “One, connecting with the heart of the artist and two, inspiring them to find ways to use their skills so that they can go out into the community and change lives.”
While that outreach work may hint at the concept of art therapy, Bill Barnett emphasizes that it’s a different road he and Storytellers Creative Arts take. “A typical session at a recovery program would start with music, prayer and group discussion, before we transition to an arts project — it could be visual, drama, sculpture, or a drumming session. We’re connecting the arts to faith, and that’s our unique niche.”
By John Sprecher