‘Catholic Artist Connection’ Spreads Across the US
Organization making a buzz in New York City is spreading.
When you have a countercultural vision, as Catholic artists often do, it’s hard to find like-minded people. The Catholic Artist Connection (CAC) helps writers, performers and other artistic types inspired by their faith meet each other.
Like many great ideas, it all started as a what-if conversation between friends. In 2016, actor/producer Cole Matson joined playwright Emily C.A. Snyder to launch a newsletter. Their mission was to connect New York Catholic artists with fun and useful events.
Soon after the newsletter’s launch, playwright/novelist Laura Pittenger found Snyder’s ad for Snyder’s Catholic theater group.
Like other local Catholic artists, Pittenger was looking to connect with other faithful artists. Excitedly, she reached out, and she was soon connected with both Snyder and Matson.
“Our chemistry grew from there,” recalled Pettinger, who went on to officially found CAC with Synder and Matson. “We began to say, ‘Hey, you’re a Catholic artist; I’m a Catholic artist, and this is so rich. I bet we can find more.’”
Connection to Community
They were right. Catholic screenwriter Emily Schmitt, now CAC’s secretary, met Pittenger online several years ago. Pittenger saw Schmitt’s desire to connect with others and introduced her to CAC. CAC quickly became a light in the darkness for Schmitt. She said that at the time she felt “adrift,” despite studying with other students in her graduate program.
“If I had known that an organization like CAC existed when I first arrived in New York, I would have experienced less loneliness,” she explained. “When I met CAC and experienced friendship with Cole, Emily and Laura, things started to look better for me. I no longer felt, ‘I’m the only one of my kind out here.’ I found new energy for my work as a screenwriter and energizing people to collaborate with.”
Schmitt says she has observed other Catholic artists experience a similar transformation from isolation to believing “I am not the only one” after getting plugged in with CAC.
Among other reasons, Schmitt loves CAC because “we literally have a team of volunteers called the ‘welcoming committee.’ Their sole job is to take people out for coffee, to introduce them to CAC. Organizations like CAC are important because they help the right people meet the right people, and big things become of such connections.”
The vision continued to get bigger. In 2018, the team officially incorporated “Catholic Artist Connection,” becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a board of directors. CAC has long since outgrown its humble origins as a newsletter, now offering artists’ retreats, weekly “Artist Office Hours” and “Happy Hour,” individual artist coaching, the “NYC Catholic Arts Leaders Meeting,” and numerous artist socials co-hosted with Catholic Creatives, the Sheen Center and Catholic NYC.
CAC has also grown in its geographic reach. Originally just focused on the New York metro area, Pittenger says the group soon “realized that the need we were filling was in other places besides New York, and we didn’t want to stop there.”
They didn’t. Erika Zabinski met Matson through a theater production they both supported in Minnesota. As a young artist in the Twin Cities, she began to see through Matson how CAC made sense for her. Matson asked her to consider starting the Twin Cities CAC Welcoming Committee. In spring 2021, she dove in. Erika says that the reason she “said Yes to helping with a CAC committee is because I know there are a ton of individual Catholic artists here in the Twin Cities, but there isn’t much in the way of formal Catholic arts organizations where they can run into each other. That’s especially the case for artists whose work is solo by nature — individual writers, painters, sculptors, etc. So a CAC chapter seemed like it could be a useful hub for those people to discover each other if they’re looking to form connections with others doing what they’re doing. I agreed to do it because most of my friends are artists, and this seems to meet a need they’ve articulated.”
According to CAC’s website, the group currently has more members outside New York City than in it, “with 44% in the greater NYC area, 44% elsewhere in the U.S. (in almost every state, most notably California and Texas), and 12% in other countries (including the U.K., Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Spain).”
“CAC’s dream is to have a local chapter in every major city in the U.S.,” said Pittenger.
CAC didn’t view the pandemic as an excuse to make less art, but as a reminder of why we need it. They began shifting their focus to “How can we help artists navigate disconnection? How can we help them recover from sparse gig opportunities?”
“That was how virtual ‘Artist Office Hours’ began,” said Schmitt. “It’s a weekly opportunity for Catholic artists to share their struggles, joys and artistic endeavors.” About 10 to 20 artists across the U.S. participate each week.
CAC’s Emergency Fund was another initiative brought about due to the difficulties of the pandemic and associated restrictions. Shortly after New York’s COVID lockdown in early 2020, the group raised more than $10,000 to help artists struggling to pay rent.
“The Emergency Fund was a small way in which we were helping artists stay healthy,” said Schmitt. “The fund was a no-questions-asked, non-application way of helping artists, with no religious discriminations; it wasn’t just Catholic artists we helped.”
Retreat offerings were limited during the pandemic for safety. Now that the pandemic appears to be waning, Schmitt says CAC “will be able to turn our efforts to more retreats, bigger events and other things that we have wanted to do the last couple of years.”
In his 1999 “Letter to Artists,” St. John Paul the Great wrote, “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: In a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.”
Pope John Paul II said that people exist to make our lives a work of art. Artists remind humanity of this mission. CAC exists to help artists help us do that well.