The Grove: Center for the arts and media

“Equipping the church, transforming the world.”

An idea was conceived in 2002 by Pastor Joey O’Conner, and The Grove was birthed as a non-profit in 2003. (If I may digress, I am once again amazed at how many art-focused ministries have popped up since I graduated from college with my BFA in studio art in 2001, at which point I was voraciously looking for something like this to be involved with.) The Grove has spent the last two years developing a retreat center for artists of the Christian faith — artists of all kinds: Music, literature, film and “visual” art.

From what I can tell the retreat is still under construction. It is situated on a 12 acre grove of avocado and lemon trees and will consist of one large mission-style building (I’m not certain if this is an existing structure or not) surrounded by eight duplexes. The duplexes are shown to have a sleeping area with adjacent bathroom and patio:

It’s encouraging to see something like this in progress, although I don’t know how far along the retreat is. They are billing it as a national headquarters, of sorts, for artists of faith. I’m not certain I buy into the national concept entirely, but the idea still seems to be unique and worthwhile.

It does differ from my own ideas for a retreat in a few ways. First of all, I’m envisioning a place where artists can go to make art as well as learn about theology and the arts. From what I can tell The Grove doesn’t provide studio space. Secondly, my idea focuses solely on the tactile arts such as painting, sculpture and architecture. It seems to me these are the least appreciated of the arts within the Church with the least existing forums (and are also where my own interests lie). Third, I expect artists to stick around for extended periods of time, perhaps even a couple of years. Like The Grove my intent is to send retreat participants out into the world as a force of Good in the culture. Unlike The Grove (from what I can tell at this point) a significant focus of my idea includes sending participants into cross-cultural mission work.

A very large difference at this point in time is that The Grove is becoming a reality and my ideas don’t amount to much more than formative smoke. I make these comparisons, in part, to see if this newfound resource does or does not fill the need that I feel.

The website is worth looking at and bookmarking. The retreat’s progress is worth keeping tabs on. And I encourage all artists reading this to take the Artist Survey.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

2 Responses to The Grove: Center for the arts and media

  1. I just met Paul when he contacted me regarding an error message on our Grove survey form…sorry about that Paul…fixing that asap!

    Paul made a number of important comments/questions regarding The Grove Retreat Center that I’d like to respond to and give an update on the progress of The Grove Retreat Center. I appreciate the time he took to look at our site in detail and I realize how many unanswered questions we’ve left out.

    First, yes, we are still in the development process and have not broken ground yet. Our lead architects, Ron Van Pelt (WATG) and Trent Noll (Irvine Company), are finalizing the site plans and architectural renderings this month and we will be submitting our application to begin the major use permit process with the County of San Diego in October, 2007. The plans are significantly different than what you see above…amazing to think, the second drawing was a draft done 3 years ago.

    The old renderings do not reflect our plans and current drawings for artist studio space. Our new renderings include a cluster of six artist buildings separate from the two main houses. Two of the buildings will be for our artists-in-residence lodging and artistic retreat lodging. The four adjacent artist studios will be for all forms of visual art as well as music and dance studios. One of the main houses will hold a media development room as well as four conference rooms. I will have these renderings soon and will post accordingly. As a retreat center, our values reflect a heavy emphais on spiritual formation, creativity and the arts. With Christ at the center, we move outward to Community, Creativity, Contribution, Culture.

    Regarding Paul’s comment about a national retreat center, yes we are billing it as a national retreat center for the arts because in our research the past four years, we have discovered some great work being done at certain universities and retreat centers (Laity Lodge in Texas), but in our estimation, there is no one conclusive place that is intentionally seeking to build a national presence for arts in the Church. Our board and friends of The Grove ministry believe there is a HUGE opportunity for the whole Body of Christ to come together and learn from one another in all art forms regardless of denominational affiliation. We have lots of ministry silos, but very little creative collaboration. That is why we place a huge value on collaboration and developing creative networks. The Grove Retreat Center will be for artists and the whole Body of Christ who seek creative growth and creative engagement with our culture. Our goal is to partner with other like-minded ministries and artistic organizations by giving them a place to fulfill their unique creative vision.

    A “national” retreat center for the arts does sound a bit audacious (especially when we have our itty-bitty 12 acres…perhaps 500 acres would carry a bit more weight), but our perspective from the beginning has been, “God called us to this task, so let’s go for it.” Small thinking serves no one well.

    From a missional perspective, The Grove is not all about The Grove, which is why we are funding other artists and artistic ministries through our foundation (locally, nationally and overseas). From the beginning, we said, “If the Church is ever to become a major patron of the arts again, it has to start somewhere. We’re not going to be a non-profit that’s always asking for money, we’re going to give it away too.” We have no endowment or multi-million budget, but we have given out over $30,000 in small grants and artistic scholarships over the past four years. My goal in sharing this is not to toot the Grove’s horn, but to say we’re willing to take a risk and be an example in the hope that other’s in the Church will catch on. We want to be insanely generous as God has already been insanely generous with us.

    Last, The Grove Retreat Center needs to be seen in context of what we’re trying to do in our Creative Edge Artist Network development. Our goal is to develop a national network (yes, you could say international if you want) of artists in the Church by providing tools and resources to artists anywhere who are looking to be equipped, educated, and encouraged in their unique artistic calling. Right now, we’re trying to help people develop Grove-affiliated gatherings in their own hometowns.

    Sorry if this sounded a bit too much like a commercial…merely an update of what we’re working on…thanks Paul for the post.

  2. TAE says:

    Thanks for the clarifications! Great to know there will be studio space, and I love the model you’ve established by giving and not just asking. I look forward to new images I can add to this blog giving us a better idea of what the center will actually become.

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