Skip to main content

December 2023 Culture Care Newsletter

  • Posted: December 6, 2023

Photo credit to Makoto Fujimura, taken at Foundation Louis Vuitton’s Mark Rothko exhibition in November. The Rothko in the background is No. 14, 1960, oil on canvas.

A Note from IAMCultureCare

If (as T.S. Eliot asserts in The Wasteland) April is the cruelest month”, with its rude awakening from the warm…forgetful snow”, then surely December is the mirror opposite. December marks an end to the year; it is a time of reflection, and in the northern hemisphere it beckons us to slow down, get cozy, and end the year in a lazy winter hibernation. Yet December is also a new beginning. For many around the world, the season of Advent marks the church’s new year, and it is a chance to look forward with hope in spite of the wintry reminders of death in the natural world around us. 

This month’s Culture Care Newsletter seeks to hold these things in tension within this liminal space, and offer an opportunity for reflection while looking forward to a new season. IAMCultureCare’s founder, Makoto Fujimura, reflects on Mark Rothko’s legacy as an example of culture care even as he considers Rothko’s influence on his own works. Then, we have a moving creative writing reader submission from Tonia Martin also about generational legacy (be sure to read her whole piece by clicking the link following the preview below). We then feature a convicting culture care reflection by another newsletter reader, Steve Jensen. Finally, my Culture Care Soundbite embraces the tension of this season in one of Leonard Cohen’s final songs, It’s Torn”. As we ponder these, let us consider how we might care for the culture and people around us during this joyous yet at times deeply-pained season.

Looking ahead, we are excited to continue learning how to share your stories in the new year. Thank you to the many readers who have expressed interest in contributing something to this newsletter (and special thanks to Tonia and Steve in this month’s issue). Please keep those coming! We welcome art of any kind, written reflections, or anything else you’d like to share, including news or events related to Culture Care (see our new Events” section below). Email jacob@​internationalartsmovement.​org to submit a piece.

Wishing you all a restful end to the year!

A Note from Makoto Fujimura, founder of IAMCultureCare

During the pandemic, I had the privilege of writing the Afterword for the re-release of The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art (Yale University Press) which is the compendium of Mark Rothko’s early essays (and the only collection of his philosophy on art). Christopher Rothko invited me to write as a living artist influenced by Rothko. My Water Flames series (recently exhibited at ARC event in London) and Silence and Beauty series (which will be featured in both the Lenz Gallery in South Carolina and at the Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in 2024) quote” Rothko directly. My recent painting Blueberry (recently exhibited at Pola Museum in Japan) also came directly out of spending inordinate time with Rothko’s deep musings on art, and then facing my canvases during the pandemic.

Rothko’s works have moved many to tears as a pure emotional experience. They have also confounded others as too esoteric or too minimal to respond to. Haejin and I recently visited two exquisite Rothko exhibits, one in Paris and one in Washington D.C. What these two exhibits reveal is a universality of Rothko’s ability, at least to those who desire to journey into the mysteries of Rothko’s paintings, to create an opportunity to behold even more deeply, and to marvel at the deeper realm of the painter of ideas” (Christopher’s expression that is the start of my essay). Such a realm is a mystery, but it is one path of caring deeply for the souls of culture.

Christopher was busy preparing for both exhibits when we met during my writing, and they are each once in a lifetime” exhibits worth visiting — even if the exhibit is the only destination at either of these venues. The Paris exhibit is a true pilgrimage. It is showing at the remarkable Foundation Louis Vuitton building by Frank Gehry, surrounded by the woods that Marcel Proust meandered through and lived in. It features some of the largest Rothko’s together for the first time in many years. 

At the National Gallery in Washington DC, we witnessed the opening of an exhibit focused on Rothko’s paper works. Rothko’s children, Christopher and Kate, spoke to a packed auditorium about their journey with their father’s art. It occurred to me that it was their care for their father’s works that made our experiences possible within their lifetime. Their diligent stewardship allowed for us to enjoy these timeless” (in Kate’s words) extraordinary works.

Kate was 19 when her father committed suicide. Immediately, she had to fight legal battles to keep control of her father’s legacy from galleries that wanted to profit from them. If that was allowed, it would have been impossible to have long-term stewardship over them. Her willingness to take on that battle, and, later, Christopher’s journey as a psychologist and a writer to expand on the history of Rothko’s deep philosophical realm, led to these extraordinary exhibits. We were grateful, taking in the result, standing in the midst of them in an overwhelming experience of deep emotions. 

Guest Creative Writing Submission: Affidavit of Identity in Retrograde

By Tonia Colleen Martin

The Affidavit of Identity in Retrograde is an examination of the narrative passed down through a lineage of struggling believers, hemmed in by the parameters of a legal document. Setting down the particulars of one woman’s eye-witness testimony of the war between good and evil in her own bloodline, The Affidavit of Identity concludes by verifying her citizenship in the Promised Land.



Ours are a people breathed.

Ours are a people stained. 

We are a story together. 

A story apart. 

We bleat peril and growl heroism.

We view ourselves from many angles.

Sometimes from the beginning.

Sometimes from the everlasting. 

The middle remains to be lived…Continue reading


About Tonia:

Father Sky. Mother Cloud. Broken children stones, these are my indigenous people.” 

Having earned her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, Tonia Martin’s work explores our world of fleeting beauty and offers a mere suggestion of what will be fully revealed when time’s gates open to eternity. Through narratives and watercolors, Martin flashes a light into the cracks of humanity- its desires, fears, and courage – revealing God’s goodness as He sustains Eden’s refugees. 

Her work appears in various publications including Arts: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies; Metonym; The Chrysalis Reader; and Ruminate Magazine. She has a whimsical collection of self-published, fully-illustrated, contemplative coffee table gift books available on Amazon.

Guest Essay Submission: Love to Care

By Steve Jensen, Academy Kintsugi Facilitator

I recently took an inventory of my life as regards the call to care for culture the way in which Makoto Fujimura espoused in the book, Culture Care. After just five minutes, I patted myself on my back when I realized that I truly have engaged in ways to care for culture.

Let me illustrate what I mean with a few examples: 

I practice, and have facilitated, many Kintsugi Experiences here in the U.S. and abroad. I’ve taught a series on caring for culture for two years at my church. I serve on the board of directors of a free medical clinic for uninsured, low-income residents. I love to write haiku and create photo books. I’ve helped numerous non profit organizations with their planning and funding. I sponsor a Japanese garden in our area. I tend a vegetable garden. I give to artists through Patreon. I even subscribe to the IAMCultureCare newsletter, for goodness sakes!

My Culture Care vitae says, Yes, I am caring!”

But do I care? To be honest, no.

I have to say that I don’t care because I confess that my heart doesn’t care. Though I am engaged in the act of caring for culture, I confess that I do not care for i.e., love, the culture in which I live. I do not care for this culture in which I live because it’s a trashy culture. Politics, educational institutions, entertainment, news media, even religious organizations…they’ve become a dumping ground for irrationality, hatred, selfishness, narcissism, and moral irrelevance. Like an alienated spouse, I’m a prime candidate for a divorce. I don’t love this culture at all nor many of the people living in it — both leaders and followers.

So, when I see how incongruent my behaviors and my attitudes are, the words of the apostle Paul from 1 Corinthians 13 come to mind. If Ido any number of great things, (to paraphrase Paul’s list)but have not love…I gain nothing.” That is, if I engage in culture-caring activities but I do not love, my music will be discordant. If I create beautiful things with my haiku and photos but I do not love, my art will be devoid of life. If my hands help bring new life to broken things and lives but I do not love, the true beauty will be hidden. If I help nonprofits engaged in incredible endeavors but do not love the people that they are attempting to reach, then whatever I give will not yield anything beyond a dollar for dollar result rather than a five, ten, or twenty-fold return.

I think I (and perhaps you, as well?) need to take a breath each time I read what the latest leader, protestor, artist, or media personality espouses as truth or a cultural norm. I need to love them. Whether they are my neighbor or my enemy, I need to love them. It doesn’t do my heart any good to let the poison of evil in our world keep me from loving them and the culture we all share.

I think of the generations to come and what legacy of love that I am to leave. If my grandkids only see how a grumpy old man tired himself out while doing good things but without love, they won’t truly know what it means to create culture.

I think it’s time to love what I care.

A Culture Care Soundbite from Jacob

Leonard Cohen’s It’s Torn”

Leonard Cohen’s final posthumous album Thanks for the Dance is a remarkably honest reflection by the late singer-songwriter on his career, the state of the world, and ultimately death. I’ve had the bleak, central track, It’s Torn”, on repeat since its 2021 release, and the more I listen to it the more I’ve come to believe it is fundamentally an Advent song.

This song is about Advent for me first because it is a brutally clear acknowledgment of the brokenness of life/our time. It’s Torn” lasts less than three minutes long, but in that brief time Cohen intones a damning litany of fracture points he sees in the world: It’s torn on the right and it’s torn on the left / It’s torn in the center which few can accept / It’s torn where there’s beauty, it’s torn where there’s death / It’s torn where there’s mercy but torn somewhat less. To fully experience Advent we must be willing to behold the tears and fractures in and around us.

Yet these tears are juxtaposed with a repeated and startling image of an unnamed individual dancing in carefree (and even perhaps foolish or indifferent) abandon in the midst of the fractures: You kick off your sandals and shake out your hair / It’s torn where you’re dancing, it’s torn everywhere. Cohen’s characteristically nebulous metaphors and frequent biblical allusion allow for multiple meanings to come through, but for me at least, the mysterious you” of this song seems to be the person of Jesus.

Some clues to this identity: The first stanza addresses this individual, questioning, Why did you leave us? Why did you leave?, perhaps a reference to Christ’s departure after his resurrection (additionally, the use of the pronoun us” in this line negates the idea that the you” is merely a former lover, which is one explanation of the song I’ve seen online; the us” universalizes Cohen’s experience). The addressee also smiles at their own suffering (paralleling Christ’s submission to his crucifixion): You smile at your suffering, the sweetest reprieve. Cohen also references the biblical lilies of the field (Matthew 6), and possibly the nail-pierced, stigmata hands of Christ …cut at the wrist in stanza 3 (indeed, though the most cryptic, I think the third stanza can be read as a poetic account of the crucifixion narrative).

Whether or not the addressee is Christ or not, though, the image of this person dancing in brokenness is arresting. Dancing is such a gratuitous act, perhaps the most gratuitous thing to do in a torn world. To dance is to give your entire physical being, to viscerally expend your life-energy in what may be a fundamentally futile gesture. Yet in those gestures there is meaning. This dance is a joyful one, not because but in spite of the tears: You kick off your sandals and shake out your hair / The salt on your shoulders like sparks in the air…It’s torn where you’re dancing, it’s torn everywhere. It reminds me of the Old Testament story of King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Samuel 6), or of the lion Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia shaking his mane for sheer joy (tangentially, there is a fantastic album inspired by the Narnia books by Sarah Sparks that I encourage you to check out). To dance is to choose to create beauty, even when it seems the world is fundamentally broken, and that is the posture of Advent. 

The penultimate stanza is a plea to Come gather the pieces all scattered and lost / The lie in what’s holy, the light in what’s not, and here Cohen as a Jew and lifelong spiritual searcher honestly faces up to one of the fundamental questions of life: if there is a God, then why doesn’t he do something about the broken, scattered pieces of life? The next line is either the most defeatist or the most hopeful of the song, and I think that ambiguity is intentional: The story’s been written, the letter’s been sealed. Either our situation is meaningless, or (as the final line restates) someone (God) is still dancing and is the ultimate author of the story: You kick off your sandals and shake out your hair / It’s torn where you’re dancing, it’s torn everywhere. I don’t pretend that this song isn’t ultimately ambiguous (because it is), but regardless of your faith background Cohen’s implicit parting question to us is whether or not we will join in the gratuitous dance even and especially when we cannot see the light in the tears or cracks in everything”. After all, that’s how the light gets in”.

Advent is a chance to fully acknowledge the brokenness, trauma, and tornness” of the world, to behold that, and to be willing to wait in that tension. Yet this waiting is neither passive nor hopeless, but rather a choice to dance where it’s torn. This month let us consider where we can embody Culture Care by choosing to dance with joy and abandon in the midst of pain.

Culture Care News & Events

  • Liturgies of Uncertainty: Culture Care Podcast Season 2. IAMCC’s sister organization Culture Care Creative is releasing a new podcast season after a pandemic hiatus. Join host and Culture Care Advocate Brianna Kinsman (plus exciting guests!) each Wednesday this month to lean into the discomfort of the uncertain and almost-but-not-yet” parts of our humanity…We hope that in exploring the particulars, we might better map the universal experience of living in-between.”
  • Ethics of Culture Care: IAMCC Newsletter Essay Series. The ancients talked about concepts like ethos, dharma, or sila to describe the moral life, living dutifully and responsibly among fellow human beings. Join us here in the new year as theologian Jared Stacy (University of Aberdeen) invites us to ask, what is an ethics of culture care? This question will expand into a series of brief reflections on three dimensions of a culture care ethic: time, space, and presence.
  • My Bright Abyss: Paintings & Prints” Makoto Fujimura Exhibit at Bradford Gallery — Nashville, TN, Now — March 31. Gallery open on Sunday mornings and special events, as well as group tours. Contact the St. George’s Episcopal Church office to find out how to visit.
  • Mysterion” Makoto Fujimura Exhibit at The Galleries at First Pres — Greenville, SC, Jan 5 — July 25. This mini-retrospective of Makoto Fujimura’s works features pieces painted in the last two decades from the Doors” series exhibited in New York City in the mid 2000’s to the most recent diptych of Psalm 139 — Even the Darkness is not Dark to Thee”.
  • Water Flames” Makoto Fujimura Exhibit at Pepperdine University’s Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art — Malibu, CA, Jan 13 — March 31. Works from Fujimura’s Waterflames and Walking on Water series and rarely-seen pieces from a major private collection will be on display. He will speak at Pepperdine on Thursday, January 18, and the official opening is on Saturday, January 20 in the afternoon. Check out the museum’s website for forthcoming information.

Web Links

  • Past IAMCultureCare newsletter guest contributor Tiffany Thompson writes in Comment Magazine about collaborating with members of the Winston-Salem homeless population to write songs that reframe our civic narrative: As I explored their words, I was struck by the non-zero-sum game in their stories. Joyful hope danced with earth shattering traumas…Reading or listening to Booker and Gary’s songs is akin to strolling past a memorial. Despite your recent arrival, this place has stood the test of time.”
  • The Art Institute of Chicago has a new exhibit of works by trailblazing French sculptor Camille Claudel. Kiki Smith writes: There’s an ascendant. It’s a different kind of movement. It’s also about gravity. A lot of her work fights gravity, but it still must stand up without falling over…Claudel created something between being unsustainable and sustainable.”
  • Two New Creation Conversations between Makoto Fujimura and IAMCultureCare board member Julia Hendrickson: A November conversation on beholding and peace in the midst of global conflict as well as Mako’s recent pilgrimage to the Mark Rothko retrospective exhibit at the Foundation Louis Vuitton, and a December conversation about Belonging, Advent, and Slow Art.
  • Speaking of pilgrimage and new exhibits, Heading Home: Glimpses of New Jerusalem” is on view now at the Ahmanson Gallery in California. Plus, check out this interview with the artists to see some of the stunning multimedia work if you’re unable to view it in person.
  • Peter Mommsen for Plough Quarterly on repair culture” as opposed to throwaway culture” is a great example of Culture Care in action.
  • Also in Plough, Makoto Fujimura’s recent interview Making Art to Mend Culture”.
  • IAMCultureCare’s partner organization, Embers International, is hiring a Programs Manager. If you or someone you know is looking for work and is passionate about protecting, restoring, & empowering victims of injustice, please reach out to info@​embersinternational.​org for more information. In-person NYC area applicants preferred, but a hybrid option may be a possibility.