Spark+Echo Update

Jonathon Roberts (Beacon, New York, USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Jonathon Roberts is the co-founder of Spark+Echo Arts, a community of artists and patrons that is illuminating every verse of the Bible through the arts. He is a versatile composer; he has written for theatres, concert halls, churches, slot machines, and rock bands. His latest album, “Cities,” is a song cycle personifying biblical cities. He is currently on staff as an audio engineer for scripted podcasts at Gimlet Media/Spotify. He lives in Beacon, New York, with his wife, Emily, and their two boys.

Forming Communities with Spark+Echo Arts


Because the Bible is relevant to all people in all places…
Because all artists in all places are image bearers of God…
Because artists have a pervasive impact in forming culture…
Spark+Echo Arts forms communities of artists who engage with and create in response to the Bible.

If we are successful…

    Artists are affirmed in their calling.

    Artists connect deeply to God and one another.

    Artists from diverse spiritual and cultural backgrounds work with each other.

    The Bible is recovered as a common subject of artistic conversation and creation.

    Artists provide the curious with new forms of engagement with Scripture.

    Every verse of the Bible will be illuminated with art, music, theatre, poetry, dance, or film by Christian and non-Christian artists from every nation across the world.

In 2009, Emily Clare Zempel and I, married for just a few weeks, spoke on faith and creativity at the "Creativity and Lutheran Theology in Media" Conference, hosted at Bethany Lutheran College by the Christ in Media Institute. We had a passion for creating new art on the Bible, which led us to found Spark+Echo Arts in New York City in 2010. Our goal was to give other artists a reason to respond to Scripture using their gifts.

Our flagship program has been our illuminated Bible project. To date we have commissioned art on over four thousand verses of the Bible. You can see every work at the Spark+Echo Arts website. What I especially love about the project is the diversity of response to the Bible. We encourage artists to respond freely, and in the process they bring verses to life in powerful and surprising ways. We show in practice that the Bible is alive and speaks to people everywhere.

In 2018, we hosted a board retreat to examine how our project had grown. We noticed a trend: while our focus had been simple – asking artists to create on the Bible, something else was happening along the way. Artists and communities were being formed around each work (and I mean multiple meanings of the word formed). Since our "gallery" is primarily online, the physical works and performances that come out of the project live on across the world. Relationships develop as artists collaborate around the Word. Artists share that the act of creating on Scripture itself is shaping other areas of their life and career.

In short, the act of artistically illuminating the Bible is a formational experience, both for individuals and communities.

Because of that, we have expanded our mission and vision to what I shared at the opening of this update. Our flagship program continues, but it's part of a larger mission. This mission reflects both what we have witnessed happening in this project over the last ten years, and where we would like it to grow.

One of the ways we are growing is by establishing formation groups. Over six weeks artists and a facilitator meet to examine works that have been created through the project, read and personally connect with a portion of the Bible, and then create their own work. We have successfully piloted our first formation group this year and are looking for ways to share our model and curriculum with communities across the country. If you would like to explore this idea in your community, please let us know through our website.

We also have been transitioning our leadership into the future. After ten years as Executive Director, I have stepped down, moving onto our board of directors. I am thrilled to report that Rebecca Testrake, our long-time program director, is assuming the role of Interim Director. Having shepherded hundreds of artists through the process of creating on the Bible with Spark+Echo Arts over the years, no one knows this work better. I can't wait to see how the project develops under her leadership.

We are also focused on expanding our board, volunteers, and staff to support the future of this project. Specifically we are looking to match the diversity of voices we see in the artistic community around Spark+Echo Arts in the leadership itself. This is an area where we have fallen short. To model that the Bible is truly relevant to all people, we need to model this in every aspect of our project. Do you know someone who would be a good candidate to join Spark+Echo Arts' leadership? Please recommend via our website.

Thank you for your prayers and support of this very unique mission. We appreciate the opportunity to share this update and to continue echoing the spark of the Bible for artists everywhere. I look forward to connecting with you here. Please also explore the project at and share your thoughts and ideas with us. You are part of the Spark+Echo community, and together we can bring the Bible to life in remarkable ways.

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Greg Schibbelhut (Luther High School) 2020-10-23 3:50:04pm
Jonathon, Thank you for contributing to this online conference with your varied God-given talents. May God continue to bless you, your wife, and your team as you continue to illuminate the truths of scripture to a people in need of the Gospel message in New York and throughout the world. I still remember fondly your visit to Luther High School and tried to capture some of the highlights in this video on our YouTube already 8 years ago: In front of the world's toughest crowd, high schoolers, you and Emily shined. It is great to see how your mission continues. I do have one question for you. As I was perusing your works, the Genesis project piqued my interest as a science teacher. I was wondering about the significance of the multiple "meat" shots? Was it to simply point out animals (fish chicken etc) or was it to suggest that with the corruption of sin, animals now die when originally God, although we were in charge of the animals, did not intend animals for food originally. From a digital video teacher point of view I appreciated the videography, I was more so just curious about how to interpret the imagery. Thanks again for your work and all your efforts to enlighten the New York community with God's Word.
Jonathon (Spark+Echo) 2020-11-10 10:58:24pm
Hi Greg,
It's nice to hear from you and I remember that show well! It was so fun to watch that video–thanks for making it and sharing again here. What a great memory! We were just kids :)

Thanks for the Genesis question, too. That's a good question. Likewise, it's been awhile since I have looked at that work which is fun! I'd have to ask the artists directly on that one, but to me it feels more like your second suggestion. Or maybe they are imagining a reader seeing that verse and walking through the city, seeing images as they contemplate the phrases. While they are shopping, the line "have dominion... have dominion...." is rolling around in their head. They wonder if that's what this means, how that phrase echoes through a seemingly mundane moment now. They walk in the park and think of all the people and "increase in number" etc. That's what comes to my mind. I would guess they would enjoy both of us exploring and looking at the verse and connecting our thoughts to the verse and their work... so thanks for inspiring that!