The New York Times reports on Anna Deavere Smith, the first artist in residence at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.
“Show of hands. How many of you have searched on Google to see what others are saying about you?” she said, pausing to absorb the crowd’s laughter.
It was the first homily for Ms. Smith, 61, who is also the first artist-in-residence at this Episcopal cathedral on Nob Hill. She is working on a play, to be performed at the cathedral on Feb. 17 and 18, that will explore the meanings of grace. She has also taken part in a series of public conversations for the Sunday morning Forum program; this coming week she will join the composer John Adams onstage.
In keeping with her iconic “documentary theater” style in which she interviews scores of people and brings their words to life by recreating their cadences and body movements, Ms. Smith has been talking to both members of the cathedral’s staff and the community for her performance. (Her interviews will be stored in the cathedral’s archives.)
Both Ms. Smith and the Very Rev. Jane Shaw, who became the cathedral’s dean last year, share a vision of bringing together art and religion, historically-linked pursuits that are sometimes at odds in modern America.
While Grace Cathedral has been very involved with art and artists (its AIDS Chapel features the work of Keith Haring, for example), art and religion can be combustible. In 2010, a conservative Roman Catholic group and members of Congress helped bring about the removal of a video clip of ants crawling on a crucifix from a Smithsonian exhibit — igniting fears that the culture wars of the ’80s and ’90s had returned.