Story and photos |  Amanda DeBusk

Samuel McVey_1
Samuel McVey practices violin with his instructor Sarah Page.

Fade in on the Arts Institute at Southland Community Church (SCC), located at the old West Grove Elementary School at Smith Valley Road and Mullinix Road. In the first repurposed classroom, Sarah McVey practices Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy on a polished grand piano; she is practicing for the Arts Institute’s upcoming recital. In the room next door, her younger brother, Samuel, practices his violin; he follows his teacher, Sarah Page, and tries to mimic the inflections as she plays. I sit and listen to Sarah until she completes the movement; my grandmother and I used to go to the theater every year to watch the Nutcracker, and the song always takes me back in time.

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Sarah McVey practices Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy.

The Arts Institute at Southland Community Church is a new kind of offering here locally. Many local churches including Community Church of Greenwood (the parent church from which Southland Community began) and Mount Pleasant Christian Church have spectacular athletic offerings, but SCC chose to put their focus on the arts. The McVey family mentioned above is just one of the many families who began taking lessons at the Arts Institute and who have now become members of this rapidly-growing church community.

Southland Community Church is still young, as churches go, but it is gaining members quickly. After a brief foray at Wilson St. Pierre Funeral Home, SCC moved to Sugar Grove Elementary for a summer, and was then given an opportunity to move into the then recently-vacated West Grove Elementary – all of this, by the way, with a cumulative age of less than four years!

After two years at West Grove, the church has put in an offer to purchase the school. They are currently waiting on a reply from the school board on whether the option to purchase is going to become available. Senior Pastor Steve Schellin is very enthusiastic about this location, as all of the available classrooms are very conducive to offering artistic instruction.

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Jenna Page, the Art Institute’s director, graduated from the University of Indianapolis with a Bachelors Degree in Music.

Jenna Page, the Art Institute’s director, graduated from the University of Indianapolis with a Bachelors Degree in Music. As a part of her senior studies, Jenna spent her final semester creating a proposal for a Christ-based arts program. Now, as many of you who are artists may know, gainful employment in the arts is, shall we say … difficult to find. So after graduation, Jenna began volunteering weekly with Southland’s Worship Pastor, Jim Dodson. Eventually Pastor Dodson asked Jenna if she would be interested in creating an arts center associated with the church! After some tweaking of her original proposal and several months of prayer from the church elders, the Arts Institute was finally a reality in October of 2011.

Jenna says that the Arts Institute started with “a vision to be a place where artists can come and produce their art, can teach, and can be a community of artists who do what we do for the glory of Jesus Christ.” The Arts Institute was able to draw from its rich store of musicians already associated with the church to introduce its music program first. Currently, students are enrolled in private lessons for piano, violin, flute, percussion, and voice; teachers are also available for oboe, guitar, brass, and many other instruments.

With the wide variety of classes offered, it is hoped that the Arts Institute will have many students. Private classes have enrolled students from elementary school age through adults. With a concentration on private instruction, Jenna hopes to “focus on that relationship building. The time that you have with students that is one on one is really quite incredible. I think that really fits with our vision of wanting to not just care about them as musicians but also to care about these kids and adults as people and really help them grow in that regard.”

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Senior Pastor Steve Schellin

The youngest (and arguably most adorable) students of the Arts Institute get to visit with Heather. She teaches a class for the littlest of musicians: infants through preschoolers. Parents get to be involved in this one, too – it is a “Music Together” class. This is currently the only group class offered, and a lot of it is singing based. Jenna tells me that “the earlier you can get them to start singing, the better their pitch will be.” Along with singing, the “Music Together” class also gets to learn rhythms by playing drums and movement by dancing with scarves.

The Institute hopes to expand into other mediums as well, and Head Pastor Steve Schellin “would love to see drama develop further as a part of our Arts Institute, even dance in some respects.”

Currently, art classes are being offered through Southland Community Church, although not directly affiliated with the Arts Institute. A short while back, local Christian artist and painter Ed Patterson showed up at Southland’s door with the feeling that the Lord wanted him to donate a twelve-piece painting series, composed of key Bible stories, to a local church. The catch? The church was going to help him paint them. Pastor Schellin said, “Help you paint them? I mean, none of us are artists, or if we have any, I don’t know who they are!” And Ed said, “I’ll teach them.”

So far, four of the twelve paintings are in progress: The Garden of Eden, Abraham and Isaac, Moses coming down Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments, and Noah and the Ark. Next month, Ed is heading to Las Vegas and the Bellagio to photograph fountains to use as elements in the image for the parting of the Red Sea. He is also covering all his own expenses for this project.

The creative process for these paintings is unique. Ed uses models and landmarks and takes several pictures, and then merges all the images together into a giant 6 x 8 foot photograph. Each photograph is cut into three levels and then into miniature strips, maybe an inch wide. Then, students are responsible to reproduce their strips in paint. The painting is done in four layers, with Ed being very engaged in the last layer to help create the detail of the painting.

Notice how the strips of photograph in front are recreated in paint on the second layer.

As knowledge of the Arts Institute grows, Steve and Jenna hope to be able to offer more classes based in the aesthetic arts as well as music, drama, and dance.

For more information about the Arts Institute, visit the Southland Community Church website at or the Arts Institute Facebook page Be sure to keep an eye on the website; their recital series is open to the public.


amanda_SlugAmanda is a transplant to the Center Grove area from Florida. She is a photographer and a self-proclaimed nerd.

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