“To be or not to be, that is the question.”
This is the first line of a speech given by Prince Hamlet in the 1601 play, Hamlet.

Hamlet is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays. In the context of the story, this famous first line is a question of life versus death. Over the centuries the phrase has been used in countless ways in movies, TV shows, dramas, comedy routines, musicals, operas, novels, and poems.

So, when BBI arranged to rent the Hamlet Club in Riga, we added our purpose to this historic list… “To thrive or not to thrive, that is the question.”

We invited scores of mostly Christian artists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, comedians, and poets to a special gathering at the Hamlet Club in Old Riga, a theater club created by musicians and stage artists.

We didn’t invite the artists to only perform, but to hang out from 5:00–10:00 pm. Of course, many shared songs, images, poems, comedy, and thoughts. Some of the performances were highly professional, but we didn’t judge the talent, so to speak. Instead, questions from the crowd to the artists were gladly fielded by performers.

Some of these artists are just getting started in their careers. I noticed how excited they were to share their talents with well-known professionals in such a prestigious location.

We began the evening with improvisational piano music followed by warm welcomes from the evening’s emcees, Efi Šmits and Lāsma Šauriņa, who explained the purpose of the evening and invited all to settle in, sip on warm cranberry drinks, and snack on tasty morsels.

I then shared the overall vision that artists and musicians need thriving community opportunities, not only in their creative lives but in most areas of life. Community is an easy word to throw around, but how does one know when it’s achieved?

Allow me to share some thoughts on how community can and should thrive.

Community thrives when conversations grow in spontaneity and depth. As our evening progressed the conversation volume intensified. Many stayed as late as possible. Who wants to leave something interesting and fun?

Our emcees for the evening were Lasma Saulina and Efi Smits. They set a marvelous tone and kept everything running smoothly. They are both highly skilled.
Charles shares the mission of BBI's Imago Dei Arts.

Community thrives when young people are invited to share their skills, and enjoy the cheers and encouragements of other artists, including professionals. Several high school students braved the stage and spotlights to share songs, art, and short films. The ovations they received inspired them. They will be back.

Community thrives when artists begin to cast vision with one another, sharing dreams which could come to fruition if others grasp their vision and collaborate. Three filmmakers circulated the room in search of writers, actors, musicians, technical experts, and more. I wonder what these people will accomplish together.

Māris Apfelsbergs shared an original song and his painting of Jesus sending the swine over the cliff.

Community thrives when creatives share how their faith informs and drives them. Some are devoted to sharing the gospel with their talents and skill. Others want to create art that creates opportunities for important conversations with those who otherwise may resist. Still, more communicate spiritual truth through their making.

Artis Gaga is an amazing sax player. Here her playing a juicy piece by Charlie Parker.

Community thrives when professionals check their egos at the door to enjoy the entire process, not just their moments in the spotlight. They spoke about their music and their learning processes. And then they let loose with astonishing pieces for piano or the sax. The room was electric.

Before playing Reinis Zariņš explained the two pieces he was going to play, "Prelude and Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach "Ostinato" by Brad Mehldau." Incredible!

Community thrives where musicians linger long after the program is over to “jam” with one another. Jazz, blues, and modern improv were engaged by pianists, violinists, guitarists, and saxophonists. As a musician who loves to jam the blues with others, the smile on my face was so wide my cheeks ached.

Almers Ludviks eloquently described the tasty morsels to those he served.

Community thrives when the organizers decide to prepare extravagant eats and treats. Our team served homemade cheese, bread, smoked meats, and pastries. Grapes, pineapple chunks, and bananas disappeared quickly. I’m convinced when ministries prepare special events with unexpected quality, participants instantly feel honored. And they want to come back.

What is an Evening of Artistic Exploration without 45 minute of jazz improv?

Community thrives when participants share memories from previously shared camps, retreats, gatherings, training events, and days of artistic exploration. We have tried to capture our major activities with photography and film since we came together for the first time in Riga in 2012. It was fun to show videos from the past as people love seeing themselves. But we also want folks to keep coming, with friends.

Many people told us how great the evening was and how they want to be involved in future happenings.  Our team has determined this Evening of Artistic Exploration at the Hamlet Club must develop in the future. Why? Because when Christian artists and musicians experience genuine community, they can better use their talents and skills for God’s glory, the benefit of society, the health of the family, and the mission of the church.

The next Evening of Artistic Exploration at the Hamlet Club will take place on the 15th of April from 5:00 – 10:00 PM.