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Jim Janknegt (on ladder) begins work on the <i>Touch the Word</i> mural along Austin's Sixth Street.
Photo by Warren Cole Smith for WORLD
Jim Janknegt (on ladder) begins work on the Touch the Word mural along Austin's Sixth Street.

Innocents In Austin: A spark of Christ in the city

Culture | A mural in the heart of South by Southwest’s music scene looks to share the power of Jesus with festivalgoers

AUSTIN, Texas—What if Jesus came to the South by Southwest festival? What would He do? What would He say? Where would He spend his time?

These are the questions artist Jim Janknegt is exploring this week in Austin at SXSW 2013, and he’s answering them not with words, but with a large mural on Sixth Street, “Main Street” for Austin’s music scene and near the heart of the festival.

The mural, called Touch the Word, shows Jesus in modern clothing—including a hoodie and sneakers—touching people on Austin’s Sixth Street, with the bright lights of Austin’s music venues all around. Ten scenes from the Bible, including Jesus’s interaction with the Roman centurion and his healing of the woman with the issue of blood, are depicted.

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“This is a riff on medieval paintings that showed Jesus in contemporary settings,” said Janknegt, who has been an Austin artist for more than 30 years.

Every place in the mural Jesus where has touched someone is noted by a flash, or a spark.

“One of my challenges was to make visual things that are not visible,” Janknegt said. “The spark is my attempt to do that. Not only do you see sparks when Jesus touches someone, or when they touch Him, but also when people who have been touched by Jesus touch others. That’s the power Jesus gives to His disciples.”

The mural is part of The Wall Project at SXSW, a joint ministry of Austin’s nondenominational Hope Chapel and the Anglican Christ Church. Terri Fisher, who leads the arts ministry at Christ Church and coordinates the project, said, “We love Austin and we want this project to be a presence of Christ in the city of Austin, and we want to bless the city with the gift of art.”

While Janknegt and his assistants paint the overwhelming majority of the mural’s large panels (which are 8-by-12 feet each), they leave a 6-inch border around the entire image so that passers-by can make their own contributions. In addition, two handmade journals—one for words and the other for images—on site allow others, including artists and writers from the participating churches, to take part.

Although the planning and mock-up for the mural has been ongoing for weeks, public work began on Sixth Street yesterday (see video clip below), as the music portion of SXSW 2013 was getting underway. Janknegt and his collaborators plan to finish by Saturday. You can track their progress by going to a website devoted to The Wall Project.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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