The Maker Institute was founded in Richmond, Virginia, in 2021 by a small group of committed members of a local church body. These founding members have devoted over a decade’s worth of work to making art, designing professionally, and running a non-profit gallery exhibiting visual art with an aim to serve and build up society for God’s kingdom.


Years of history and education

In 2005, a visual artist and his wife began to dream of a God-sized vision for a new and relevant model of studio and theology education. The vision was to provide the theological and practical artistic studio mentorship needed to forge an environment to reach Christians called to the Arts while empowering them in their fields and careers to imagine and create for God’s glory and the human flourishing of all.

In 2010, this couple took a vital step to become members with a church in Richmond, Virginia. God continued to draw numerous artists and designers to this church as well. As the community began to swell and grow over the years, many like-minded Christian brothers and sisters stepped towards an impassioned calling to the arts and officially joined hands in 2018.

Since that official formation as a team, this group of folks has labored to create a place and space where Christ-honoring creative freedom tackles the most pressing issues facing the Church and the world through the arts. The result of this prayerful, faithful effort has resulted in the Maker Institute and so much more.

The Maker Institute

Ryan Lauterio met his wife Laura while both studying at CSU Sacramento in 2001. At the time, Ryan was studying art and seeking something that would explain what this life was about; Laura, already a Christian, was stepping out and making her faith her own. In 2004, after several years of the Spirit drawing him through Laura and other’s faithful witness Ryan stepped into repentance and faith in Jesus. During this time, Laura was studying at Biola University and introduced Ryan to the work of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, who would remain a pivotal influence in his life.

In 2006, Ryan completed his MA in Studio Art, and Laura her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and Theology. They married and knew that their lives would somehow be dedicated to working in the arts and developing Christian apologetics, but they didn’t see how the Lord would lead them. In 2007, while Laura was working on a remote Master’s in Christian Apologetics at Biola, Ryan was accepted into Virginia Commonwealth University’s MFA program for Painting and moved to Richmond, Virginia.

Just as Ryan was finishing his thesis exhibition in 2009, they discovered they were pregnant with their first child. Grappling with the lack of support for Christian artists and considering their growing family, they considered moving to New York City. Ryan was teaching in the VCU Art Foundations program and faithfully sharing the good news of the gospel with students, but he stayed keenly aware of the need for a more substantial Christian presence in the arts beyond his own isolated efforts.

However, in 2010 God saw fit to lead Ryan and Laura to Remnant Church, a small church that had only been planted in Richmond City for a few months. Led by church planters and pastors Bryan Laughlin and Doug Ponder, the elders and church planting team had a deep desire to see strong, healthy churches planted in urban contexts that could minister to the surrounding culture. To support this, they had a vision for securing a building where a seminary and art gallery could be hosted. Ryan and Laura committed to membership with Remnant Church to partner and see what the Lord would produce through a Christ-following vibrant community and family of believers.

By 2011, a mixed-use building was secured and renovated with over 2500 square feet of gallery space. Now a full-time instructor at VCU, Ryan started hosting open art critiques every other week, allowing local artists to bring work and have it constructively discussed. These gatherings would include a mixed group of up to fifty Christians and non-Christians, often lasting for 3 hours. The friendships that grew around these critiques confirmed that there was a great need for a more robust way of encouraging Christian artists and evangelizing non-Christian artists. 

Joining these critiques was Garreth Blackwell, who that same year had begun his doctoral work in Media, Art, and Text at VCU. Garreth and his wife Callie had recently moved from Mississippi where they both studied at the University of Mississippi and where he taught for four years following the completion of his MA. While at the University of Mississippi, Garreth had rewritten most of the design curriculum in the School of Journalism and New Media including the reintroduction of design courses that had not been offered for over a decade. His work at the University of Mississippi was supported by the founding of his design studio as well as his volunteer community work in teaching layout and design to high schoolers and photography and design to middle schoolers. 

As these open house critiques continued, Ryan entered theological training for pastoral ministry through Remnant Church. He completed this training in 2014 and was ordained as the Pastor of Arts at the Church. The same year, a formal art gallery was started under the name Re: Form, with Ryan as Director and Curator and Laura as his assistant. By 2016 the gallery was renamed Shockoe Artspace and obtained 501(c)3 non-profit status. From the friendships that started on the VCU campus and in open critiques, a small, close-knit group of artists and supporters formed the core team of gallery volunteers, and Shockoe Artspace hosted quarterly shows of acclaimed and emerging painters, photographers, sculptors, and mixed media artists. 

In 2018, Dr. Garreth Blackwell and his wife Callie joined as permanent members, and Garreth began serving as the Design and Communication Director while Callie stepped in as Manager of Social Media. Many of the individuals on the team were members of Remnant Church who had recently graduated from art school or were in progress of completing a degree. Among these were Michael and Ashley Clapp, Nick Seitz and Rachel Seitz, Sam and Shane Taylor, Josh and Deanna Williams, Curtis Newkirk Jr., David and Ashley Sparace, Drew and Cassie Webster, Michael and Ashley Clapp, Hannah Grose, Katie Cortez, Cody and Carissa Godwin, and Tim and Lisa Bynum. Some of these friendships stretched back long before the gallery, and some emerged as the gallery continued to be a home for artists seeking the joy and freedom of fellowship that Christians were sharing.

As the gallery operated and Ryan continued to teach at VCU and actively exhibit, the Lauterios and Blackwells began to seriously discuss what it would look like to found an institution for learning about the arts based on the model of the L’Abri Fellowship founded by Francis Schaeffer. As Shockoe Artspace’s reputation in Richmond’s art scene grew, in 2019, Ryan and Garreth started Shockoe Artspeak, a podcast about art and design. The podcast grew to thousands of regular listeners in multiple countries, demonstrating that makers were hungry for frank, humanizing discussions about questions that needed to be answered in contemporary art schools. Seeing the need to reconsider the many assumptions artists and the general public have about who art is for, Ryan partnered with Nick Seitz to co-direct and produce the award-winning documentary The Builder, which has shown at film festivals from California to New York to Italy. By the end of The Builder’s festival run, the documentary had collected more than a dozen laurels. In tandem with the work and release of the documentary, Shockoe Artspace was able to open an auxiliary gallery with studio space called Shockoe Studios, which opened in 2019.

Ryan and Garreth connected with Sam Tuttle, an urban developer, and his wife Sarah, a visual artist. As listeners of the podcast, the Tuttles shared the vision for Christian artists and makers being built up in Christ and empowered to make an effective, timely culture. In a great show of generosity, they donated the ongoing usage of property in Shockoe Bottom so that Shockoe Artspace could have a permanent recording studio. However, plans were delayed as the country responded to the emergence of Covid-19 in 2020, and Shockoe Artspace was unable to keep Shockoe Studios open. During this time, Ryan stepped away from serving on the pastoral staff at Remnant Church to focus on the deep desire to work towards serving the Christian arts community by founding a school. After a hiatus of shows caused by gathering restrictions, in late 2020, the gallery reopened with a group exhibition titled Four Horseman & The Apocalypse, and the gallery resumed regular programming.

In early 2021, Ryan and Garreth gathered a small group of Shockoe Artspace volunteers to form a group of dedicated learners who desired to grow spiritually and intellectually as they pursued their calling as makers and thinkers. Affectionately called the Shockoe Fellowship, they committed to a two-year intensive program of reading works by theologians, artists, and philosophers who had written on topics about or relevant to Christianity, the arts, and culture making. As part of their studies, they wrote papers on the books and met as a group in Ryan’s studio every three weeks to pray and discuss the materials so that they could continue to mature in their artistic practices and sharpen their ability to advocate for the necessity of the arts for human flourishing with Christians and non-Christians alike. 

In early 2022, Cody Godwin was invited to join Shockoe Artspeak as a permanent co-host and began assisting Garreth and Ryan with practical planning for the Maker Institute’s structure, curriculum, campus, and theological vision. In late 2022, the Shockoe Fellowship completed its two-year program, and Cory Simpson joined to support the mission with his extensive expertise in university finance. Finally, before 2022 ended, the Maker Institute was formally incorporated by Garreth, Ryan, Cody, and Cory, with plans to seek donor partnerships in 2023 and start its first classes in 2024.