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Elizabeth Kwant: “Across the UK there’s an amnesia about this time in history.”

Thanks to our Sputnik Patrons, we’ve given a grant to visual artist Elizabeth Kwant. Elizabeth is a Manchester based artist, researcher and curator, who focuses her work on highly raw social issues such as colonialism, immigration detention, and modern slavery.

Her new film, ‘Volta do Mar’, continues that journey closer to home; a meditative performance focused on the interwoven histories of peoples and places in the UK, and the trauma that we find there. We asked our good friend Ally Gordon, from Morphe Arts, to find out more. We were really struck by Elizabeth’s work, and really happy that we could help bring this next piece to the finish line.

Making collaborative work, retelling important stories, and facing up to the demands of social justice are priceless processes. Why not join Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month, and we can give out more micro-grants to artists like Beth, who are taking risks to make difficult work.

Can you tell us a little about your new project, ‘Volta do Mar’?

I’ve been working on this project for a few years now, in an ongoing way. Let me backtrack a little bit to explain where I came from! Back in 2018, I spent a year in the archives of the international slavery museum in Liverpool. I spent time looking into the legacies of transatlantic slavery in the North-West of England.

So looking at the compensation which followed abolition – those plantation owners who received money for slaves; and where did that money go, basically?

That project culminated in a moving image installation, in the museum, in the transatlantic gallery, which was co-created with female survivors of modern day slavery. Through the process I had been looking at trauma, and how we hold it in our bodies; I really wanted women who had experienced a similar trauma to be able to respond to that history through their own stories.

During that time I did all that research, and in some ways it was behind the film but didn’t translate into the film itself. I wanted those women’s voices to be heard, so I didn’t go too deeply into the history around it. So I came away with all these ideas brewing! Volta do Mar comes from that period of time, where I had been researching into Cumbria, where I’m from originally – I was born in a small town called Whitehaven. 

As I began to look into the history of colonialism in Cumbria, I realised that Whitehaven was one of the most important port cities in the 18th Century, in the UK, for the trade in tobacco, and later sugar.

Often when one thinks about slavery in the UK we think about Glasgow or Bristol – so that’s an interesting part of the history in Britain.

I think with Cumbria you think of holidays, lakes, the National Trust, the picture perfect postcards! Interestingly I’ve come up against a reluctance to even look into this history, from institutions, tourist sites, even locals in some ways. Across the UK there’s an amnesia about that time in history. It’s generally not taught in schools. So I felt I wanted to somehow perform in some of these locations and places, and bring a kind of embodied presence into those spaces – particularly focused on Whitehaven.

How do you hope this project will help to highlight this part of history?

I think things work on multiple levels with art; often we’re told things in books or in a lecture style, quite a didactic way. I think artwork creates a space to engage with ideas on a heart level, an emotional level.

I really hope that my work does that, the moving image installations that I make do create a physical space as well; I like people to go in and experience the work, I particularly don’t like  showing work on a cinema screen, that sit-down, flat, passive experience. 

The last piece I made was in a circular room, and people walked in and were surrounded by women who were survivors of slavery, but who were on eye level, so they were engaging with them on an equal par.

It makes me think how art can open a space to discuss things that otherwise we can’t talk about; or to exist in a liminal space where we’re being intuitive over ideas that are difficult to comprehend.

There’s the personal aspect where I’ve been grappling with this as a white Brit; how do I authentically look at these histories in my work? Do I even have a right to? Some would say I don’t, and these issues are really complex. That’s why in the past I’ve chosen to work more collaboratively.

It’s wonderful to hear that Ruth Naomi Floyd is involved in the project, and of course Ruth often sings about her personal family story and her great great grandmother, who was treated truly awfully. Her music brings me to tears! Can you say a little more about that involvement?

I heard Ruth play the jazz flute recently! I’d been up in Cumbria filming, and thinking about the sound; I knew that I wanted to layer sounds. I really love working with found sounds; I wanted the sound of the mining machinery, because it was the coal mines in Whitehaven that exported coal to Ireland, and collected slaves from Africa afterwards. And the sound of the Solway Firth which is the sea there, next to the town.

So I have these layers of sounds that provide a base. When I heard Ruth play, it was just very evocative and emotive, and I thought that’s it

I really love to be able to collaborate with an artist of Black American heritage, whose family history is linked into the history of slavery; and also somebody who is such a wonderful advocate for racial justice. I can’t think of anybody better to put sound with the film.

So Ruth is going to be composing jazz flute. It won’t necessarily be vocals. She’ll be responding to my performances in the sites. The film is, I suppose, about lament, and in places quite ritualistic. Ruth will be responding to the history of the sites, and also the visuals of the film. And we hope that later in the year she’ll be able to actually visit the sites and respond more emotively to the history of the places.

It strikes me that a work of art of this nature, a performance of film with music, is less didactic, less instructive, but speaks to true events and can be a way to talk about things which are true, in an emotive way. Would that we had more lament in the world!

To find out more about Elizabeth and her work, follow her on Instagram, or see her website.

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Leeza Awojobi: “If I’m not writing, there’s usually something deeper going on”

With the help of our Patrons, we’ve given a grant to Bristol-based performance poet Leeza Awojobi. Leeza’s new piece, ‘The Frayed Elephant’, is a poetry, audio and storytelling piece more akin to a participatory art installation. It’s a new frontier for Leeza, and still in the development stages, so we asked London poet Traysi Benjamin-Matthew to find out more. Along the way they discuss ideas of truth, the problems of social media, and being a whole person outside of your artistic practice.

We love to help out artists who are trying new things in their practice, to encourage them to be bold, stretch themselves, and open up new conversations with their work. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month, and we can keep supporting artists like Leeza who are doing exactly that.

Hi Leeza! Can you introduce yourself, and your background as an artist?

My name is Leeza Awojobi. I’m a Bristol-based poet and producer. I’ve been doing performance poetry for about four and a half years now. I like to summarise my poetry with the themes/words ‘eyes and oath’. So ‘eyes’ refer to observation, perception, and intent; and an ‘oath’ is a testimony of truth, or a solemn promise. And these are two ideas I regularly go back to in my practice, and I feel like they really ground my work.

Can you tell us about the piece that Sputnik is helping to fund?

So thanks to you guys, I get to develop this idea that’s probably been a year and a half in the making. It’s called ‘The Frayed Elephant’. It’s a poetry, audio and storytelling piece that features materials. So currently I imagine it to be a solitary experience, where people listen to the poetry and storytelling pieces on headphones, and at the same time they get to play with, interact and respond to materials.

Why that title, the Frayed Elephant?

That title basically comes from a parable that I came across called ‘the blind men and the elephant.’ It’s the story of six blind men who are all feeling on different parts of the elephant – one is feeling the trunk and says ‘ an elephant is like a snake’. Another is feeling a leg and says ‘no, no, an elephant is like a tree’.

The moral is that because we’re coming from different perspectives, we shouldn’t judge each other on claims to truth.

But the ‘Frayed Elephant’ also came out of a critique I heard of that story – if there’s no absolute truth, if it’s all just for grabs, who is the person looking into the frame? Who is the person who claims to see the whole picture, and has the objective view to say that everyone else is blind? I think the moral is a good one, that we should strive towards tolerance, or shouldn’t allow our personal angle to create division; but how do we exist, and co-exist in a society without any anchoring?

Do you find something limiting in the usual ‘performance’ dynamic between artist and audience? Or how would you see it?

That’s a good question, I wouldn’t say there are limitations. I think there are just different ways of viewing performance. I want to enable whoever I engage with, in this piece at least, to engage more actively.

There’s so much you can do in that kind of traditional, unidirectional way of storytelling that we’re used to. But this is just a different way of doing it.

Can you tell us why you feel connected to the material personally, and why it’s important to make this work?

I guess this grew out of – partly that parable – but it also came out of my relationship with social media. Gradually over the years I’ve just taken myself off various platforms. I’ve always had a very back-and-forth relationship with social media. It wasn’t an environment that I felt I could thrive in, if I wanted to engage with it properly.

Any top tips for those who are starting out in poetry?

Definitely write! Sometimes, it comes out so clunky, it’s not flowing; but just having that regular time of writing – twice a week, for example.

At various times I’ve written every day. I don’t do that all the time – for some people that’s their thing, I don’t put that pressure on myself but I do write regularly, and if I feel like I’m getting stuck, I do make an effort to not stay there.

And how do you do that? How do you get out of the space of being unable to write?

I think to be honest my faith helps a lot. We’re whole people. The way society is set up, and the way work can be set up, is that we cut ourselves off from different parts of ourselves. But we’re whole people.

If I’m not writing, there’s usually something deeper going on. Maybe I’m stuck because I feel overwhelmed, and the pressure of being an artist is too much; maybe I’m looking at my work and thinking ‘this is rubbish’! But whether it’s rubbish or not, who am I outside of my work?

Because as artists we’re pouring ourselves out, we can get so wrapped up in our practice and that can be where our identity is rooted. But actually I try to be careful about that. While poetry is always going to be inside me, it can’t be all that ultimately defines me, or all that I live for.

You’ve been writing poetry for a while. Can you tell me when you felt actually “I am a poet”?

That’s a good question! It’s kind of difficult to answer because I did have a moment when I decided to pursue it professionally, but I’ve been writing since I was a kid. But that moment came about through the mentorship I received when I did a Christian internship; I had the privilege of being mentored by Cully and Ally from Morphe Arts.

It wasn’t something I had been encouraged to do or seen other people in my sphere do. But with their encouragement and others, they helped me realise, “you can do this, this is a thing, this is legitimate!’ People do see the value of poetry and engaging with people culturally.

That’s another tip surely, surrounding yourself with like-minded people who can mentor and guide you along that poetry journey, isn’t it? So what’s next, what will you be working on?

Well what’s next is this, really! I’m really looking forward to returning to my ideas and thinking about who I can potentially collaborate with. I want it to be an audio piece which may or may not feature music, for example. So that’s what I’ll be doing!

Follow Leeza aka @eyesandoath on Instagram, or find out more at her website.

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Samuel O’Donnell: “It really means a lot for someone to take interest in your work.”

Thanks to Sputnik Patrons, we’ve given a grant to painter Sam O’Donnell. Alongside pursuing his own craft, Sam is a part-time church leader in Glasgow, and he approached us with a promising community project: opening a gallery space in the city centre, to exhibit local painters. We’re supporting the launch exhibition, ‘Opening’, which runs from 15th to 29th September. We asked our friend Katrina Moss—who runs the Chaiya Arts Award—to speak to Sam about how this project came about.

We love the idea of Adelaide Place church giving part of their building over to the broader creative community. As Sam says, getting exhibited in a professional gallery space means a lot to an artist, and the spirit of generosity here exemplifies what Sputnik is about. If that inspires you too, why not join Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month.. and we can give out more micro-grants to artists like Sam, who are busy blessing the place they live.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Hi, I’m Sam O’Donnell, I live up in Glasgow. I’ve been here for about 10 years now; I’m from Manchester originally, and I moved here to study at Glasgow School of Art. I’m a painter, but I’m also on staff here at a city centre church called Adelaide Place Baptist Church. So I paint part-time and work for the church part-time.

So tell us a bit more about the project that Sputnik is helping to fund.

So, I’m going to be launching a new gallery space, here in the church building. It’s going to be called ‘A Place’ gallery. Sputnik is helping with the launch exhibition, the first exhibition of the gallery, from the 15th to the 29th of September. 

It’s coinciding with the Doors Open Days festival that happens in the city, where lots of buildings in the city are open to the public to explore. The exhibition has about 15 painters in it, who are based in Scotland or have significant ties to Glasgow.

The 15 artists that are taking part, are they artists that share your faith, or otherwise?

All the artists—they’re not people from the church, they’re all practising artists of varying degrees, people from all walks of life.

Are the exhibitions going to be based around a theme? And what was the catalyst behind the idea?

There’s no particular theme; this first exhibition is a group exhibition, just to get more people in the room, and get the gallery on the map a little. The idea in the future will be solo shows, with some of the artists I’ve already been talking to.

The impetus behind the galleries—it’s been a long road, an idea I’ve had for maybe 6 or 7 years. It’s coincided a little bit with what’s going on at the church, where we’ve recently completed some renovation works. So basically we have this room that’s off to the side of the church building, that’s not a liturgical space or a ‘worship’ space.

Like many artists I’m sure, straight after graduation I experienced very few opportunities. When things did finally come around, an exhibition or show I could be part of, it really meant a lot. It really means a lot to be approached, for someone to take interest in your work.

So I felt the church has the opportunity to do that, to offer something that’s generous to artists: to take interest in their work on their terms. And to do that with a gallery space that would be professional, that would make sense in the contemporary artist environment. To do that generously.

Everybody I’ve spoken to is so honoured and thrilled to be involved, so it’s been a really meaningful process.

I know from talking to artists that’s one of the hardest things—how you get connected to a gallery space, and get your work seen by a wider audience. I wondered how the church felt when you approached them about taking this space?

I’m lucky and privileged to be in a church that already values creativity and what creatives bring. I’ve been part of the church community about 10 years, and on staff for about 7 of those. My role has always been in the creative arts. So the church has already had an investment in that. And there’s always been an entrepreneurial spirit, to want to bless the city we’re part of.

So you do a mix of different styles in your own painting. What inspires your own personal creativity?

It maybe sounds strange to frame it this way, but one of the most important things for me is to make a commitment, and follow it through. When I was studying I felt like I had to make a decision to become a painter. Today there’s so many ways to be an artist, so many mediums you can work with. To make a decision to stick to one medium, and go the long distance in that art form – it’s quite a decision to make.

And so for me that’s then what inspires the creative field I’m in; I suppose I know what I’m there to do even when I’m not quite feeling it or if I don’t have any ideas. I know what I’m committed to, and that helps me to build the long distance.

In terms of my Christian faith as well, to make a lifelong step in faith is to make a decision in that way. So the things go hand in hand.

For anyone in Glasgow, you can catch the exhibition, ‘Opening’, between the 15th and 29th of September at Adelaide Place. The opening evening is Friday 15th from 6-9pm. See more at – and to support more projects like this, sign up as a Patron here!

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Ali Mylon: “What is it to feel at home, to feel safe?”

With the help of our Patrons, we’ve given one of this term’s grants to actor, musician and writer Ali Mylon, who is developing an original theatre script about home, identity and meeting ‘the other’. We invited Harri Mardlin, director of LifeBox Theatre Company, to speak to Ali about the project’s journey, and what it represents in her own personal and professional life.

We love to support creative professionals who are stretching their ambitions into new places. It’s not easy to do, and it requires support! Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5/month, and we can give out more micro-grants to artists like Ali, who are articulating important stories for us all.

Answers have been edited for brevity, watch the whole interview above:

Please introduce yourself Ali!

I’m Ali Mylon, primarily an actor-musician, although I work in voiceover as well. I’ve worked in TV, film, theatre, and commercials. I took a music degree, and then in my late 20s contacted the drama school that had offered me a place at 18 – so I retrained at that stage. I’ve been working in the industry for nearly 15 years now.

Tell us about the project that Sputnik is funding.

Several years ago I started making a theatre piece, with music, called Dance With Me. It’s set around the time of the Brexit vote. It’s a story of two people: Annette, who’s a Polish migrant, and Tony, who’s a taxi driver from Sheffield. It’s really a story about their meeting, their friendship, and actually how their friendship draws out of them their needs, their wants, their perception of home and what it means to create a safe environment for their families.

I’m really interested to know how you feel connected to the material, and why you think it’s important to make this work.

At the time of the Brexit vote, I was teaching English as a foreign language, in a class of primarily Polish students. Everything was so heightened then – I saw the impact it had on individuals and the community. At the same time, I came back from London to Sheffield, got a taxi ride and had this really interesting conversation with the taxi driver. It just really struck me that even though on paper the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ vote seemed poles apart, the two characters and their needs and wants were very similar.

I started imagining, what if these two characters met? How would their prejudices impact each other? Could they draw out from themselves what is it to feel ‘at home’? Is it about being in a specific country? Is it about feeling safe? Or is it much more an inward struggle about feeling you’ve ‘arrived’, that you’re at peace?

It’s also a bit of a personal testimony of how I grew as a performer and individual, how I became much more comfortable in my own skin. I feel like I’m actually Ali Mylon, and content and happy to be who I am.

It’s a good place to reach isn’t it?

It is a good place! It’s obviously a work in progress. But it’s that inward battle of just knowing what it is to feel comfortable, and content.

As performers, that can be a real challenge I think.

Because everything out there is so uncontrollable, and constantly shifts. As a performer, 95% of life is about rejection, not getting the jobs, or working out whether something is a good thing for you to pursue, or not. But actually if you’re coming from a place where you feel contentment – that sort of changes everything really.

Who’s your target audience, and why is that?

I’m working with a fantastic director, Sally Proctor. She’s assistant director for the National Theatre, and she’s really passionate about community work, telling stories that are authentic, and truthful.

She really wants us to work closely with the Polish community in Sheffield, but also the working men’s community. So I suppose we want to work in these communities and tell these stories, so that’s a target audience in itself; but also the people of Sheffield, and anyone who wants to hear this story.

The time of Brexit was significant, it heightened things, and maybe those questions that it raised within us are still as relevant today as they were; just maybe they’ve been dampened down a bit.

What would you hope for the future of the piece?

I’d love it to be told in Sheffield theatres, for it to become a production! Obviously I’m aiming high, I’d like it to be taken on by the larger theatres, but I’d be happy for it to be taken on in community centres and smaller venues. I just think it’s a story that is valuable and important to tell.

Follow Ali on the website formerly/still known as Twitter, here.. and become a Patron!

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Shelley Ruddock (View35 Films): “We think of ourselves as a dream team”

Thanks to our patrons community, we’ve given a grant towards View35 Film’s new original project, ‘The Draw’. The Edinburgh-based “dream team” led by Shelley and Tom Ruddock are writing, directing and producing their own dystopian drama—and our self-confessed film nerd Jonny Mellor spoke to Shelley to find out more.

Art doesn’t grow on trees! It costs money to make, especially for those with big ambitions. Even micro-grants make a difference to projects like these, as well as being an irreplaceable encouragement to those making them. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help companies like View35 to keep challenging themselves, drawing stories out of the Christian imagination.

Answers have been edited for brevity, watch the whole interview above:

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Shelley Ruddock – I’m a film producer, and also the co-founder of View35 Films, which is based in Edinburgh and London.

And you work in partnership with your husband Tom? What roles do you both take?

We see ourselves really as a dream team! We are a real partnership as you say – he is a writer/director, I specialise as a producer; but we also both have a lot of experience across different roles. We really do see it as “us” when we make a project, and we love working together on the stories that Tom’s created.

What are some of the different projects you’ve worked on, that you’re proud of?

What I love about our job is that we have so much variety. We had a cool job with Lego recently—we got to go into Warner Brothers studios, on a night shoot, and walk around the place.

You contacted us about your first feature film—can you fill us in on that?

We’re so grateful for the help – it’s our first feature film, a sci-fi drama set in an alternate present, called The Draw. There’s a lot of twists and turns along the way, but essentially it’s a story about human connection.

One of our crew members put it perfectly as a merge between Black Mirror and 1984! We’ve filmed principal photography—we did a three-week shoot in Edinburgh already, and we’ll be doing a pick-up shoot in London, and we’re in the midst of post-production.

We’re aiming to have it finished by September/October in time for the Sundance deadline, to give us a good goal to work towards. We’d love to release it early next year, but it all depends how it does on film festivals, and pushing to streaming platforms after that. Next year, hopefully, will be the release.

For anyone reading, how can they help bring this vision to life?

We are still raising money for the London side of the shoot and for the post-production, to help us make the best film we can possible make. Anybody can support Tom and me through the Buy Me a Coffee website — or they can get in touch with us, if somebody would like to be more involved in the journey, to be a partner in it.

Find View35’s website here, or follow them on Instagram.

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Jem Bunce: “In a remote place, you become smaller — everything seems bigger around you.”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to Cornwall visual artist Jem Bunce. Sputnik’s Jemma Mellor spoke to Jem about his new opportunity voyaging to the Outer Hebrides, with a plan to develop new artworks and see what other inspiration happens along the way!

Often the financial risk gets in the way of artists saying “yes” to the unusual and even life-changing opportunities that may come their way. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help artists to take risks and detours like this one, building their craft as they go.

Jem, who are you and what do you do?

I’m Jem – I live in beautiful Cornwall, and I’m an odd-jobber and an artist!

Can you tell us about the project you’re about to embark on?

A friend of mine invited me to sail around the Inner and Outer Hebrides for two weeks. I’m just going to take my sketchbook, I’m going to draw. When I do any drawing, I don’t really know where it’s going, but I’m going to record – not just places I see, but my experience. I’ll get back with piles of paper, and maybe turn them into prints, paintings, and so on. 

It’s an experience, which I’ll record visually. And it’s apparently an incredibly beautiful place, and very remote. The plan is — if we can — we’ll go to this remote island, St Kilda. There’s now no population there. Four-hundred metre high cliffs; a huge bird population. It’ll be quite dramatic – even just the journey there!

Your work often begins with sketching on location. What particularly drew you the Scottish Isles, and the potential extremes there?

We live in a remote-ish part of the country anyway. Cornwall is absolutely beautiful, and we live right in the middle of it. Having lived in towns, in London and other places – when you live in a remote place, you become smaller because everything seems bigger around you. The sky seems bigger, the landscape seems bigger; there’s something about your connection, understanding what you see but also yourself in that environment.

Hopefully being in the Outer Hebrides will be like that, to the next degree. I think the subject matter is “me”, and the experience of being there.

You’ll sketch locations but then bring it all back into the studio. Is there something that changes in that transition?

It’s an open-ended journey when you start out on a drawing. Sometimes I make things difficult for myself — or arguably easier — I set myself targets: ”five drawings in twenty-five minutes” or something, where I don’t have time to think. So I’m making intuitive, quick marks —and then the sketchbook will lie closed for a few months, maybe a year. When I come back to it, I’m reacting to that drawing, to the marks I’ve made. 

In terms of art and faith, where does that come in for you?

Creation is, certainly, completely extravagant. God is just this extraordinary creator; everything’s just crazy and intricate and diverse. And then God says ‘I want you to create, as well’… we’ve got something of his creative nature in us. That in itself is a legitimate reason for being. At a basic level, that’s where my faith comes into it.

Also, painting is really hard; I genuinely go into it saying “God, will you help me..” When I’m looking at nature, I can actually talk to the person who made it — that’s crazy! This amazing relationship with the creator, this glorious sense of connection — that informs my work.

Follow Jem Bunce on Instagram, or see his website.

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Nova Grace Productions: “Sometimes dance expresses more than language can”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to dance company Nova Grace Productions. Our good friend Marlita Hill spoke to Nova Grace’s Rosy Nevard about their new project, ‘Unlocked’—a project which emerged out of lockdown, taking their creative performances developed over Zoom and converting them into a new stage production.

As Rosy says, it’s tough to make the profit margins work on original productions! It’s a joy to help artists realise the projects that they want to create. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help companies like Nova Grace bring their brilliant ideas to the public.

You’re the artistic director of Nova Grace Productions. What should we know about Nova Grace?

We’re a collection of lovely dancers, Christian and non-Christian. I co-founded the company back in 2016 as a social enterprise. Our initial way of doing things didn’t work out—we’re now a charity. We do all sorts of projects, working internationally—giving people a chance to be involved in dance, to spread to joy, and use it as a way to connect with people.

We’ve started to do our own creative projects, too—theatre, choreography and dance.

Tell us more about what Sputnik is funding.

Thanks so much to Sputnik, and the supporters and patrons—it really does make a huge difference.

The whole project developed out of lockdown; theatres were closed, we had no work to do, back in March 2020. We started doing ballet classes on Zoom, just to keep active, and keep in touch. We started creating, and exploring the environment of our homes.

In the end, we had four 15-minute sections that we’d created at different moments in time, as the lockdowns came and went. We put them together for a virtual performance on Zoom; but as soon as we were able to get back together, we decided to adapt it for stage. We’ve now added a fifth section, using memory and spoken word, using people’s voices. We’re taking it on tour this week!

What was it like to adapt this work from a virtual context to a stage production?

It was so joyful to be back together again. Zoom kept us going, but it was so difficult dance-wise, to stay in time with each other! But adapting the piece has meant so much decision-making. It’s been exhausting.

But it has been fun and exciting. To have a live audience and that feedback, the energy and atmosphere, that’s what theatre is. So I’m really looking forward to it.

When people come to see ‘Unlocked’, what do you hope they walk away with?

We want people to come on the journey with us. Not everybody wants to talk about lockdown—we lived through it, we want to forget about it. But we feel it’s important to talk about things.

We want people to engage with their thoughts and emotions. To find positivity: we did get through it; but also it’s a nod to the hard times, and to the people who lost their lives, the sadness of the whole thing. We want to acknowledge it and pay our respects to it.

Your work explores social issues and difficult topics. What led you to do this, and why is dance the right medium?

Dance is the right medium because we’re dancers! Dance is the tool that I have. But the reason I really believe in it is that it can be interpreted by each person; it speaks without words, and sometimes expresses more than language can.

You’re normally sat in silence watching dance, so you have time to reflection, and your own thoughts, depending what moves you within what you’re seeing.

Finally, how do your faith and art inform one another in the way you work?

It definitely informs how I approach my work; often I don’t have a lot of confidence, in taking risks or pushing ideas that you don’t necessarily feel you’re qualified to pursue. But my confidence and my strength definitely comes from my faith.

And also how I work with other people—the Christians in our company want to use our work relationships to shine God’s light, to show patience, kindness, gentleness, to other people. Because those are not things that are always seen in pressurised environments, like theatre environments can be!

Follow Nova Grace Productions on Instagram, or see their website.

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Kwakzino: “There’s never been such a healthy time for artists to express themselves.”

With the help of our patrons community, we’ve given a grant to London rapper Kwakzino, for his new project ‘Livewire’. Our good friend Joel Wilson spoke to Kwakz about his journey, process and hopes; they also discuss why hip-hop and grime seem uniquely accepting of expressions of faith, with mainstream artists from Stormzy to Kendrick leading the trend.

We love to support artists who are embedded in their scene and serving their community, while they work on their craft. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can help artists like Kwakzino to keep getting better and better.

Can you introduce yourself and your creative work?

My name is Kwakz, aka Kwakzino. I’m a lyricist, rapper – I also do youthwork, putting on community projects for young people. I feel the Lord gave me a gift when I was young, sparked a passion in me when I was 13 years old, and it’s continued with me ever since.

What was your pivotal moment when you took your art more seriously?

I remember hearing different sounds in school – and back in my day we had pirate radio stations, so I remember trying to tune in my cassette player to find a particular station. I started trying to write and rap lyrics to my peers – then I found likeminded individuals, so I become part of a tribe. We called it a crew back then. It was buzzing, that’s the only way to describe it, this new sound in London at the time.

How much has your inspiration changed over time? Who gives you that same energy?

That’s a whole different conversation! My inspiration comes from things closer to home – my sons, my wife, friends and family members. I’m very thankful to even be alive, to have a family, to see my kids grow. That’s what inspires me.

I can’t deny God’s love when I see my boys waking up, jumping around, farting! I’ve got to give thanks. It’s not easy out here.

Tell us a little about the project Sputnik is funding.

The project is a song called Livewire. It just sounds clean, very professional. That’s my friend Illusion – he’s a real maestro on the keyboard. The beat kind of reminds me of 21 Seconds from 20 years ago – we’ve captured that kind of sound, but then pairing it with 20 years life experience since then. It’s reflecting on the journey, and how God came into my life.

Before God came into my life, I was like a live wire, a ball of energy. Until God came and grounded me. That’s why I like to say it’s ‘because of him’, he’s connected me, and now I’m in the circuit and now everything’s flowing, instead of being all over the place.

So who’s your audience for this? What do you want people to get from your work?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself for years. My music is targeted at the hopeless – because God gave me hope – but not in an inauthentic way, or cheesy way, just in an honest way.

But it’s also for people with hope, to encourage those with hope for them to get active on their projects, for them to want to take on life, help others, show love, be grateful.

What’s special about grime or hip-hop that people can talk about faith, and people seem to accept that? Christian faith is perceived as mainstream for rappers.

It’s a very deep question. I take my hat off to Stormzy, because he’s been more vulnerable than I’ve ever been. I believe God had his hand on Stormzy in that.

I think Hip-hop is unapologetic. Grime is unapologetic. That allows people to say what they want to say on those types of beats. We’ve had Lil Nas X rapping what he wants to rap about. Lil Uzi Vert rapping what he wants to rap about. And then we’ve got the Novelist, I Am Deyah, others who have a faith and they’re not ashamed to say it.

There’s never been such a healthy time for artists to express themselves. I’m a Christian and I make music, but the majority of my fans are not Christians.

Can you talk a little bit about themes or concepts that are recurring in your work?

Well God worked on me. I was living a negative lifestyle; selling drugs, robbing, treating girls wrong. It was anger. God knew I didn’t want to live the lifestyle. I hated myself. I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror. Every day my mindset was- who am I going to abuse? Who am I going to negatively affect today?

God provided me a way out. I was facing jail – the judge said if you ever come back to me, you’re going straight to jail. I managed to get out of my area my God’s grace. That’s when I started working with young people – I didn’t want them to be making the same steps I had. I’ve been doing youthwork heavily for the last 8 years.

Because of my life, and the circle my life has gone on, in my music I talk about this. What it was like before God, what it’s like since God. I won’t lie, I wrote about it so much, I hated it! I was sick and tired of talking about the street. I’ve talked about it. I was like God, I need a new song now.

I want to talk about family life. I’ve not written a song about my kids, but they’re everything to me. But that’s what’s to come. 

Keep up with Kwakzino on Instagram.

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Eek & Wild: “It challenges their expectations of what dance is”

Thanks to our generous patrons, we’ve given a grant to Eek & Wild, a fresh, fun and joy-filled dance company. Emily, Ella and Katie began making work together in lockdown, and have since become Artists in Residence at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, where they’ll be staging their new creative project, ‘Sculpt’. Our friend Sarah Rabone spoke to the trio about their process and journey so far.

We love to support projects like ‘Sculpt’, that are serving the community around them while also allowing for embodied, free creative expression. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting artists like Eek & Wild in their boundary-breaking explorations.

So who is Eek and Wild?

Katie Albon: Eek and Wild is the three of us – we are all independent dancers, all self-employed; we formed together as a company during lockdown because we all wanted something fun to do. We decided to make c couple of dance films together, and really loved working together. So we’ve just evolved into making work together more regularly.

Tell us a little more about the project that Sputnik is going to be funding, ‘Sculpt’.

Ella Fleetwood: We’ve been artists in residence at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital for nearly two years now. We’ve been working on the children’s ward, performing our pop-up dances, which are really short – can be performed by the bedside. But we wanted to make something really big, something where we can really move, and push ourselves physically and artistically.

The hospital had been looking at getting some work that happens in the atrium spaces, something really big and impactful. The hospital has a huge art collection, with amazing sculptures all over the hospital. We chose three of the sculptures, and started to chat with the children on the wards about them, and if they could imagine a dance about them.

Katie: So we took the children’s ideas and some of our own ideas and formed these three dances based on the sculptures. It’s been a long process; we’ve been able to use the hospital’s studio space. But more recently the Sputnik funding has enabled us to get some space of our own and refine what we’ve made, to rehearse it and spend a bit more time together.

Ella: There’s a real difference between having a sketch and having something ‘performance ready’. That’s what the funding has helped us to do. 

What are the joys and maybe the difficult practicalities of working in a hospital context, at bedsides and around machines?

Emily Yong: One of the joys is that it’s a much more intimate performance. You’re making time and space for an individual child, and I think that makes them feel quite special. They get choice over what they see. And I think it also broadens the horizons and expectations of what dance is. When we say “would you like to see a dance today”, they think we’re going to take them into a different space; and we say “no we can do it right here by your bed” — they have no idea what they’re going to see.

Katie: It is tricky because you’re in a tiny room, there’s a bed, there’s machines, a sink behind you, a rail above you, and there’s three of us! But it causes us to have to think on our feet, and we all love improvisation, we all love to play. Because we’ve worked together a while, we can read each other well.

The other challenge is wearing a mask – our work is playful and fun, we use our faces a lot. Though you can do a lot with your eyes, in terms of connection.

You’ve talked about choice and interaction. I can imagine a child might want to move and collaborate with you in some way; in the future would you think about pushing that idea of collaboration, to moving with your audiences?

Ella: On the wards, at the end of our dance we have an open invite to interaction, which often leads to some sort of improvisation. So it can sometimes lead to movement with the children. 

With this new show we have no idea what’s going to happen! I think we’re open and excited at the prospect that interaction could happen. There’s an invite there. 

Katie: It also comes down to hospital precautions; it’s taken a lot for us to be allowed to perform in a public space. I’m hoping it can go there – if we’re told it’s safe enough. 

Being dancers and Christians, how does that dynamic work for you?

Emily: We all work in different contexts, sometimes a faith-based one, sometimes outside that. I think we’re just the same person in each context. We’re not “more Christian” in one area. 

There’s so many beautiful aspects of the Christian faith – love, peace, joy, kindness, patience; I hope those underpin the way I behave in any context, and in everyday life too. Maybe the separation of pockets of life isn’t that helpful a view. Our faith permeates into everything.

To follow Eek and Wild, follow them on Instagram, Twitter or see their website.

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Janet Kutin: Reality with weirdness creeping in

Our patrons community has helped us to give a grant to illustrator, animator and storyteller, Janet Kutin—aka the INKtrovert—whose meditative approach to her illustration comes through in vivid, multi-layered characters. Janet approached us with a very personal project, giving her the opportunity to expand into writing along with her illustrations, to produce a “small, but personally ambitious” anthology.

We often find artists have passion projects locked away in them just waiting for the opportunity to be expressed, and these can often be incredibly moving, full-blooded works that shed light on the world around us. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting artists like Janet who have even more hidden depths to show us all.

Hi Jae. Can you introduce yourself to our good readers.

Hey, I’m ‘The INKtrovert’… but yes, more commonly known as Jae… and also sometimes Janet. I’m a film-obsessed Storyteller that’s been trading (and hiding) under that not-so-covert-personally-trait brand name for about 10 years now, having started during University—but long before that, I was telling stories in my journals and on the covers of my school books.

You’re an Illustrator, an Animator, but most of all a Storyteller. How do these elements come together in your practice?

They get involved with each other, because although my role has mainly been illustrating, concepts naturally branch out. I usually have specific ideas that I don’t want to be limited.

I personally use animation and writing in varied ways, or collaborate with others, rather than execute certain parts of a project myself—because I have a healthy awareness of where I lack in my abilities. It really depends on the project, but Illustration is my primary practice—I know it very well. Some briefs, whether self-initiated or not, call for an extension of myself so that’s why I chose the title Storyteller. It neatly explains what I do, but also sparks intrigue because the word can mean something different to everyone, resulting in more questions about my work, which is not bad.

You have the ability to be able to give even simply drawn characters real personality. What is your process regarding creating engaging characters through your work?

My process is slow and probably seems unnecessarily long to most people. By that I mean I delight in studying characteristics, researching beyond what I am seeing and including salient themes or elements even if it is a simple task; I meditate on them, if that makes sense. I love hiding motifs and small but (to me) significant details in my work that may appear random to some. To be honest, I don’t think I can fully articulate how I give ‘life’ to some of my drawings—I think that’s just how I see them in my head so they actually look normal to me! I guess my artistic expression mixed with years of skill-learning has developed a collectively weird, familiar method to my making.

It’s a privilege to be able to support a new project you’re working on through our patrons scheme. Can you talk us through it?

So this project started years ago when I was having a bit of a rough time in all areas of my life. When something like this happens, I tend to write rather than draw; it flows more naturally. I was frustrated and confused about a lot of things going on with me. So, not wanting to simply write about what was happening exactly, I tried a more productive approach to process it all. This anthology I am putting together is a raw, written reflection on myself with a few illustrations here and there (in addition to some somewhat colourful prints to keep the mood light). It’s small, but ambitious on a personal level, so my only hope is that I can produce something I can boldly share.

To keep up with Jae’s work, follow her on Instagram.

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Sarah Grace Dye: International experiments in making paper

Our patrons community has helped us to give a grant to visual artist, curator, collector, story teller and educator, Sarah Grace Dye. Sarah approached us with an incredibly unique project: in partnership with carpet makers in Uzbekistan, she’s developed a technique for making paper from scraps of silk; we’re funding her journey there to teach the methodology to the workshop owners themselves.

Cross-cultural, environmental, creative projects like this – infused with the uniqueness of Sarah’s own material-making practice – don’t just pop up everyday. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Sarah take experimental leaps into life. Find out more here.

Hi Sarah. Who are you and what do you do?

I am a visual artist, curator, collector, story teller and educator from Sheffield, now living in Frankfurt. I make artists’ books, make paper and draw. I love paper. 

After University, I found my home teaching on an extended diploma course in Art and Design (amongst other things) at the Arts University Bournemouth. I think my 12 years there were actually my training ground for what I do, and who I am now, artistically. It was such a vast and varied course—I taught all sorts of things, and was able to sneak into sessions taught by others to learn new techniques and processes.

That is where I was introduced to paper-making and some forms of book binding, all of which are key to my practice now. Working with some wonderful students and staff over those years was a privilege and an enormous source of inspiration. I think I learnt more than I taught! I still teach now (mostly via zoom) but it is in smaller groups or one on one with tailored sessions for each group/person.

Your artistic practice has all sorts of different facets – from drawing, to curating collections, to making paper. How did you find your way into these specific disciplines? Do you see your practice further evolving into different areas in the future?

My practice is all about re-using the resources we have around us in our homes. I make paper from household waste, as well as making inks and dyes. I love to draw, and have a regular drawing and mark-making practice as part of a couple of Zoom drawing groups with other fascinating women from around the world.

I have always been fascinated by books in a kind of love-hate relationship. My parents were collectors (or hoarders!) and had a huge library of books. They both were theological scholars and so had many very old fascinating books in English, Latin and Greek. I was mesmerised by these books. I loved the smell, the touch and the patterns the words made on the page and often there would be etchings of diagrams and pictures.

I have to confess to never reading any of them! I was not a fan of reading. I am dyslexic and reading was a struggle so not enjoyable whereas drawing was completely consuming for me and took me to my happy place. I still have a very old complete set of the greek new testament and a 150 + year old copy of Josephus ‘The Life of Christ’ for example that fascinate me. As a child my parents kept a cupboard of packaging, paper, plastic bottles glue and scissors that were accessible at all times, we were always encouraged to create and express ourselves.

I am always excited to learn new techniques and processes, especially in the current climate as we learn so much more about how we can help sustain our planet through our use of its resources. My practice is always evolving, often in response to a circumstance. I got stuck in Frankfurt in March 2020 for five months with no materials and no money to buy anything. That was when paper-making came into its own, and I researched and gleaned information about making natural ink and dyes to provide something interesting to draw with. I collected tea bags and packaging from around the house to use that paper for book making and to draw on.

Curating was a natural step for me. I am an inherent organiser. I am interested in the detail of things and how one thing reacts to another. Even as a teenager my bedroom walls were covered in pictures carefully placed to make a pleasing whole. I have always collected things. My parents had many friends living abroad, who would come and visit and bring me amazing little gifts, many of which I still have.

As well as being an accomplished artist, you also have experience of working with artists as a university tutor and community builder. What lessons have you learnt about nurturing and encouraging creative gifts in others?

I am a firm believer that everyone has the ability to create, regardless of what they might think! I love the challenge of presenting an opportunity and then teasing out whatever creativity is lurking dormant. Encouragement and enthusiasm are the most important aspects of teaching. 

Firstly: nothing is wrong. The worst mistake you can make will always teach you something, even if that is to never do that thing again! I would also encourage students to never throw work away. I can’t tell you how many times a student has hated something they have created, only to love it several weeks later after it has been put away in a draw.

Secondly: we are all unique. You will never create like me, or me like you; we have our own marks and style. It is simply a case of uncovering what is already there, and developing that uniqueness. Yes, it is important to glean knowledge from others, and be inspired; but then make it your own.

Thirdly: having space without pressure is also a key to creativity. It can be difficult to find that in our busy lives, but in my experience finding that space can enrich the rest of your day/week no end. For me just making some marks with ink or a pencil, never mind what it looks like, is a tonic in any situation. It is the doing and connection to the creativity inside of us that is important. 

When I moved back to Sheffield, I had a small self-contained flat in the attic of where I lived. I started a residency program for people to come and spend between one week to a month free of charge in that space to focus on whatever creative project they had bubbling up. I worked closely with Bank Street Arts in Sheffield, and often the residency would end up with an exhibition in that space. I would try my best to support whatever the project was in whatever way they needed while they were there. It has always been completely delightful to see people blossom and fill up with joy being given that space to explore what they love. Thats what it’s all about for me.

I think the key to building community and support is simply to really listen. What does the community need? Then you can act upon it in whatever small way you can. We each have to recognise how important we are as part of the whole and not wait for someone else to start.

Through our patrons scheme, we are helping to fund a fascinating project you are working on. Can you bring us all up to speed on what you’re doing?

I am currently experimenting with using little scraps of silk threads mixed with egg boxes to make paper. I have a dear friend who moved to Uzbekistan many years ago and set up a carpet workshop. He researched the process and designs and then taught the locals their own traditional skills in natural silk dying and weaving to create the most beautiful carpets. This knowledge had been lost during the Soviet era where traditional crafts were not allowed. You can read his story in the book A Carpet Ride to Khiva: Seven Years on the Silk Road by Chris Aslan Alexander. Today, it is a thriving workshop that employs many.

I mentioned to him that I use the fluff from the dryer to make my paper soft and strong, and he asked if maybe I could try to make paper with the silk scraps that are left on the floor after a carpet is finished. These scraps are currently discarded as rubbish. This prospect just ignited an excitement in me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. So a parcel arrived from Uzbekistan with little bags of coordinated silk scraps for me to play with.

Technically you are not supposed to use animal fibres for the paper making process, just plant fibres, but I never take no for an answer and love a problem to solve! I have successfully made paper and am now exploring both felt-making from the scraps and also a line of products that can be made with the paper/felt to sell at the carpet workshop. I am travelling to the workshop at Easter to share my methods and show them the products with the hope that they will generate a new line of income from their own waste materials.

I am so grateful for the money I was granted as it paid my bills for a month so I could concentrate on my experimentation without worry. It basically offered me the space I mentioned earlier! There is much more experimentation to come before I travel there, but that only fills me with joy and excitement at what might be discovered next.

Follow Sarah Grace Dye on Instagram, or see her website.

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Jessie Dipper: Songs that make space for people

Thanks to our wonderful patrons, we’ve given a grant to folk-grunge singer-songwriter Jessie Dipper, who recently completed a UK tour supporting Scouting for Girls. As is often the case for lesser-known artists, Jessie had to raise her own funds to join the tour, and we were delighted that we could help her seize this opportunity. We talked about songwriting as hospitality, putting others first, and growing in collaboration.

We love to support artists of faith simply trying to make an honest living in the messy world of the creative industries. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Jessie as they progress.

Hi Jessie. Who are you and what do you do?

Hey, I’m a folk-grunge rock singer-songwriter and performer. I live in Wales, play guitar and write songs!

What one song in your back catalogue best sums you up as an artist? (And why?)

I released a song called Little Miss London on my latest album Sticky Floors and to this day is one of my favourite released songs to date. It was written on the last train out from London back home to where I was living at the time (Birmingham). And I met this incredible woman, who I coined the name ‘Little Miss London’. She had an incredible way of drawing people to her with raucous conversation, and we soon got chatting. We talked about life and the universe with each other and those around us.

It soon became apparent to me that beneath this bravado of bright red lipstick and fur coat, she was a woman quite on her own, and vulnerably still working out what life meant. A week later I finished the song I had begun writing with and about her, and Little Miss London was born. This song sums me up as an artist because I think there’s a Little Miss London in us all – we all dress ourselves up and go about our day hoping people don’t see through us, but beneath it all, we’re vulnerable and questioning, and I have a great hope that kindness is what brings our true selves to the surface, just as this song demonstrates.

You are presently supporting Scouting for Girls on tour and we’re delighted to have been able to support you with some of the tour costs through our patrons scheme. How did this come about and how has the tour gone so far?

The tour came about through some connections I had made over the last few years, through my producer who put me in front of an independent label and bookers. The management of Scouting For Girls saw what I did and were interested In having me on, and thus had an agreement drafted up for me to buy-on to the tour (a common arrangement for up and coming artists).

This was a great commitment to uphold as it required a significant amount of funding, which I chose to crowdfund over the months of July through to September. Incredibly, we were able to hit the target, thanks to everyone who decided to partner with me in supporting this major step. I was so grateful for Sputnik’s contribution, which provided direct financial support in covering additional costs such as accommodation, travel costs and food costs for my team whilst touring the UK. Although we hit a few stumbling blocks along the way, I can say with certainty that we achieved everything we set out to do, and it gives me great hope for my career ahead.

You recently taken on music full time. How have you found that transition? What lessons have you learnt so far?

I’d made the transition before back in 2018, and was able to support myself from then until May 2020 when Covid-19 impacted everyone’s lives. So I’d done it before, but I knew the path was not easy, and it felt like starting all over again. It was a difficult transition to make, but in September 2022 I was finally able to make the move once again back into full time music.

It continues to be an act of faith, to rely on income earned from my work in music to support what I do and increase my capacity for connection. But this was a necessary step. I am convinced that in order to step into this calling of a career in the ‘sticky floor-ed places’, and to achieve a level of success where that career is sustainable, I need to give myself wholeheartedly to it. I’ve had to learn to continually hold things lightly, to not take things too seriously, and surround myself with people that I can trust and will get the job done. Even when a decision seems to be easy, it doesn’t always mean it’s the right one, and thus the discernment process for this is of absolute importance.

Follow Jessie Dipper on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or her website.

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Amanda Aiken: Characters that write their own stories

This term we’ve given a grant to Amanda Aiken, an illustrator based in the Scottish borders. Having worked on features, short films, and TV shows, Amanda is looking to develop her skills from a storyboard artist into a story artist — a role where pure visuals and sheer imagination helps to form the key beats from which a story and script develops. We talked about that difference, and her ambitions for her own project, ‘The Wait’.

We love to support industry professionals in their personal development and giving them a chance to stretch their wings into new areas. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Amanda as they grow.

Hi Amanda. Could you introduce yourself?

Hello! I’m a storyboard artist, primarily in animation. I also animate at times. I’ve worked on feature films, TV shows, commercials – all kinds of things! I’m also a voracious reader, doodler, dog owner, Aunt to a lovely niece and nephew, and notebook collector. I still have all my notebooks of doodles and stories, some from before I went to school.

As a storyboard artist I take a script and draw panels from it, outlining the story of the show/movie before it reaches the animation stage. This results in an animatic, a video of drawn panels with music and dialogue that’s used as a guide for the rest of the project. I enjoy my work but I’d like to move more into the area of a story artist. Rather than starting with a script, story artists create the whole story and its visuals. It’s the story creation rather than the drawing that’s my favourite part of the job.

Storyboarding is a bit like getting to direct but with far less pressure and responsibility. I can choose camera angles and influence the emotion of a scene. If something isn’t working out, there are times I can even make changes to the overall story.

You are presently working on a graphic novel and we are delighted to be able to
support this through our patrons scheme. What is this project about?

I occasionally write short stories—it’s a good way to bring an idea to fruition more quickly!—and these sometimes develop into storyboards or short films. These stories are usually a response to something that’s happened to me, or that I’m frustrated about. Often the stories are best left as the written word, or forgotten about altogether, but with The Wait I decided I wanted to draw it as a short comic/graphic novel. Living as a Christian has caused a lot of people to challenge me why I wait for God in certain areas. The story, though not about the Christian faith, is about waiting, and the challenge of doing so when everyone around you questions why you wait.

Because my drawings are generally loose and rough a lot of my artistic ‘challenges’ to myself are to create finished pieces. Several years ago I illustrated another short story, Kinsey’s Sword, which can now be purchased online. The process of roughing out the illustrations was great fun. Designing the characters and refining the illustrations to a place I was happy with was, at times, torturous. Yet I was proud and pleased with the result and meant to make something similar again; unfortunately I’m an excellent procrastinator and I kept putting it off.

With The Wait I knew it would be an even greater challenge as I’d have to design a much larger cast of characters and locations as well as settling on a finished look. That’s why I’ve had the rough of the graphic novel sitting in a folder for well over a year! So I decided to ask Sputnik for funding to set aside time to research and draw the character designs. I also plan to use some of the money for print samples, as I’d like the final story to be published in print and online.

What do you think are most important features of a good story? What kind of stories
do you most enjoy telling?

What I’m always wondering, whether I’m reading or watching a movie or writing or drawing, is whether the actions that are taking place make sense. It’s not whether I would react in the same way, it’s whether a decision is odd for a character. If I don’t believe a character could have made that choice, then nobody else will either.

There are many other things that make up good stories but what I’m seeking to do is to satisfy the audience in some way. That could be by either fulfilling or frustrating expectations. To do this, I create for myself. What do I want to see happen? What happens if that goes as expected? What if it doesn’t? I note my own reactions and dive deeper into the most interesting and satisfying threads that are uncovered. Sometimes these things might only interest me, but that’s what’s most important. The stories I’ve written and drawn have one main thing in common: they’re stories I want to read or see.

I lean to the fantastical and magical, but I’ve always enjoyed juxtaposing that with reality. The ideas in my notebooks are wide-ranging. I don’t overlook any of them because they don’t fit with a preferred theme. Instead, I consider how solid the overall idea is and how strongly it takes hold of me.

To follow Amanda and her work, see her website or Instagram.

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The Moses Brothers: Music for life, healing and solace

This term we’ve given a grant to the musical family trio known as the Moses Brothers: Davidson, Emmanuel and Richard. Although prolific creators, little of their music has made its way to the wider public – until now! We were delighted to be part of their journey to release multiple projects this year, and so we chatted about their process, and what it’s like to grow up in a household with instruments always at your fingertips.

We love to see ambitious young creators, working hard to improve themselves and their craft. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like the Moses Brothers as they develop.

So, who are the Moses Brothers and how did you come to make such beautiful music together? 

So kind of you. We are the Moses Brothers, and we are in fact related as we all have the same mum and dad. We started playing music and writing songs at a young age, alongside each other — so as you can imagine, there is a shared musical history, having spent some formative years exploring our craft together. We’re still learning, and growing, and it’s incredibly kind of you to consider our music as beautiful.

Growing up, we were blessed to have parents and also friends, Paul and Kath Sollitt, who saw music in us and gave us our first instruments including a guitar and an upright piano. They saw music in us before we even saw it in ourselves. Because of their generosity, we now play multiple instruments, write, produce, engineer and mix songs! 

Through our patrons scheme, we are supporting you in completing a new album. Can you tell us more about this? 

We already have 7 songs in the ‘part one’ version of our album entitled Sunrise. There are songs on this such as How Could I Forget that were formed in a dream when Davidson was 9 years old. The next album or project is a continuation of that, and hopefully shows a small side of God’s love and creativity. And we hope to release more projects this half of 2023. This album will be an independent release were we record, mix and write the album as brothers together.   

This project is, in part, being produced in connection with Mental Wellbeing Services. Do you specifically make music as music therapy and does making music in a wellbeing context change the way you work? 

Although Sunrise explores themes of mental health, there is another project that could be produced in connection with Mental Wellbeing Services. This is a 3-piece instrumental single with our talented friend Caleb Hakim on electric guitar, Rich on cello and Davidson on grand piano. We have received many words about our music being healing to people. “He is healer (Jehova Rapha)” — we hold onto these words.

To stay connected with the Moses Brothers, follow them on Instagram here.

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Rachel Zylstra: Taking time in a distracted age

This term we’ve given a grant to American-born, Edinburgh-based musician Rachel Zylstra, thanks to our amazing community of Sputnik Patrons. Rachel’s piano-led folk songs wear their heart on their sleeve, and form an important part of her life and emotional journey – as she shares here. We had a great chat about the development of her craft, and the role of music in our lives.

We love to see honest, full-blooded art, digging into the human experience without either cynicism on one hand, or gloss on the other. Join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great artists like Rachel.

Hi Rachel. Can you introduce yourself?

Hi! Yes, I can try. Stream of consciousness list… I’m a child of the Midwest (US), former theatre nerd, former (?) actual nerd, former didn’t-call-myself-a hipster, folksy artsy type, friend, wife, mom, daughter, sister, music-maker, bargain-hunter, improviser, procrastinator, ENFP, lover of God, and there but for the grace of God go I.

You have a new EP coming out and we’re delighted to be supporting this through our patron scheme. What can we expect from the new project?

I am delighted and grateful for your patronage! My albums have often been produced on a 5-7 year lag from when bulk of the material was actually written, and this one follows trend. When I moved temporarily to Scotland in 2016, my life was about to change big-time but I didn’t know it yet. This new project will be an EP of 6 piano-and-vocal-led songs written in the 2 years following that move, during which I traversed through making friends with solitude, making human friends, job-seeking, a bad relationship, a last break-up, falling in love, and then learning how to be married… not a new season’s turning so much as a new season exploding.

These songs are partial documentation of that era and I’m excited to finally get them realized onto a record, alongside other albums reflecting other times of life.

Your music often seems to reflect transitions and seasons in your own life. How much do you make music to help you process your own experiences and how much do you create with the audience in mind?

For this answer, I’ll exempt music created for the church, which is another passion and takes a different approach. My personal music making is usually, for better or worse, personal processing: articulating my perspective to myself, and trying to create beauty and suss out the meaning even in the mundane or more regrettable parts of my story. I’ve not veered away from this habit very often in 20+ years of writing songs.

What I have found is that when you’ve written genuinely and specifically about your own heart’s experiences, failings, and fulfillments, listeners who get it, get it. They’ll respond. There are listeners who will hear their own story told, will strip away your specifics and subconsciously fill in their own details as they listen, and in that feel not alone, feel understood. This is one of the joys of being what I call a ‘confessional’ singer-songwriter. When it happens, it’s always a gift.

You’ve been doing this for a while now and clearly have considerable experience as a songwriter, recording artist and performer. What 3 pieces of advice would you give to any young songwriters or musicians who are just getting started?

One: Don’t compare yourself to other artists’ timelines or speedier routes to exposure. I felt like I was behind even in my early 20s. If I hadn’t had a catch-up mentality so early on, I would have taken a breath, a class or two, workshopped my songs more frequently, chosen more meaningful networking (ie, with people and in settings I cared about, rather than just what was dictated to me as “the thing/event/website all young artists must flock to”), and spent more time preparing myself to be my own best advocate for my music.

Two: This advice might be a bit dated, as social media and its related self-promotion was not yet a thing when I was starting out, but… Don’t wait around passively for someone powerful and influential to take you under their wing, get you on track, sign you, roll you out and give you that “big break.” Just slowly do the work, build on your creativity, keep learning, treat any new listener with care, and listen to what trusted, supportive people close to you are saying.  In the course of my day job I spent the better part of my 20s brushing elbows with entertainment execs in high places. In turn, there were a few years during which, as soon as someone with big industry connections gave my music notice, I would give their input too much sway, and I would wait months for their next 10-minute morsel of advice, before making a next move in my music journey. At the time, waiting seemed wiser and more demure than forging a less trod path on my own and risking missteps. But, there’s a cost of delay, and there’s a cost to letting your, say, 4th life-priority item be handled at the pace of someone else’s 40th priority.

Three: Yes, social media is fairly unavoidable if you want to thoroughly promote your music. But, for your soul and your well-being’s sake, if you create primarily with a social media audience and virality in mind, it will not be sustainable, and it will suffer from a lack of sturdiness and lack of depth. It amazes me how much time and energy can go into maintaining a surface presentation, and in turn to just “giving people more of what they want” or becoming a slave to narcissistic habit. I’ll admit this advice is not sexy – clearly there is some fame and wealth to be found in harnessing social media algorithms.  But fellow Christian artists, preserving your sense of worthiness and sense of self as determined through Jesus; protecting your real-life relationships; preserving your hedge of privacy and a modicum of separation between your personal life and your artist work-product: I do believe refusing to lay yourself down at the social media altar will, in the long term, positively impact you, your art and your best ability to inspire others.

To stay connected with Rachel and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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Angelina Ritchie-Smith: expressing ‘Wonder’ on canvas

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we helped abstract painter Angelina Ritchie-Smith to take part in a London exhibition. Although an experienced illustrator and designer, Angelina took up the paintbrush in lockdown—and hasn’t looked back since.

We love to support artists like Angelina, whose spirituality informs their work but can still talk to a broader audience than the church. Why not join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great projects like this.

Hi Angelina. Who are you and what do you do?

 I’m Angelina, a wife and also a mother to a strong-willed beautiful 4-year-old girl named Halcyon. I’m an Australian who moved to the UK 10 years ago. 

I am a self-taught abstract artist, only having begun my art journey in early 2021. It was because of Halcyon. We were painting stick figures and green giraffes. I am a woman of purpose so I thought, why don’t I get my own canvas and paint beside her. I thought I couldn’t paint until then. Sure, I’m trained in fashion design and graphic design and am also an illustrator but I didn’t know how to paint… it turns out I was trying to paint faces and landscapes which I’m no good at! 

Until now it’s been part-time, as my daughter has only been in nursery part-time. Now she’s in school full-time, I am focusing on my art a bit more. 

Through our patrons scheme, we are supporting you in an upcoming exhibition you are part of. Can you tell us more about this?

Sputnik helped me to participate in an exhibition in London recently, where I was an honorary prize winner from last year’s competition: the Holly Bush Emerging Female Painter prize. 

I won the Tim May memorial award within last year’s prize, yet because of lockdown restrictions, we never held the exhibition—I only received my award via Zoom. So with this year’s competition, although my entry only reached the longlisting stage, I was allowed to have my painting Wonder in the exhibition.

It was so nice to meet last year’s prize winners, as well as this year’s too. The Holly Bush art prize champions women artists and I think there was about 11 awards within last year’s prize. In 2021, I was lucky enough to gain a £1,500 cash prize which helped to fund my art further. 

Wonder was inspired by the song Wonder by Hillsong as it made me imagine what the creation of the world was like. The energy of the spoken word. I imagine it being full of electricity, excitement and power. 

Your use of colour is striking in your work. You obviously care about colour! Do you think that God cares about colour too? What do you think we can learn from the colours he has built into our experience of reality?

 Don’t get me wrong, black is powerful too, and the use of monochrome in paintings can still be beautiful. But when vibrant colours are used (especially gold… I’m kind of obsessed. I don’t know why, it just seems magical), it becomes therapy. I love colour theory and the meaning behind it. I paint for my moods, blue when I need some calm, bright yellow when I’m feeling optimistic and excited and so on. 

Yes, God made us in His image and if He can make something as awesome as the earth and all of the galaxies, then certainly we were born to create too… yes, even the non-creative people (they just do it in a different, more analytical way). I guess He wants to teach us to take time for inner care. If we are constantly serving and working, we burn ourselves out. Besides worship, He wants us to literally stand in awe of the creation as it benefits us and our health. 

Abstract art is an artform that is often seen to place the meaning very much in the eye of the beholder. Do you try to communicate in your work and if so, how?

Sometimes I intentionally set out with a theme in mind before I paint, eg: Wonder, Joy around being happy etc. Other times I just want to create but I don’t know what or why. I just start to paint. Later it actually helps me to understand what I was feeling eg: passion or calmness etc. It’s like a dancer, sometimes they can plan a routine but sometimes it’s the most improvised pieces that are the most beautiful. 

To stay connected with Angelina and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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India Johnson’s tactile poetry is in dialogue with the past

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re helping to fund a research project by typewriter artist India Johnson. One of her inspirations is Dom Sylvester Houédard – a monk, theologian, and concrete poet. India discovered that DSH’s archive of work had recently been transferred to the exact town where she lives – giving her the unique opportunity to delve into his work first-hand, and produce her own artworks in response.

We love to support artists like India, who are engaged in deep dialogue with culture and their chosen artistic practice. Why not join our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month – and we can keep supporting great projects like this.

Hi India. Can you introduce us to yourself and your work?

My background is in hand bookbinding. My first formal bookbinding study was at the LLOTJA Book Art Conservatory in Barcelona. Eventually I landed at the University of Iowa Center for the Book in 2017 for graduate studies. I still live and work in Iowa. 

In graduate school, one of my professors took us to study some early christian books in libraries in Chicago. They were some of the oldest and most beautiful manuscripts I’ve handled, written in Greek. Handling a prayer book from the middle ages can be a very intimate and meaningful experience, even if you can’t read the text. Touching these precious, ancient devotional books prompted me to shift my focus from bookbinding to making contemporary pieces. I wanted to make work that echoed the experience of holding a sacred book in your hands. 

I work with delicate materials, mostly paper and cloth, to create sculptures, books, and textiles–often with christian texts. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve mostly been working with text from the Book of Common Prayer, which was compiled during a plague. I also like to work with the King James translation of the Psalms. It’s the first example of blank verse (poetry without rhyme or meter) in English. My work visits and re-visits these canonical texts because mystical and spiritual experiences happen both despite and within established social structures.

I prefer to exhibit my work in settings where it can be handled; mostly churches and libraries. How much of reading is touch?

We are delighted to be supporting you on your new project through our patrons scheme. Can you talk us through it?

Many of my pieces use a process for running cloth through a typewriter. The artist who most directly inspires this work is Dom Sylvester Houédard (abbreviated as ‘dsh’). He was a Benedictine monk and a poet. dsh is best known for a body of intricate, abstract typewriter art produced from the 1940s to 70s. When I first looked into dsh’s work, all image credits pointed to a private collection, the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry. I decided to plan a visit–and discovered the collectors had just donated the entire archive to the university in the town where I live. What are the chances? It felt like more than a coincidence. Sputnik is funding a few months of research sessions with Dom Sylvester’s papers, which include beautiful examples of his typewriter art, as well as some correspondence and scholarly writing. I’ll be producing artwork in response to Dom Sylvester’s archive; the medium will be typewriter on textile. 

Dom Sylvester sounds like a fascinating man. What drew you to him for this project?

When I first started making typewriter art, I would be at the machine for hours, typing the same fragment of text over and over again. Even though I was working with familiar texts, like the psalms, through all the repetition, the language would become totally abstract for me. More abstract than I knew words could be – being something rather than meaning something. I really came to understand prayer first and foremost as an experience of language. Dom Sylvester’s typestracts show how language can become a thing in itself. When we push words past what they mean, past signification, we come to understand something about the relationship between embodiment and transcendence. One thing that’s become clear since starting my research is that the typestracts are generally smaller than I thought they would be. The paper is very light–almost translucent, but not quite. The typestracts feel so delicate and intimate and focused; they’re a wonder.

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Music as a path to mental wellbeing: an interview with Nigel Modern

Hi Nigel. You’ve had a long journey balancing music with your career. Could you take us through that?

I trained as a medical doctor but have always had a musical career of sorts; it has often felt like a juggling act, or plate spinning. I’ve played the classical guitar since my teenage years. During the 1990s I performed with other guitarists, and then in a ‘band’ with a vocalist, a flute player and a violinist. We received good reviews and made some waves in the classical guitar world, but the economics of it wasn’t viable.

Financial pressures, and the lack of an obvious way forward, meant I went back to full time medical work—and for almost 20 years I played acoustic guitar in various worship bands in churches in London and Birmingham. I also started to write songs, and performed them locally. Then, in 2013, reorganisation within the NHS meant I was offered retirement and I couldn’t resist.

In 2014 I picked up the classical guitar for the first time in 17 years. My playing was awful… at first. Since then, I’ve performed a few concerts every year with classical guitar buddies from around the UK. In 2019 I decided to promote myself as a soloist—then Covid happened! 

Through our Patrons scheme, we are supporting your new musical project. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Just before Lockdown, I became involved with Ash and Anji Barker’s Newbigin House project in Winson Green. This is a church-driven urban regeneration project, based on innovative principles which I admire greatly. In March 2020 (oh dear!) we were given a church building, and despite the Pandemic the project has flourished—partly because Ash and Anji are amazing people—but also through the resilience of local Winson Green people, who are taking ownership for regeneration projects in their community.

One of those projects was started by my friend Sarah, with whom I’d run a choir called Rock the Yurt in the autumn of 2019. Sarah’s new project was for a band with Mindfulness at its core—appropriately called ‘MindFunk’. The band has a mutually supportive ethos with a ‘collective’ approach to writing, and we’ve received a good response so far. Everyone involved in the band would have had some experience of mental health services in the past, or present.

The next stage is to record these songs and complete others. We have been fortunate to have been given a lot of recording and PA equipment and space at Lodge Road Community Church to convert into a recording studio. With the money becoming available from Sputnik and others we will able to purchase recording equipment to plug any gaps (this is currently being reviewed) and consideration is also being given to external technical and/or artistic support. This may be worth investing money in, though this would be decided in keeping with the urban regeneration model being applied and any support commissioned would be used to develop the skills of locally based individuals as an investment in the future.

How do you think that art generally (and music specifically) can help those of us who battle with mental health problems?

Time and again individuals in MindFunk express their appreciation of the time spent rehearsing and collaborating in the band and the beneficial effect this has on their mental well-being, something I also echo.

It is especially true if we have a very creative songwriting session, but I have also seen and experienced it when we quickly play through and learn a cover version. We all struggle to keep our emotions centred on a positive outlook for life, and involvement with music is very healing. I’ve also seen how MindFunk spontaneously can ‘give this away’ to others. One incident comes to mind: we rehearse in a building where there is also a community cafe running, and MindFunk can be heard in the next room. A few of the regulars who were in the cafe opened the glass doors and we did (I think) ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s door’, then someone started ‘Amazing Grace’. MindFunk picked it up and the atmosphere in the place became electric. MindFunk is not the church worship band, but what happened then was very worshipful and happened in a very public space. It was magical, and I have no doubt very healing for those involved.

Christians are often keen to serve their communities as an expression of Jesus’ command to love our neighbours. However, this service is usually seen in practical terms. How do you think that art can express God’s love for our communities and do you have any advice on how you think artists or churches can serve their communities more effectively through the arts?

I passionately believe in art for art’s sake; our God is by nature creative, and since we are created in his image, we are creative beings. This creativity is in all of us, but this world seems to do everything it can to squeeze it out of us. I believe that is because our creativity is a powerful antidote to the destructive forces so often expressed in our communities.

My model of creativity is that it is involved in the engine room which powers the practical outworking of God’s purposes; not an add-on when we can afford it, but part of the ‘currency’ which invests in the ‘Divine economy’. An economy which values and invests in the arts is likely to be an economy which will grow in a beneficial way, a less destructive way; perhaps even a way which respects people and the environments in which they live. Effective practical projects are more likely if they reflect and arise from a more creative culture.

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Curation, culture and community-building with Pip Piper

A film producer, documentary director and more, with his roots in youth work, Pip Piper is one of those people who helps community-building to happen. Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re giving funding towards Pip’s new local film festival in his new hometown of Exmouth.

A healthy arts culture is a common good, allowing the emotional and spiritual life of a community to flourish. It’s part of how we connect, dream, and aspire, together. Why not support work like Pip’s, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month? Find out more here:

Hi Pip. For those who haven’t come across you yet, can you introduce yourself?

Hi, yes! I am Pip Piper, an indie film maker with about 25 years of filming experience across commercial, feature drama and feature documentary. I produce and direct.

I also helped set up (mid 1990s) and still run OSBD media charity that helps develop young emerging filmmaking talent and creates films that matter. For 15 years I also co-directed Blue Hippo Media Ltd with Rob Taylor. I was based in Birmingham for 30+ years, and now am based in Exmouth, Devon. I am married to Debbie, who also helps run OSBD and we have 3 grown up boys.

You are setting up a film festival in your community in Exmouth. It’s a great pleasure to be able to support this great project through our patrons scheme. Can you fill us in on the plan?

Thank you for the support—it’s not just the finances, but more importantly the support and belief that comes with it that really counts. Debbie and I plan to develop a film festival in the town that brings together people who want to be involved, ultimately aimed at local residents (Exmouth is a town of over 40,000).

We are going to start small, and build over the next few years. It will be a cultural and curated festival, not so much about competition but more about bringing really interesting films to the town, with Q&As and events aimed at enabling wider engagement. The ethos will be about community development and cohesion through the artform of film. We also want to have a short film challenge for young filmmakers built-in too. We aim to run our first pilot one in November 2022.

Why do you think that this is important? Why do you think that Exmouth needs a film festival?

Well, it doesn’t have one and we don’t think ever has! Seriously though, as mentioned above, we believe that art can bring people together, break down barriers, help build cohesion and has the possibility to inspire and inform. Film really can do this—help us laugh, feel, be inspired, get angry. A festival of films both short and feature, fiction and documentary, peppered with guest Q&As and events could bring something very special to Exmouth and its community and beyond.

You have a long track record of bringing ambitious projects like this to life. What advice would you give others who would like to set up large scale community arts projects like this one?

I think take your time, talk to lots of people, do the groundwork. Who are the people already doing things that you can collaborate with, or learn from? Run your SWOT analysis. Then start slowly and begin, ready to adapt as you evaluate.

Ultimately though, you will need to own what you want to achieve, and look to make a way. Have a trusted team you can bounce ideas off and listen to when it gets tough. Share the load—no need to be the hero. For us who are followers of Jesus, this is all Kingdom building; so pray, listen, discern, be wise and trust Him.

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Ben Lawrence’s musical journey through grief

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, we’re funding a very personal music project by songwriter and filmmaker Ben Lawrence.

Watch our interview with Ben below, or scroll further for a written Q&A. Why not join us in supporting engaging, talented artists like Ben, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month?

Hi Ben. Please introduce yourself.

Hi, I’m Ben a musician and filmmaker from Norwich. I’ve been creating since I was a teenager and love to communicate my journey through the films and songs I make. I’ve been married to Mel for seven years and spend my days working for Norwich Youth for Christ and St Thomas Norwich as a creative.

It’s a pleasure to be able to help fund your latest project. Can you talk us through it?

O Wide World is my first solo release, a collection of songs written about grief, hope and re-finding adventure. In 2016, my twin brother Dan passed away from a brain tumour and these songs are my story of journeying through the grief.

I started writing some of these songs only a month or so after Dan died, but it wasn’t until early 2021 that I thought about actually doing something with them. I felt the call to pursue them and started working on demos. The demos really helped me to develop my sound and after a few conversations with producers and friends, I decided that it was about time I made an album.

This album is set out in three acts that will take the listener on a journey through my story and the process of grief. Act One is all about memories, nostalgia and the longing to be back with the ones we’ve lost and in those places we treasured as kids. Act Two is an honest look at grief, anger, loss and abandonment. It’s the rawest section of the album. Act Three focuses on hope, moving forward and finding purpose in the wake of loss. 

I’m working with a great producer, Iain Hutchison, to fully realise the potential of these songs and a great team of musicians and creatives. It’s extremely exciting to bring so many great people together in this project.

My aim is that this album will really connect with those who’ve experienced something similar and anyone who needs some hope. The album will have 12-13 tracks and will be accompanied by a documentary and music videos.

So sorry to hear about your brother. How has the project helped you to process the grief that you’ve felt in your bereavement?

I’ve always written songs as a cathartic way to deal with what I’m going through. I never thought I’d be writing about this stuff, but in some ways I’m glad I have this creative outlet to help process. I’ve always wanted to help others, it’s why I’ve felt called to work in Christian ministry areas for the entirety of my career, and so this album is important to me for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a tribute to my brother, who was an inspiring passionate man of God and it’s a chance to help others on their journey too. It feels good to make something positive out of such hard circumstances. 

I take each day as it comes with grief. Some days you just carry on and other days you need a bit more time to gather yourself. These songs have been a soundtrack for me throughout all of those days and I hope they’ll be special to other people too.

You seem to have a very thought through plan for the project, including a very successful Kickstarter to help gather extra funding. Can you provide any tips on how to set up a successful Kickstarter?

This is my first crowdfunding campaign and I was adamant that to do it well, I needed to put the hard work in. Gladly my friend Pete McAllen (aka Pyramid Park) gave me lots of insight and helped me understand the best way to go about it. 

We knew it would be very important to tell the story as best as we could, so we spent a long time developing the main campaign video and filming several sections to it to really show the breadth of what we wanted to achieve. I am so appreciative of Sarah Ballard and Ben Lambert, who have both helped me out immensely in all of these areas.

I had a full marketing campaign ready to go to aid the 35 day Kicsktarter and this really helped to keep the project in people’s minds. I’ve never been so busy, but it was so rewarding as the total kept ticking up. There were a few moments where I was sceptical that we would reach our £10,000 target, but thankfully we made and exceeded it!

The total album project is actually more like £20,000, so I’m very grateful to Sputnik for their extra funding, which will really help us make this album the best it possibly can be.

To stay connected with Ben and his music, you can follow him on Instagram, or check out the album’s website.

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Trees, songs and creation care: an interview with Lydia Hiorns

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re funding a nature-inspired musical album written by Newcastle-based artist Lydia Hiorns. As well as being the Director of Shieldfield Art Works, Lydia explores embodied hospitality through her KILN project, and makes prints, drawings and songs to explore the created world.

Like us, Lydia believes that art and creativity are integral parts of human life. Why not join us in supporting multi-disciplinary artists like Lydia, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month?

Hi Lydia. Can you introduce yourself? 

Hello, I am an artist living and working in Newcastle. Within my artistic activities I explore embodied hospitality. I create spaces and host events that enable conversations about hospitality. Currently this occurs in KILN tent, a hand printed portable space where I host meals and conversations to grow a more critical understanding of hospitality (making room for another) and commensality (being together around a table) within the public and private sectors. This is needed within society to develop a genuine culture of ‘hospitality as a way of life’ rather than something that we do.

I also make prints, drawings and write songs to explore the created world and how we interact with and care for it. You can find out more on my artist website and KILN website. I am also the Director of Shieldfield Art Works [SAW], an arts organisation in Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne — an area which has undergone rapid urban development. As a project of the Methodist Church, we seek truth, challenge injustice, engage in social activism, and work for the common good.

Anyone’s welcome to participate in our programme. We believe that art and creativity are integral parts of human life, and, with art’s unique ability to articulate, question, and inquire, we can change our communities and the world. So we develop high quality art exhibitions, events, workshops, conferences and publications based around the issues and interests of our local area. 

It’s a pleasure to be able to support your new project. Can you fill everyone in on what you’re planning?

I am going to write and record an album called The Arboretum that will consist of 20 songs about specific individual trees, paired with 20 corresponding tree drawings. I am hoping to collaborate with a selection of musicians to compose and record the songs and I am excited about the diversity this method will create. Once I am done you will be able to enjoy the songs and artwork on Spotify and my website—and you never know, I may get a few CDs made for those who enjoy the physicality of polycarbonate. 

The natural world has been the focus of many of the finest artworks ever created but, at the same time, there can be a sense that work about the raw elements of creation can be passé or unadventurous. Why do you think that the natural world is a good focus for artworks and what is it about trees in particular that inspires you? 

There is no doubt that nature is often idealised in art as people try to contain it in a neat frame. But nature is messy, dangerous and gloriously reflective of aspects of God’s character. Recently I have been doing a lot of research into trees specifically and I am convinced that trees, and what they teach us, bring great good to our world. They are universal and generous: enabling us to breath, bringing beauty, giving food, allowing us to write, read, sit and walk. Only last month the Woodland Trust gave away 60,000 trees to fight against climate change. Trees are also prevalent throughout the Bible from the tree in Eden, Calvary and heaven. Trees give life, they praise God, they show fruitfulness, they are a conduit for salvation, they display suffering and they describe Jesus.

With that view of trees in mind, I would like this album to inspire awe in the beauty, diversity and complexity of trees; to shine a light on the problem human destruction of trees creates to planet and people; to explore how we can cultivate a mentality of longterm conservation and care for trees like within an arboretum; and to link the gospel to trees, so that whenever a tree or a product of a tree is seen a Christian will remember the gospel and anyone else may start to glimpse Christian truths in the natural world. 

In your wider body of work, as you mentioned, you like to explore ‘embodied hospitality’. What is this and how does it play out in your practice?

Embodied hospitality is when you don’t just see hospitality as something that you ‘do’ at given times, like when you invite someone for dinner, but you see it as a way of ‘being’ where your whole life embodies a hospitable nature. We often see it as making a Mary-Berry-worthy Victoria sponge. But it is not entertainment! No, it holds a far deeper importance.

God is hospitality in essence: he created the world, a spacious and gracious space. He welcomed us into it. Jesus came and ate with people. Jesus’s table was one of grace, not reciprocity. It was counter-cultural, and collapsed the distance between rich and poor, insider and outsider. Jesus’s table expressed the Kingdom of God. Hospes means both ‘host’, ‘guest’, or ‘stranger’. So, hospitality is welcoming the stranger.

If hospitality is about making room for others and welcoming, it doesn’t depend on having a nice house and being able to cook a five-course meal. I am so convinced of this that I’ve just written a book to help everyone discover practical ways of offering and accepting hospitality with limited resources, or at the beginning of their hospitality journey.

KILN is the name I have given to my practice/research around hospitality after the Hebrew initials for “All of my heart and soul”. It carries on this idea that our whole life is to embody welcome. For most of my practice I create spaces and host events that enable conversations about hospitality in a hand-printed portable tent.

Finally, my role at SAW of managing the programme naturally puts the host’s apron on me, which is empowering; but something occurs when a guest’s contributions are recognised, and when a guest isn’t defined first as needy. This intrigues and astounds me. Jesus himself was the recipient of hospitality more often than he provided it. He enabled Zacchaeus to be a host, and that’s what transforms him. Christians often take the host roles, but sometimes we need to give others a turn.

To stay connected with Lydia Hiorns and her work, you can follow her on Instagram, or check out her website.

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Loving the local arts scene: an interview with comedian Tom Elliott

Thanks to our community of Patrons, we’re funding a community-driven comedy project headed up by Tom Elliott. Tom is a comedian and magician who’s familiar with the church circuit, but has recently founded ‘The Big Local Night Out’, a network of nationwide community arts projects — no strings attached, just to benefit the scene. Watch our interview with Tom below, or read on for our quick Q&A.

We firmly believe that a thriving arts scene is a common good that blesses many. Why not join us in supporting intrepid performers like Tom, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month? Find out more here:

Hi Tom, can you introduce yourself?

I’m a professional Comedian and Magician and director of Cornerstone Entertainment Ltd. 

Having performed everywhere from comedy clubs to cathedrals, I’m passionate about enabling the church to be present amongst its community. Jesus spent a lot of time in the temple, but he also did incredible things in the marketplace. That’s where I want to be. The arts gives me a great opportunity to blend the two. 

You’ve largely made your living through touring churches in the past, but youre presently looking to transition into working in the mainstream arts space. What is your new project and why have you chosen to take this route?

The Big Local Night Out is a community arts initiative, aiming to help the church be at the forefront of community life. It’s not directly evangelistic, but it does enable relationships to be established and nurtured, connecting with those who perhaps would never step in to an event held within a church building. Combining the professional talent of mainstream musicians with the participation of local choirs and school groups, this series of four events across the year, seeks to increase community cohesion and wellbeing. I’m now pretty confident that we will be launching 5 locations this year, with a vision to expand significantly over the next 10 years. 

What lessons have you learnt so far about how your creative skills and faith best work together?

For those of us who have developed our creativity in Christian circles, it can be so easy to stay put and never stretch beyond the four walls of the church. 

As I’ve entered into the comedy club scene, I’ve been amazed at the low key but none the less significant conversations I’ve had with other comics about faith. I’ve been so encouraged to read Daniel 1 and trying to live out the same strategy! 

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s delicacies, nor with the wine, which he drank; therefore he requested of the chief of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.”

“Then the king interviewed them, and among them all none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; therefore they served before the king. And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.”

To stay connected with Tom Elliott and his work, you can follow him on Twitter, or check out his website.

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Land, place, and beauty in forgotten things: the work of Luke Sewell

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Birmingham-based printmaker Luke Sewell, aka @lukeprints.

We’ve had the great pleasure of watching Luke’s skills and career develop first-hand, and when he came to us with a new project based around a GK Chesterton poem, we couldn’t resist. You can watch our interview with Luke below, or keep scrolling to read Luke’s deeper thoughts on his journey so far.


I’ve been making linocut prints for just over four years. I bought a starter set so that I could design an invitation for my wedding in Christmas 2015, inspired by the work of Sputnik’s own Ben Harris, and by deep and long-buried memories of carving blocks in secondary school.

I dusted off the gouges in 2017 when I was doing a Museum Studies masters at Birmingham School of Art. Most of my fellow students were studying some kind of fine art and I just wanted a simple, embodied process that would give me a creative outlet. My boss at work gave me a smartphone at the same time, which gave me access to plenty of inspiration from contemporary printmakers such as Lou Tonkin, Harry Brockway, Kathleen Neeley and Nick Morley on Instagram. The Kathe Kollwitz retrospective on display at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery at around the same time was also very formative.

The enforced lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 turned what was a hobby into a vital discipline that filled large amounts of free time, gave me purpose and to my great surprise and pleasure became something that could at least financially sustain the cost of the materials required, with a little change. All of this has occurred in parallel with my almost-ten-year involvement in Sputnik, as art has proved increasingly vital to understanding and practising my faith.

The enforced lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 turned what was a hobby into a vital discipline

The question of what draws me to Tolkien is an enormous one, which I could and probably should write on far more extensively. Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis writes about being too old for fairy stories, before eventually being old enough for them again. Over the last couple of years I’ve grown old enough for Tolkien’s work to undergo something of a renaissance, particularly in awakening a desire for the sacramental. The sacramental imagination in Tolkien’s work changes the way you see reality. It makes the world more real. Trees are no longer just trees, nor rocks simply rocks. Bread and wine will never be merely food and drink again. Middle-earth rescues us from the prison of a flat, material world and points us to something higher, nobler, more beautiful – and ultimately true.

He does all of this not through a series of persuasive arguments or essays, but adventures and myths that are participatory, immersive in their consistency, enormous in scale and beautifully sorrowful. Tolkien’s treatment of loss, death, decay, defeat and hope without guarantees has helped me survive the last year after a sudden and devastating bereavement and I believe his perspective is increasingly vital for Christians and Christian artists preoccupied with a sentimental and often shallow positivism.

Tolkein’s treatment of loss, death, decay, defeat and hope without guarantees has helped me survive the last year after a sudden and devastating bereavement

The work I make is only a small symptom of way Tolkien has lifted my focus to the sacramental, to wonder over ideas. Like Saint Gregory of Nyssa said, “Ideas create idols. Only wonder leads to knowing.” Hopefully the work is illuminated by that focus, but I imagine it will take time – much of it so far has been quite a derivative method of meditating on some of the stronger images from Tolkien’s work and tracing where they have come from; Tolkien was an excellent subcreator (to borrow his own invented term), reusing and repurposing ancient images and patterns embedded deep in our collective subconscious to create something that is nevertheless vibrant and alive.

My current work concerns itself with another modern mythic story deeply connected to the soil we find ourselves on (if you, like me, are reading this in England). G.K. Chesterton’s 1911 epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse is about an end to the world, which is a theme I’ve always enjoyed. We are often vain enough to think that the end of our world is the end of the world, but many worlds have come and gone whilst the sun continues to rise. How do we understand our faith if the ending of our world isn’t what ultimately ushers in the Second Coming and the Age to Come?

It’s also about a gathering doom and how we might go about living under that kind of foreboding without knowledge of what the future holds. Much of the time Christian hope seems to be defined by an eschatological certainty of what the future holds, whether that be over the longest, eternal arc or considerably shorter ones if you belong to a tradition that continues to deal out Jeremiah 29:11, or prophetic encouragement of the prosperity that awaits us in the coming season with cheery abandon.

Chesterton outs hope based on certainty of the future as definitively pagan. Christian hope is set apart by the fact that it makes no such assurances about what awaits us, true faith instead being sublimely painted by Saint Mary’s beautiful, mysterious and troubling words to Alfred;

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you
And heaven an iron cope
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?

My wife Emily and I have recently welcomed our first child into the world; a son called Edmund. As we collectively face a future of climate breakdown, the dying throes of a deeply flawed economic structure, transhumanism and increasing political authoritarianism, how do I reckon with the decision to bring a life into such a world, a defiantly hopeful act that a good friend described as “the badass opposite of suicide”? How do we partake of the joy of giants; the joy without a cause?

I don’t know. But The Ballad of the White Horse at least encourages us to explore the question. It does so with wit, some stunningly beautiful use of the English language and the sense that it will require more from us, the Church, than the belief that God will make the bad and uncomfortable things go away if only we pray and believe hard enough.

If that onslaught of wisdom wasn’t enough for you, you can follow Luke at @lukeprints. Why not join us in supporting fantastic artists like Luke, by joining our Patrons scheme for as little as £5 / month? Find out more right here on our website.

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Art as an act of aspirational joy: an interview with Joanna Karselis

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Joanna Karselis, a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and singer-songwriter.

Joanna has been a friend of Sputnik’s for some time, through our Birmingham Hub, and we’ve greatly enjoyed following her work, seeing her talent and perseverance pay off. We were delighted to be able to help fund her upcoming EP—and even more so given the story behind it. We’ll let Joanna explain.

Hi Jo. You’ve been involved in Sputnik for several years now but for those who are not familiar with your work, could you fill us in on who you are and what you do?

I’m a multi-instrumentalist and composer. I mainly work in film music, but I also score games, plays, podcasts, adverts… anything that needs music! I also write and sing songs, and work as a session musician and music educator.

Your main field of work in the last few years has been in media music, particularly film. Can you talk us through this? How did you get into making music for film and how has this developed?

I started off studying classical violin performance but through some convoluted and unexpected circumstances ended up doing a master’s degree in contemporary classical composition. During my masters I got disenchanted with the state of musical academia and increasingly felt like I didn’t fit in there. I didn’t write the “right” kind of music for most of my professors and wasn’t given the same opportunities as the other person in my year (it was a small course!)

Thankfully, one kind professor gave me the chance to score my first play, which completely realigned my goals as a composer. Shortly after that, I got my first job scoring a feature film, after the director happened to find my work online. My music wasn’t deemed worthy enough for the classical world, but it worked pretty well alongside a visual image. After a successful festival run for that film, I was expecting the work to start flooding in, but it ended up taking another two years for me to get another credit as the industry is so competitive.

Since then it’s often felt like tough going, and if I’m being honest it’s not an easy career path, but through persistence and patience I’m now in regular employment as a film composer. I’ve scored three films on Amazon Prime, mixed music at Warner Brothers, spent the last few years on BAFTA’s talent development programme, and have scored many award-winning films, so that hard work is starting to pay off.

Even though it’s been a tough journey, I’ve persisted with film scoring because it’s my calling. God loves telling stories, and when I score a film, I get to support the narrative by adding depth and fullness to it through the music. I’m a passionate believer in cinema as an agent of change, so being part of telling these stories that help us understand each other and challenge our perceptions and understandings of the world is really important. Often the composing process feels very worshipful for me and I really connect with God as I do it. I also get to be a woman in a male dominated industry, which brings with it challenges but also opportunities to advocate for equality and fairness and to support my peers, and to do my best to treat everyone I encounter with grace and kindness, which isn’t always the industry standard.

It is a pleasure to be able to support your latest project through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme. Can you talk us through it?

In late September 2020 I became suddenly ill. It eventually turned out to be long Covid which started after an asymptomatic initial infection. It’s an illness I’m still living with now.

The first three months were particularly rough, and for that time I became bedbound and only able to carry out the most basic of everyday tasks. Despite that, I kept a pad of manuscript paper by my bed and every few weeks I had enough energy to do some basic composing. I wrote these little snatches of upbeat and uplifting piano pieces that would bring me joy, as well as capture the pain of the pandemic and my own illness.

In January I started being able to sit up in bed for an hour a day with my laptop and a mini-keyboard, and I began slowly inputting these pieces into my computer. The project has really kept me going through the last year, gradually expanding as I’ve been able to work again and to do things I took for granted before like record myself playing violin. It’s now a fully-fledged EP.

It feels like the most personal and worshipful thing I’ve ever made — I can’t even listen to some tracks without breaking down — and the Sputnik funding allowed me to go and record the piano parts in a studio which felt like drawing the beginning of a line under the experiences of the last fifteen months of illness. It’s a big departure, as I normally either release film music or songs; so to release something that’s neither, feels like I’m reclaiming my own music and letting it stand by itself for the first time in many years.

To stay connected with Joanna Karselis and her work in the lead up to the release, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or check out her websiteTo hear a bit more about her journey, you can watch our longer interview below!

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Kapes A. Witness is searching for the right words

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This year thanks to our community of Patrons, we helped to fund a new EP from Birmingham rapper Kapes A. Witness.

Kapes has been plying his trade in his local scene for a good few years. Now finding himself on a journey of faith, he’s working out in real time how the worlds of faith and art overlap, how his motivations have changed and what he hopes to achieve through his art.

Hey Kapes, introduce yourself…

Hey, I’m Kapes A. Witness. I’m a Birmingham-based hip-hop artist. I started rapping in 1998, aged 10. I went on to perform around the UK, including at Birmingham’s O2 Academy. I also collaborated with brother of 2pac and Thug Life co-founder, Mopreme Shakur. In 2015 I became a born-again Christian and since then, faith has been at the forefront of my music. 

Who are your main influences?

Growing up I was influenced by rappers from the 80’s and 90’s. 2pac was the biggest influence on me overall. There was a lot of passion and emotion in his music. Since becoming a Christian though, my attention was drawn more to those with the same mission as me. Now I listen to people like Bryann Trejo (who I was blessed enough to collaborate with), Bizzle, Datin, Kurtis Hoppie, Young Bro and KJ-52 to name a few.

One of our Kapes favourites at Sputnik HQ is ‘Story to Tell’. One of the striking features about your music, as demonstrated on this track, is your ability to be able to tell your story authentically and honestly, not shying away from your ongoing struggles or your relationship with Jesus. How do you find this balance?

My music is always an honest reflection of my life, so sometimes you will hear that struggle—but you will also hear the victory that comes with having friends in high heavenly places! Jesus has transformed my life and who I am as a person so much. He tells us to cast our cares onto him, so that’s what I do and the music reflects that.

It’s a pleasure to be able to help you with your latest project through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme. Can you talk us through the new project?

I’m so excited about working with you guys on this project! You can expect some joyful noise, some deep story telling, fire beats and as we wake up each day in a new chapter of revelation; some eye opening, sign of the times bars! Stay tuned!

To stay connected with Kapes A. Witness in the lead up to the release, you can follow him on Facebook or TwitterTo hear a bit more about his journey, you can watch our longer interview below!

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Spinning beauty out of lockdown with guitarist Stewart Garry

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Stewart Garry, an instrumental fingerstyle guitarist from Newcastle.

We’ve long been fans of Stew’s work, as a great example of non-verbal music which can still evoke a powerful sense of place, emotion or story. The music is both technically daunting and yet easy to enjoy; and supporting the studio recording of his new (as yet untitled) album was a no-brainer.

Introduce yourself Stew. Who are you and what do you do?

Hi Sputnik! My name is Stew, I’m 32 years old; I’m married to Abi and we have a daughter, born last year, called Brooke.

We’re currently located in Cambridge, having moved from the East Midlands a little over a year ago for me to start working as an Assistant Pastor at a church here. Alongside being a Pastor, I am studying Biblical Counselling with BCUK (Biblical Counselling UK). Outside of church life I compose instrumental acoustic guitar music. This music uses modern fingerstyle guitar methods such as using the body of the guitar as a drum, tapping melodies or chords and alternate tunings. For my compositions I often like to take influences from my Celtic roots as well as film, alternative, jazz, and heavier music. 

Those who’ve been around Sputnik for a while may well be familiar with your work through your excellent ‘Sojourner’ album. It’s hard to believe that was 5 years ago. What have you been up to in the meantime?

After Sojourner, I got married and spent most of my time involved in church work and studying for an MA in Christian Ministry. However, I did get the opportunity to compose some music for a couple of friends weddings, play some cool gigs like the London Acoustic Guitar Show, and teach a few fingerstyle guitar “masterclasses” (their term not mine) at Nexus ICA

The new album was written in lockdown just after the birth of your first child. Could you talk us through the process?

The process of writing this new album during lockdown and after the birth of my first child has been a lot different to any other album that I have composed—for a few reasons—but the main one has been that time off work with my family just inspired me.

I’ve heard lots of musicians say they didn’t want to pick up their instrument during lockdown, and I understand that, but with being a dad for the first time and having such a crazy year, I felt like I had something to say again after all those years since Sojourner. A second interesting factor has been not being able to gig. In the past, it was during performing that I would try new material out, see what lands well—or not! So this time, it’s been a longer process of listening back to my work on my own. The main result of these things has been that the music is less complicated but more melodic. It feels more of a personal album rather than abstract music written about places and good times, which at times I think Sojourner became… 

I know that in your music, you like to think very carefully about the recording process and also how to present your music visually. How are you planning to record and release this project?

Many instrumental guitarists release videos of their music on a plain background, so everyone can see that it’s really just them playing all the parts! Whilst there is nothing wrong with that, I do like people to have more of a visual experience as well. Since I’m now situated in Cambridge, my thoughts have been around finding interesting places to film, such as old libraries, perhaps even King’s College… but this part of the project is still in its planning stages. The first part is to get into the studio in November and get the music sorted. This is my first studio-based album since The West Coast over ten years ago, and so there are some nerves going into the studio again—but it should be fun. I am also looking forward to collaborating with Joanna Karselis again. Jo and I worked together for one of the tracks on Sojourner (called Patience is a Virtue), and I was thrilled that she was up for working together again on a track called A Scottish Lament. Expect lots of trills.

To stay connected with Stewart Garry and his music in the lead up to the release, you can follow him on Instagram, subscribe on YouTube, or follow him on Spotify. To find out a bit more about his work and process, you can check out our longer interview with him below!

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For installation artist Jill Woods, light is the medium

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities.

This term, one of our grants has gone to Jill Woods, an installation artist. We caught up with Jill to find out about more about her journey and her latest installation.

HI Jill. Could you give us a bit of introduction to your art journey?

It’s been a ‘long and winding road’! I loved art at school, but dropped it to do science subjects at A level and then went on to do a science degree.

Throughout university, I continued to make things – clothes, cards and gifts for family and friends. That approach continued for many years – just dabbling and enjoying exploring my creativity, visiting art galleries and learning about other artists. I did a number of workshops, mainly involving textile techniques, and I was part of a creative group with friends taking a creative approach to the meditative practice of Lectio Divina. 

I explored doing an Art Foundation course when my two children were small, but it wasn’t the right time. It wasn’t until 2018 that I finally felt it was a good time to push the door. I managed to get in to my local college (at 54, I was the grandma of the group) and I absolutely loved my time on the course. I was really drawn to installation art for the potential it has to be multi-sensory and participatory, and to the use of light and shadow in exploring ideas of spirituality.

I wanted to carry on by doing an undergraduate degree, but I could only get funding for an MA, so I leapfrogged into a part-time MA in Textile Practices at Huddersfield University where I continued to explore light as a medium within installation art.

We were delighted to be able support you recently, through the Sputnik Patrons Scheme, for your piece at the LIGHT:space exhibition in Stockton. Firstly, can you tell us about the exhibition itself.

The exhibition was developed by Wild Vision Collective, a group of 4 artists who had come together at the beginning of the pandemic to encourage each other. They had a desire to reach out prophetically to speak hope to the community of Stockton using art. Following on from a successful Pop-up Gallery in one of the empty shops in the Wellington Square shopping centre, they proposed a light trail using more of the empty shops. This would be COVID-safe as visitors would be outside looking in and social distancing could be observed. Their proposal was accepted, they obtained a small amount of funding from the local Arts Centre and the LIGHT:space Art Trail was born. I heard about it through their Curatorspace open call.

So, what about your piece in the exhibition? Talk us through it.

This was the very first time I had exhibited because there had been no end of year show, so I was really excited and nervous. My piece is called ‘The Light Shines in the Darkness’ and it is based on the final piece I did for my MA, adapted for the window space I was given. It uses light and reflective materials, stitch and wire knit to encourage a meditative experience for viewers. As well as using light as a medium, I am interested in the structure of DNA and chromosomes and the role they play in the structure of life and identity. 

The piece consists of multiple stitched floor-to-ceiling hangings made from silver mylar and dichroic film strips, loosely based on a stylised DNA molecule. There are also tubular pieces of knitted stainless steel wire to represent the banded appearance of chromosomes. The hangings are lit so that the reflections created are captured on the walls, ceiling and floor and these move in the air currents created by a fan. To me, coming from a faith perspective, this speaks of how the light of God illuminates us and makes us each unique like the reflections created – we are not just the result of our DNA because God takes what we are and makes something wonderful. The title comes from the opening verses of John’s gospel which I felt were appropriate for the time in which I was working during the COVID pandemic.  I am very grateful for the funding I received from the Sputnik Patrons Scheme which has enabled me to purchase new lighting to replace the battery-powered lighting I had used originally and improves the sustainability of the work.

Find out more about Wild Vision Collective and the LIGHT:space exhibition here, or follow Jill’s work on Instagram.

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Matshidiso and the pursuit of love, justice and music

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Matshidiso, a singer-songwriter based in London.

Influenced by the folk-jazz of Nina Simone and the neo-soul stylings of Robert Glasper amongst others, Matshidiso’s music has a freewheeling, naturalistic feel with storytelling at its core. It’s beautiful, theatrical, and all held together by Matshidiso’s stunning voice. It has been a pleasure to connect with her over the past year, and we’ve loved getting acquainted with her work – and we reckon you will too.

For those who haven’t come across you yet, can you introduce yourself?

Hi there! My name is Matshidiso (pronounced Mat-Sea-Dee-So – a South African name –  from the Setswana and Sotho tribes – meaning blessing or consolation). I’m half South African, half Jamaican and born and raised in London.

I’m a piano player, composer, arranger, producer, singer, teacher (and now a podcaster!) – but mostly I would call myself a songwriter. I love the way you can have an idea in your head, hear the instruments, visualise the story behind the song, add words to it and then watch it come to life with other musicians – it’s one of the most magical things for me about making music. I suppose it mirrors creation and what God did – He had an idea and spoke it in to being – we get to do mini versions of that through our own creativity.

I started playing the piano at 7, but actually (to cut a very long story short) trained as a human rights lawyer/barrister before switching to a full time career in music. I started writing songs during my undergrad Law degree, writing songs in the safety of my living room – so many I’ve lost count. Then in 2012 I chose music full time – it was one of those moments when you realise you only have one life so you might as well really live it.

I’m still passionate about social justice (I do stuff in prisons, internationally, work around racial justice) and I reconcile the 2 sides of me this way – I use creativity to promote social justice.

Is there a song that particularly sums up your work?

I often say about my music that I write about 2 things – love and justice, which really is about 1 thing – love.  I wrote a song called Fragile which is about love and whilst it doesn’t ‘sum up my work’ musically because we’re always evolving, it is the essence of what I’m passionate about in terms of the words:

‘Love in our hands is broken, love in our hands is worn, blurred the lines of it and twisted its form – fragile. I have stolen and I’ve been stolen from, left his heart for the birds, exposed to the sun, he was fragile. I have known love where I could barely breathe to look into his eyes as he looked inside of me, we were fragile’.

You’re working on a new album and we’re so pleased that, through our Patrons Scheme, we’ve been able to help that come closer to completion. Can you talk us through the album and how it’s progressing?

Sure – and thanks so much for helping to make it a reality!

This has been a real journey. It starts around 2017 when I put a new band together, and we would gig my songs and they would naturally evolve with the venue, the audience, the band set up (we’re a 7-piece: me on piano and lead vocals, then bass, drums, saxophone, guitar, 2 backing vocals). People would often ask for the recordings of these songs after our gigs and I didn’t have them!

Alongside this, I had written 3 songs that I considered a trilogy and I envisioned a series of short films, one for each song that comprising singular but interconnected narratives expressed through different dance styles (ballet, hip-hop, contemporary dance), and all shot in South Africa.  So in 2019, I headed to South Africa and started working with a team to bring these songs to life – we shot 1 out of 3 of the videos – a song called ‘Glean’. (See images and video from the process here).

Back to the album.  At the end of 2019, I started working with my drummer on arranging these songs we’d spent 2 years playing for the album. We would record the album and also properly record the trilogy of songs for my South African films. We had planned to start recording in April 2020 – well, as we all know the pandemic happened! We managed to record one track that was released in July 2020 on March 12th a week before lockdown in the UK – called ‘Quiet Love’.

We managed to get back into the studio for a week in August where we recorded the majority of the songs – all the instruments and guide tracks for the vocals. And here’s the thing with recording: 1 – it usually takes longer than you think and 2 – when you listen back to things you realise what needs work, re-recording etc. So since August, I’ve been going to the studio in the evenings to record vocals, re-work some tracks and do overdubs. We did that with the electric guitar – my original guitarist tore a tendon in his hand so was out of action – fortunately I had another guitarist who spent 5 hours one Wednesday over Zoom doing it!

Your Patrons Scheme has allowed me to pay that guitarist (who is amazing!), to mix and master Glean so that we can edit the South African film, and it’s also gone towards studio time to continue recording vocals.

The album is on its way – one of the things I’m very conscious about is creating an album that has an arc, a narrative that makes sense all the way through. That was thanks to a great conversation I had on my podcast, Holding up the Ladder, with Prince’s former sound engineer, Dr Susan Rogers. She was explaining how Prince would record his albums and it really was so instructional for me! If you’re a musician or a Prince-lover you should listen to it here.

So I’m currently finishing the tracks I already recorded and writing and arranging new materials – it’s like pushing out a very big baby! But I think it will be worth it and Sputnik’s Patron Scheme has been instrumental (excuse the pun!) to the journey, so thank you very much!

To stay connected with Matshidiso and her music in the lead up to the release, you can follow her on Instagram, subscribe on YouTube, or follow her on Spotify. As mentioned, you can also follow her podcast ‘Holding Up the Ladder’ here – or watch another interview with Matshidiso below.

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Rediscovering wide-eyed wonder with Christy Ringrose

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Christy Ringrose, a Scottish-Norwegian singer-songwriter now living in Edinburgh.

Christy Ringrose is something of a creative dynamo: a painter, songwriter, podcaster, and the leader of our Edinburgh Sputnik Hub. As a musician, her rustic, intimate style contains traces of folk, jazz and musical theatre – and a good dose of the unexpected.

We were delighted to be able to support Christy through our Sputnik Patrons scheme, by helping her to stage her first online concert, on 12th June. We caught up with Christy to talk a little more about her artistic journey:

I grew up in Norway with a love for music, art and nature. Although I loved creating art, I didn’t believe that I was talented enough to become a professional artist. But when I moved to Scotland to study languages, I could no longer subdue my creative drive: I attended art courses, studied painting in an artist’s studio, wrote stories, performed in a French theatre group and finally discovered my biggest passion – songwriting. I signed up to an MA in Songwriting and Performance at the University of the West of Scotland, and that was the beginning of a new life as a musician.

Do your painting and songwriting harmoniously feed into each other or battle against each other for space in your life? How does one artistic discipline serve the other or does it not work like that?

I made a decision to focus on music rather than painting, because of how it enables you to connect with people so instantly. A song automatically demands attention, invites participation and changes the atmosphere in a room. I love the physicality of singing.

Having both painting and songwriting just give me more options. For example, writing a song takes quite a lot of complex thought, but with painting I can just paint something I find beautiful, get lost in the subject and not have to finalise what I’m trying to say.

We’re so pleased to have helped fund your first online live concert on 12th June, and we’re really looking forward to it. How are you finding the challenges and opportunities presented by this new platform? And how can people get tickets?

Not having the audience in the room is a challenge which has to be overcome by imagination! On the 12th of June I will be performing some songs from my first album Dancing Without Space, but also some brand new songs that I have written during the pandemic which will make their debuts.

You don’t need a ticket. The event will be broadcast here on YouTube live and there will be an option to make a donation online. You can keep updated by signing up to my newsletter, My Art Bouquet.

Watch Christy’s event back here:

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The sounds of nature, as heard by Michael Dornan

Devon-based musician Michael Dornan has released the first instalment of his new ‘Flora & Fauna’ project, a self-produced effort recorded at home during the pandemic, featuring all manner of remote collaborations.

We sent Michael some questions to fill us in on the project, his journey so far and the inspirations behind his quirky brand of nature-inspired indie-folk.

Can you talk us through your journey as a musician so far?

Well, when I was a kid I learned so much at the old upright piano at home. It had been my grandpa’s – he was a music teacher, choirmaster, accompanied silent movies – and I’d listen to the TV or radio and try to recreate what I heard. It was a little imaginative refuge.

And later, still in County Antrim, I got loads of experience with a female-fronted classic-rock-for-Jesus band. Being the main songwriter and not the singer, I had to be pretty adaptable – and though I go out of my way to not publicise that stuff now, I did develop my chops there. But my biggest influences were solo artists: Stevie Wonder, Brian Wilson, Joanna Newsom. Later in Oxford, I found my voice composition-wise with an amazing band, Praxis Bold. Kinda indie-jazz-folk, so we called it in-j-oke.

You’ve made music in a variety of contexts, from being in bands with people who aren’t Christians, through to music more solely focused on a church audience. What have you learnt from those experiences? Where would you say you fit best?

When I find out where I fit, I’ll let you know! There are so many nuances in this question, I’m glad you dig into the spiritual stuff at Sputnik. As a reader/listener, I love artists who create a little world that I can briefly visit, after which I look at my own world slightly differently. That’s what I want to do. And if I were to fence off my work to all but one group of people, as I once unintentionally did, then I’m not using my abilities to the full. Back to Stevie and Brian – from them I learned that if you have love in you, you put it into every note of every song. That’s what I’ve tried to do with this new record.

As a solo artist, you seem to collaborate very effectively. What advice would you give singer songwriters who have a strong vision for what they want to do who find that they cannot pull it off on their own?

Still thinking of creative partnerships extra ecclesiam, we all had really different views and tastes in Praxis Bold. One night we swapped instruments – bassist on keys, me on bass, which I’m not native to – and we came up with probably our best song ever, from outside our comfort zones. A live staple that remains sadly unreleased. Another time I brought something I’d written, and no-one trashed it, but after a session the guys agreed, “this doesn’t sound like Praxis Bold”. That’s a marvel – we were discovering the character of an entity bigger than ourselves.

It’s different as a solo artist. Instead of a Venn diagram of overlapping interests, you have a circle! So anything goes, but to feel alive you still need the oxygen of community. That’s been harder to come by since Covid. I was going to meet up with a couple of the Praxis guys last March, but… you know what happened in March. So with a new record in the pipeline, I went back to my drawing-board, and decided that with the help of some session musicians, I could make something quite kaleidoscopic from home.

So we have beautiful sounds from violinist Joanna Karselis, a film composer in her own right, but gracious enough to work with the skronky scores I suggested to her; some awesome upright bass from Madalena Graca, who I found online and thought – she’ll vibe with this weird song I have. The key is seeking out people you trust to interpret your ideas with their own hands.

If you had to put music in one of the following categories, which would it be: fun, work, calling?

It’s all of the above at different times, but let me put it like this: if I didn’t have the sense of calling, it would’ve slotted comfortably into the category of “fun” by now.

What does success look like to you?

That’s a little like ‘what does health look like to you’ – a question my wife’s been writing about recently. In both cases, I’d probably say staying active enough to keep going for the long run. I’d lost a lot of momentum because I didn’t do that. I didn’t do that because I had to go away and reimagine myself. Success comes when you’re engaging with people – ideas are shared, or feet start moving, or someone’s sufficiently moved to throw fruit at you.

The new project seems to have been a long time gestating, but by the sounds of it, is coming on great. Can you talk us through it?

Thanks for that. This album is called Flora and Fauna, and is broadly a project about creativity and nature. On the creativity front, the song I mentioned with upright bass is about seeking inspiration – it’s based on a baroque piece by Henry Purcell. The album also has a bit of an obsession with St Cecilia (patron saint of music). And in the past year, little corners of nature have given us all the inspiration we’ve needed, in our daily escapes from home. So there are songs about that small-scale magic, including one about the first time I saw kingfishers, which changed my life.

Of course, trees, insects, they all live great lives without human interaction. I’ve tried to make sure my own voice isn’t the only one involved. On Flora and Fauna there are field recordings I made of birdsong, and a software percussion instrument made only from sounds (wood on wood) I could make in a Bristol forest. And joyously, Emma my wife sings lead on a few tracks. The thing with the biological world is, it’s so diverse I can’t have only a few different sounds on here. Trumpets, synths, crickets at Land’s End – I wanted them all to be part of it.

The first half of ‘Flora and Fauna’ is out now on Bandcamp! Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming Kickstarter to help finish the project and fund printed copies. Follow Michael’s progress on Instagram or Twitter.

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Mr Ekow in the pantheon of hip-hop history

Chris Gaisie, a.k.a. Mr Ekow, has long been a Sputnik favourite, both for his musical output and his tenacity, determination and creativity.

At Sputnik Patrons we’re incredibly proud to have supported the video production of Mr Ekow’s new single, I Am Hip Hop – a no-holds barred demonstration of the man’s serious lyrical skill. For the video, Ekow and director Matt Bowie recreate a whole ton of classic hip-hop videos, from Missy Elliot to the Pharcyde, to Dizzee Rascal, to Tyler the Creator – placing Mr Ekow in the pantheon of hip-hop greats with gravitas and goofy humour in equal parts.

It’s a killer video, and we highly recommend you watch the whole thing below and go support Mr Ekow’s music.

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Anna O’Brien tells stories to build healthier relationships

Anna O’Brien of Face to Face Storytellers is a professional Storyteller and works in educational and community settings delivering dynamic performances and workshops both for adults and children. She is fascinated by the power of stories for transformational change.

Introduce yourself: Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Anna and I’ve been working as a Storyteller for nearly 20 years now. Yes, it’s a real job! There couldn’t be a better one! I deliver storytelling performances of traditional folk tales in all sorts of educational and community settings. I also deliver workshops to groups of children and adults, helping them to devise stories and work on their delivery skills.

What do you think makes a great story? What makes a great Storyteller?

I recently read a book called The Seven Basic Plots, that suggests there are only 7 story plots that have been told throughout all the world and all through history; and the reason for this is that there is a subconscious truth that we are all linked to, which is telling a universal story. The author of the book (Christopher Booker) had his own explanations for this, based on the theories of Carl Jung, but my interpretation is that our Creator is a Storyteller and has wired us all to communicate in stories. Each of the 7 plots – for example, rags to riches, defeating the monster, the quest, the tragedy – can all be found in the great story of love, rebellion and redemption between God and Man. 

So, all good stories, in my opinion, must have elements of this God–Man story as its underlying truth, so that it resonates with our spirits, and makes us want to pass the story on.

Anna O’Brien performing with Face to Face Storytellers

You recently received a Sputnik grant to train you in something called Theraplay. What is this? How have you used this training so far in your practice and how do you intend to develop this in the future?

I am so excited that I’ve been introduced to Theraplay® and am so grateful that I was able to attend the Group Theraplay training in September. The training course was excellent and it totally clicked and made sense to me.

Theraplay is a theory and practice of relationship-based play. When used one-to-one by a fully trained therapist, it can be such a healing tool in a young person’s life and help deal with very deep-seated, attachment-based issues. When used in a group setting it can increase self-esteem and a sense of well-being; it can help us to create stronger and healthier relationships with others. I have been trained to use Theraplay to inform all my work in group settings.

“I hope to keep bringing Theraplay into all my practices, to create groups that are warm, friendly, and empowering.”

I have begun practising what I have learnt in a surprising number of settings: with parents and pre-schoolers, Stay and Plays and nurseries, and also with primary school children and Play Workers; even with adult groups in workshop settings. There is much to learn, and I have become part of a local Peer Support Group run by a Certified Theraplay Therapist in Birmingham which has already proved really fruitful.

I hope to keep bringing Theraplay into all my practices, to create groups that are warm, friendly, and empowering to be a part of. I would love, in time, to run courses for parents and their children, to help parents to enjoy and have fun with their children, and lead them well. I am learning all of these things too, and finding it so helpful in my own parenting journey.

Storytelling and Theraplay go so well together because they are both about face-to-face interaction with the person or people in front of you; they are both about how to give and how you receive; they are both very live, improvisational and playful!

To find out more about Anna and Face to Face Storytellers, go to

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Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu performs her poems as if they’re brand new

Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu Praise Protest Sputnik Intern Faith Art

Jessica Wood: I always find it a weird question when people ask me ‘what kind of poetry do you write?’ I don’t really know how to answer that question, but I’m going to ask you anyway: ‘How would you describe your poetry?’

Tanyaradzwa Chitunhu: I would say it’s Spoken Word poetry. The difference, I think, between spoken word and page poetry is that spoken word is written with the intent of sharing it out loud. It incorporates hip-hop, storytelling, theatre; it is many different elements all at once, but it is intended to be heard out loud. Whereas page poetry is intended be read. 

JW: I think with my poetry, you can read it out loud and there’s something to be gained from that, but it takes multiple readings in order to understand it fully.

TC: I think the more accomplished performance poets can walk the line, but there’s an immediacy about performance poetry. I don’t have all day to listen to you, or for me to go over a line multiple times so that you get it. I have to be powerful enough to capture the essence of what I’m trying to tell you.

I think that better poets are able to do that; they put enough work and effort into their craft that even though you can get something in the moment, something else should hit you later. There should be a level of realisation even after the moment is done, but I think that takes a lot of craft and a lot of understanding of how to use the words and the performance to create something bigger than the moment. 

JW: What do you think is the benefit of seeing performance poetry live?

TC: Some of the work that has inspired me has made me think after they have finished it. There’s something about the way they’ve done it: the words, the atmosphere they’ve created, that remains with me and it resonates. I think those are the best ones. I’m still striving to get there. That’s where the craft is. 

JW: For me, I have that feeling sometimes after watching music, after seeing someone live. I like to come away from seeing art when I feel like I’m buzzing, really alive and my only response is: ‘I have to create’.

TC: To this day there are things that I’ve carried from those performances, things I’ve learned from that, and those things were spontaneous, they were in the room, they can’t be replicated. I really love that. I love the spontaneity and flexibility of recreating a moment or recreating a poem every time I perform.

Tanya Chitunhu Performance Art Sputnik Faith Arts
Tanya Chitunhu performing at the ‘On Praise & Protest’ launch

That’s one thing I’m trying to do now: even if I’ve been doing this poem for five years, I should be able to ‘re-create’ this, every time I’m on stage. So it’s a different performance every time. It’s a one-off.

That’s hard to do because you’re using the same words. It’s a challenge for me as a performer; how do I say this in a way that’s still real and true to what I wrote it to be, but also bring it forward into today.

JW: Does the way you perform differ a lot between groups, places or people?

TC: I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m still trying to experiment with what that’s going to look like. I hope to bring something different every time, but I don’t think I always manage.

When I’m doing My Africa – which I’ve done hundreds of times – it becomes stale after a while. But [the flexibility of] performance over the page is that I should be able to recreate My Africa in such a way that it’s new, it’s fresh, as if I’m speaking in this very moment. Rather than speaking it from the past, it’s a now thing. It’s a very different performance. 

I should be able to recreate [a poem] in such a way that it’s new, as if I’m speaking in this very moment.

JW: That’s interesting. In my poetry – in Precariat, it’s centred in a very specific time, a specific issue. But if I choose to read it in a different space in ten years’ time, who knows what the context will be like then? It might speak differently compared to what it tells people today. 

Jess Wood, as featured in Sputnik’s Anthology Vol. 2

TC: My favourite poem now is Imagine the Angels of Bread by Martin Espada – it’s so urgent right now, but he wrote it in 1999, and I’m telling you what he says is timeless. Essentially – in the way I interpret it – it’s the kingdom come. He’s put what’s underneath on top, he’s talking about righting wrongs and injustice, but he’s imagining it the other way around and it’s now more urgent than it was in 1999.

That’s the best writing, when your work in twenty years time can still speak and be as urgent or even more so than when you wrote it. That’s the kind of writing I would love to do. I know I’m not doing that right now, but it’s exciting. I just don’t know how often that sort of work happens.

JW: It’s interesting thinking about the seen and the unseen of art; there’s something about time and context which can determine what people are able to achieve or articulate.

TC: You know what – I think the truth is timeless. If you speak the truth it should live forever. There’s truth in the Espanda poem. For me it’s a prophetic piece because he’s talking about universal ideas, big ideas: if your work has these things, it’s going to speak regardless of what time you wrote it and it should speak in sixty years. The nuances might be different, but the truth will always resonate, whether it’s on page or on stage. But for me I love when truth is said out loud. That’s why people preach, right? It’s because there’s power in that.

I think it’s a challenge in this day and age, because we’ve lost the art of being present. We’re consuming the world through media, but there’s still something really beautiful about connecting with an audience. That’s how I look at performance poetry – it’s a live conversation. Yes, I’m doing the piece and I’ve got the words, but the audience is just as much part of the performance as what I’m reading and what I’m giving to them. Their reaction, their faces, however they’re reacting to me, that’s part of my conversation with them. Sometimes I get people to be part of it – I tell them to do this or do that, because I want them to feel that they’re just as much a part of the performance as what I’m doing. 

Using all these phrases and the buzzwords that people love nowadays can get you the affirmation that you want, but does it actually help people grow?

I think that’s the difference with the page. I don’t know if you write with an audience in mind?

JW: With what I was writing recently – all the stuff that’s in Temper – I think I had in mind people who are like me, encouraging those people to be empathetic in how we engage our opinions, our views and our voice.

What you say about the fact that we’re not present anymore is so true – it also relates to the way we form our opinions on situations. I really wanted to step into that and challenge that a little bit. I’m learning more that it’s a valuable thing to do to focus my work, but I’m still growing in it. 

TC: It shouldn’t overtake you. There’s also the fear of writing to please people, writing to impress people. Unfortunately spoken word can be a bit like that, particularly competitive slam poetry. People can write with the intent of winning a slam and write knowing what the audience wants to hear, or what is popular-

JW: Yes, that vexes me so much. That’s what I was trying to get at in Temper, I want to speak about these issues that everyone is talking about, but in a different way. Using all these phrases and the buzzwords that people love nowadays can get you the affirmation that you want, but does it actually help people grow, and see the world differently, and see the world from different people’s perspectives? 

TC: This is something that poetry should do in general: authenticity. There should be a level of being honest and real. Sometimes it’s easy to write with the intent of pleasing or to fit in or to conform, whereas I think the best kind of poetry is authentic. 

There’s this saying ‘what comes from the heart, enters the heart’. I like that. What drew me into spoken word was that I really felt these performers were not just performing, they were giving me their guts, giving me their heart, and I thought – wow, I’ve got to be part of this, because this is meaningful, this is powerful, this is weighty, this is costly, this is awesome – you know, in the best possible way. 

Tanya Chitunhu Performance Art Sputnik Faith Arts
Tanya Chitunhu performs at the ‘On Praise & Protest’ launch

JW: If people only ever saw your work online, a video or on youtube, or even reading it in your book, what do you think is lost? 

TC: I think that that’s an audience question. I think that you should answer that, because you’ve seen me. It’s hard for me to answer

JW: With your poetry, the way you perform it engages your senses and you have so much genuine joy when you’re reading it. I can see how much you love and value all those elements, and that really comes across in the performance. There’s something about your personality that’s only scratched on the surface in the words, and that comes to life in your voice and your character. 

TC: What I’ve always loved about performance poetry and what I always try to give is passion. Passion, passion, passion – I try to embody the moment. I don’t know if I do it well every time, but I am literally becoming the poem. I’m taking on the emotions, the intent, everything.

I’m investing me into this piece. I’m giving you a piece of me, essentially. Taken to its fullest extent, it’s very exhausting, but I feel like it’s worth it. It says that this is important enough to put me into it. So then the poems will be different than on the page, I think, because it’s missing something of who I am. 

JW: You’re still there in the poems on the page, but it is like a little scratch on the surface. There’s something different when you perform, when you embody it. 

[In performance] I’m giving you a piece of me, essentially. The poems will be different on the page, I think, because it’s missing something of who I am.

TC: Also I think ‘performing’ and ‘performance’ is different. I tend to be quite big on stage, but I think I need to learn as well how to be small. That’s as much performance as being big, you know? You can’t be big all the time, not every poem is big. It’s learning how to do that, but still how to be myself, how to be authentic, but learning how to use everything that I can on the stage. 

There’s more to work with on the stage than the page. I could sing a line or I could say a line. I could say it quietly, or loudly, I could say it with force. 

JW: I see that as well on the page actually, I see that there’s so much room. You know the book On Poetry by Glen Maxwell? He talks a lot about the use of space in poetry, specifically on the page. He talks a lot about black space and white space, how the white space of the page interacts with the blackness of the words and the text and how you can manipulate and use that. 

TC: A performance space is very much the same for me. I’ve thought about starting a poem from the back of the room and walking my way to the stage. I’ve never done it but i think I should- 

JW: You should! I think that carries the audience through the poem in a very different way. 

TC: -and it’s always that element of surprise, that’s the thing that you miss, the potential for surprise on the stage. The Haitian-American poet Carvens Lissaint, he came over almost ten years ago, performing with a group, and this poem he did – Beauty Part Three – he’s basically talking about how he grew up and was being bullied, he was overweight and then he lost the weight.

In the performance when I saw him, it was in this dark room full of people. At the end of the poem, he did something that wasn’t even part of the set. He got off the stage and he started saying ‘you are beautiful’, ‘you are beautiful’ ‘ you are beautiful’ – I remember that moment. I thought wow…  when he said those words I swear something shifted in the atmosphere; something magical happened and I never forgot that, as an audience member but also as a performer.

He created that moment, and ten years later I’m still talking about it. As a performer and as a poet that’s what you want, to remain, but how you do that is going to look different on the page as on the stage. I love creating those moments – I don’t think I’ve really mastered that, but I would love to be able to do that for other people. 

JW: So what are you working on at the minute?

TC: I’m praying about, how do I use this art form to serve in a bigger way, in a bigger capacity. Paul in Philippians says don’t do anything out of selfish ambition or vain conceit – value others above yourself, seek other people’s interest over your own. That’s really a challenge, especially as someone who’s on the stage, which is all about ‘what i want to say and what I want to put out’. 

I don’t want my work to just be about me. I want it to be bigger than my own experiences, or my own life. The best kind of poetry helps you to see differently. I would love to be able to do that. I just know that my work can’t be rooted in myself – I’m too small and to be boring for my work to be about me, when there’s so much going on in the world. 

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Matt Tuckey creates immersive soundscapes

Through our Patrons Scheme, we support Christians who are making engaging, powerful art or who are using their skills to serve their local communities. This term, one of our grants has gone to Matt Tuckey, a sound designer from Newcastle. Jonny caught up with Matt to find out about his practice and his latest project.

JM: Hi Matt, who are you and what do you do?   

MT: So, my name is Matthew Tuckey, I am a sound designer and sound artist. I live in Newcastle upon Tyne with my wife Molly, and I spend a lot of time pointing microphones at things/people/places.

JM: Most of us would be familiar with graphic designers, or fashion designers, but a sound designer seems a bit more abstract. What exactly is the role of a sound designer?

MT: Good question. It’s hard to pin it down as it’s a term used across multiple platforms, industries and artforms. The best ‘job description’ I can offer is: to plan, through a collaborative creative process, the creation and playback of all sonic content in a live environment, digital media, or tangible product.

So whether that’s in theatre, video, music, or UI (I have done elements of all), I am constantly collaborating. My practice is mostly based in theatre sound design and this is the most collaborative artform I work in – I am often approached by a director, who then introduces me to a writer (or their words) and puts me in a creative team with a set designer and/or lighting designer. My approach is often to problem solve – what aspects of the story can be and need to be clearer by the creative manipulation of sounds? This normally involves, for me at least, finding an interesting or thematically relevant source material (recording an ambience, creating sound effects, working with music/composer) and creatively manipulating and playing those sounds as part of the dramatic narrative.

I also design the playback system for the theatre performances whether touring or running in one location. I like to call this a holistic sound design – working from creative storytelling all the way to technical innovation. This often sees me collaborating with another set of people – the technical or production team, and on larger productions (such as musicals) a whole sound department team.

JM: Sputnik is proud to be supporting your latest project through our Patrons Scheme. Could you talk us through it?

MT: I am very grateful to Sputnik for running this Patronage Scheme, my work is extremely technical, and these funds are crucial to its success.

I am creating an abstract piece of soundscape inspired by the poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Through a recent connection with Newcastle Universities Oral History Unit and Collective I am now hoping to incorporate elements of oral history from Newcastle’s disappearing shipyard heritage.

I am using immersive and multi-channel audio and my hope is to complete research and development by early 2020. Then to move into final production and initial preview run mid 2020, and prepare for a rural coastal tour of the piece starting early 2021.

JM: As a freelance artist who has to raise your own funds for projects, what advice would you give others regarding fund raising?

MT: These past nine months have taught me a lot about this. I’ve learnt a lot as I’ve gone along and have had to ride some disappointing rejection.

I constantly keep thinking “this is too complicated, I can’t do this” – but this brings me to something that Ed Catmull (founder of Pixar) says – “get smarter”. Having worked in theatre so much, I know the value of a team. I knew nothing about funding applications until I asked someone who did!

The match funding, bursaries, and team have been huge victories for the project. First contacts and drafting applications is really scary, but we have a saying in Newcastle “Shy bairns get nowt!”. I also would have not put in the Sputnik application, or any of the subsequent bids without listening to the words of the late Huw Evans – “just turn up”. 

Thanks Matt. To keep updated on this project or to help support similar projects like this in the future, sign up for our patrons scheme.

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Well Done You make bratty indie-punk fresh again

Earlier in the summer, we caught up with Mike Lawetto about the release of his debut album under the alt-rock moniker Well Done You. As usual, with Mike, there’s never just one thing going on…

You’ve been involved with Sputnik for ages now, but could you introduce yourself for those whose lives are yet to be enriched by your work?

My name is Mike Lawetto, originally from sunny California now living in rainy Manchester. I truly do love the UK, jokes aside. I am a producer/songwriting/mix engineer and when I’m not working for others I’m working on my solo projects Well Done You (Indie Alt Rock) and Perendiz (Alt Pop). I also have a side project with singer songwriter Dan Crook which is called Crook & Lawetto (Rock).

Currently there isn’t much music online for my projects but over the next 6-8 months I will be releasing 3 EPs and an album for Well Done You, at least one EP for Perendiz and one EP for Crook & Lawetto as well as a whole host of tracks I’m working on for some really cool artists.

Tell us about the album…

The album is called Welcome To Camp Sunshine, and if you love all things rock it shouldn’t disappoint. The best way I can describe it is pop songs for rock kids. I’ve spent some serious time making sure it wasn’t a boring album and I think I’ve just pulled it off. We’ll see. 

How are you releasing it?

We’re going to release 75% of the album as 3 EPs, and then the whole album in October, with a further single in November and a Christmas single in December. An American Asthmatic, Please And Thank You and Not A Doctor Shh!! are released. Welcome To Camp Sunshine, the album, will be released October 4th.

Got a great year of music coming out and I’m excited.

The album will be available to buy both physically and digitally on Bandcamp on Friday 4th October and on all other digital platforms later in the month. Keep an eye out on WDY’s facebook or instagram for updates and in the meantime check out Mike’s official video for the single “Nobodies Got A Clue”

To keep updated on this project or to help support similar projects like this in the future, sign up for our patrons scheme.

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Hannah Rose Thomas’s stunning portraits demonstrate art as advocacy

Hannah Rose Thomas Portraits Fine Art Sputnik Faith

Hannah Rose Thomas is an English artist creating stunning portrait paintings of refugees, whose work has been shown at the Saatchi Gallery, the Houses of Parliament and Durham Cathedral.

As part of the process, Hannah has organised art projects in Kurdistan with Yezidi women who had escaped ISIS captivity, and for Rohingya children in refugee camps on the Myanmar border. We asked Hannah to talk about her journey a little – if you’d like to find out more, see Hannah’s website, and follow her on Instagram.

You’ve said you’re influenced by Islamic art and poetry – and of course you’re an Arabic speaker. Where does that connection with Middle Eastern cultures stem from?

I studied History and Arabic at Durham due to a desire to understand different cultures. Arabic is a beautiful language, and the written script an artform in itself.

I first travelled to Iran when I was eighteen years old, and was captivated by the breathtaking beauty of the mosques of Isfahan and Shiraz. I draw inspiration from Islamic art and poetry to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the Middle East which is so often forgotten and overshadowed by war.

You’ve been involved with humanitarian work for some time, and presumably painting for a while too. Have they always felt connected, or was there a particular event or story that caused you to bring them together?

I have always loved to paint ever since I was very young, but my interest in portraiture began as a result of my travels and humanitarian work in Africa and the Middle East. While living in Jordan as an Arabic student in 2014, I had an opportunity to organise art projects with Syrian refugees for UNHCR – an experience which opened my eyes to the magnitude of the refugee crisis confronting our world today. I began to paint the portraits of some of the refugees I had met, to show the people behind the global crisis, whose personal stories are otherwise often shrouded by statistics.

My unusual position as an English artist who is fluent in Arabic has enabled me to cross cultural barriers and communicate their stories, and I’ve been deeply moved by the stories of the refugees I’ve had the privilege of meeting. Each person I have spoken with has a story of suffering and remarkable resilience. It was to share their stories that I began painting their portraits.

Hannah Rose Thomas Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors Art Sputnik Faith
Panels from ‘Yezidi Women: ISIS Survivors’

I love these words from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” What does it truly mean to imagine yourselves in another person’s skin, to feel what they feel? How can we begin to imagine how it feels to flee our homes and the unimaginable horrors of war? There is nothing more important than empathy for another’s suffering. We have to feel compassion for one another if we are going to survive with dignity.

“I don’t think I could go to these places if I didn’t have art as a way to process and express all that I have seen.”

The ‘art of empathy’ is a concept that has been on my heart while painting the portraits of Yezidi women and Rohingya women this last year. Often tears would fall while painting and thinking about their stories and ongoing suffering: the paintings are a way of offering a prayer for them to God.

I don’t think I could go to these places if I didn’t have art as a way to process and express all that I have seen. My work has taught me to look for the sacred beauty, dignity and value of the human spirit, even in places of darkness and suffering. I hope that these paintings remind us of our shared humanity and that we have more in common than what divides us.

Hannah Rose Thomas Yezidi Women Project Sputnik Faith Art
A Yezidi woman, former ISIS captive, paints a self-portrait

Who’s the primary audience in your mind: the portrait subjects themselves, or the folks far away?

The hope was to use the art projects and paintings as a tool for advocacy and a way to bring their stories to places of influence in the West. This year the paintings by Yezidi women from an art project I organised in Northern Iraq last year were shown alongside my paintings in the Houses of Parliament and DfID.

Ever since I was young I have wanted to be a voice for the voiceless somehow, and never imagined it could be through art.

The start of your process is so personal; have you also been able to share moments with your audience, to witness their reaction to your work?

There have been many times when people I’ve spoken to have been visibly moved by the paintings. I think that this is because a portrait painting is intensely personal, and also it provides space for people to contemplate and reflect. We are so frequently bombarded with tragic stories in the news that I think we become a little numb; however a portrait painting can bring us face to face with the human stories behind the refugee crisis, which makes it much more real.

The MPs and Peers who visited my exhibition Yezidi women: ISIS Survivors  in the houses of Parliament March 2018 were profoundly moved, and as a consequence the plight of Yezidi women was raised in the House on a number of occasions, including a mention by Theresa May during PMQs.  •  @hannahrosethomas

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Huw Evans’ ‘Minor Monuments’ comes to life

Huw Evans Poetry Minor Monuments Sputnik Patrons

Newcastle-based poet and author Huw Evans has been an integral part of Sputnik for a long time, as our resident expert on writing and a regular contributor to our blog.

He’s also a fantastic writer and performer, and we were greatly pleased to support Huw’s work by helping him publish his debut poetry collection Minor Monuments with the help of our Sputnik Patrons.

Huw Evans Minor Monuments Poetry Sputnik Faith Art
‘Minor Monuments’ by Huw Evans

Minor Monuments is a collection of poems inspired by the district of Ardudwy in North Wales, the works of Sir Thomas Browne and the Welsh mythologies of the Mabinogion. You can read more about it, and buy a copy, from Huw’s website. You can also attend the official launch event at the Holy Biscuit in Newcastle, next week – more details here.

Minor Monuments is also available at:, Blackwells, Book Depository Ltd, Waterstones; (USA), Barnes and Noble; (AUS/NZ) Booktopia.

Subscribe to Sputnik Patrons to help more work like this to get made.

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Joanna Karselis’s heart-wrenching ‘By the Lovely Shores’ EP

You may have missed the live debut of sing-songwriter/composer Joanna Karselis’s new EP By the Lovely Shores at Catalyst Festival, but the EP itself is available to stream/buy on Bandcamp, as well as YouTube.

By the Lovely Shores is an intimate EP documenting the heart-wrenching journey of watching a loved one struggle with dementia. It’s a fearlessly personal piece of art: Karselis lays out the experience with raw honesty, drawing empathy out of the listener and, for a moment, widening their frame on the world.

Listen to ‘Darling’, and see the cover artwork, below.

Thanks to our Patrons, Sputnik was able to contribute artwork for the EP and provide assistance with print production – subscribe to Sputnik Patrons now to help us assist more projects like this.

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LifeBox Theatre and the StageWrite festival of new writing

StageWrite Festival Theatre Sputnik Faith Art

Phil and Harri Mardlin are the founders of LifeBox Theatre company, based in Bedford. Both relative latecomers to the theatrical world (at least, by the industry’s standard) they’ve nonetheless carved out a successful niche for themselves by switching between several different hats: communication training in businesses, education and healthcare; agency-style management of other actors; and of course, your meat-and-potatoes gigs acting, writing and directing.

Sputnik Patrons helped to fund the 2018 StageWrite festival, run by LifeBox Theatre – a festival for new writers which Phil and Harri have built from the ground themselves.

Sputnik Patrons Promo Phil Harri Mardlin
(L-R) Phil and Harri Mardlin.

PHIL AND HARRI exemplify the Sputnik credo: an abundantly creative, affable duo, operating at a professional level; embedded in their industry, but also dedicated to their local environment, Bedford, where they lead a Sputnik Hub thriving with poets, painters and other actors.

For Phil and Harri, work, life and faith commingle every day; with humility, they pour themselves out serving a community that is rarely on the church’s radar. And by embodying a person onstage, they can challenge an audience to new empathy and perspective, without being heavy-handed (a well-known maxim of good writing: show, don’t tell).

“We have an opportunity to be embedded in our industry, and to give people a positive experience – whatever the stage of their career.”

In conversation with the Mardlins, it’s clear that they have a deep-felt, nerdy love of their artform, and an unabashed desire for the community around it to flourish. One particular passion project of theirs shows this in crystal clarity: StageWrite, which is run in collaboration with No Loss Productions.

StageWrite: a theatre festival focused on new and undiscovered voices

“STAGEWRITE IS A festival of new writing,” Harri explains. “We invite scripts from any writers, emerging or established, to give them the opportunity to see their work performed by professional actors, in front of an audience, and to gain an understanding of how their work really sits in that context.”

“It’s the most valuable thing, to see your work in front of you, being performed by professionals,” adds Phil, principally a writer/director himself. “We bring a sense of what it might look like in a fully-realised, professional production. You realise, for example, that those 25 lines of dialogue you wrote – an actor can do with one look.

“Out of the new writing festivals that exist, not many are offering that. The feedback we get from writers is that it’s hugely valuable: they learn to hone their voice, to get their message across.”

StageWrite is a fundamentally generous endeavour on the Mardlins’ part. Not only has it been self-funded for the last four years, but in its very essence, it exists to do good for the industry, to show a helping hand to all writers, whatever their background; to encourage people, and amplify unheard voices. It has immediate benefits in some cases: three pieces from previous StageWrite years have gone on to full production and/or touring. But it also takes the long-term view that to bring Gospel life to any community means inhabiting it fully, not as a ‘project’ but as a group of fellow humans in a notoriously difficult and discouraging line of work.

StageWrite, self-funded for the last four years, is a fundamentally generous endeavour on the Mardlins’ part.

Harri considers how to summarise the project. “StageWrite represents a greenhouse, to grow new theatre, which is important. But it also provides us an opportunity to be embedded in that industry, and to give people a positive experience at our festival: directors, actors, writers – whatever stage of their career. We want to live out our professional relationships with people well. We want to honour people.”

StageWrite LifeBox Theatre Sputnik Faith Art
Performers rehearse with LifeBox Theatre.

The Christ-like art of rehumanizing everyone in the room

IN A WAY, StageWrite has at its heart the same golden thread that runs through all of Phil and Harri’s work: communication. Whether they are teaching people how to communicate in a corporate setting, collaborating with actors to bring a play to life, or interacting directly with an audience, the Mardlins help people both to speak, and to listen: a distinctly Christ-like art of re-humanizing everyone in the room, showing us the face of our neighbour.

Phil: “You need to learn, as a writer, to capture your own vision so clearly that any director and a set of actors can pick up your script, and they’ll communicate what it is that you intended to communicate.

“We invite writers to come to the rehearsal of their piece, but they’re not allowed to feed into it; that’s really difficult as a writer – you’re sitting there, thinking ‘That’s not what I meant!’ But actually, that’s how the industry works: the process of submitting a script to a professional company, and having to step back.”

The same golden thread runs through all of Phil and Harri’s work: communication.

This year, our Sputnik Patrons scheme is helping Phil and Harri to fund StageWrite. After honing the list of submitted scripts down to just four, they’ll select one to take beyond just rehearsal into a more fully-realised production – and pay the actors who are taking part.

“Theatre is like no other experience,” Harri smiles. “It can’t happen without an audience; there’s an energy in live performance that doesn’t happen in other situations or mediums. You work with the audience, and off the audience as an actor: it’s an extraordinary experience that can have a very far-reaching, lasting impact.”

Help us to support StageWrite, and other artists like Phil and Harri, by becoming a monthly Patron of Sputnik.