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We’re keeping our online exhibitions alive – join in and submit your work

I’m fascinated to see how our relationship with the online world will change as we move past this phase of the COVID pandemic. The virtual world has operated like a life raft in the last 16 months. As we were cast from the ocean liner of in-person meet ups and events, we reached out for help, and there it was! Zoom and her digital friends, smiling down at us, throwing us a big rubber ring and welcoming us aboard. 

As the ocean liner gets itself back up and running again, we’ll all end up cutting back on the virtual, in favour of the physical, and rightly so. There may even be some kickback against the platforms that stopped us going under for the last year or so, simply because they act as painful reminders of a very difficult season. However, I can’t imagine that we are going ditch them completely. The life raft didn’t just stay afloat, it exhibited a degree of comfort and manoeuvrability that will make it a viable option for the foreseeable future. 

For artists, the ocean liner’s services were not just missed in regards to our personal social needs though. We needed a life raft, but our artwork needed one too, meaning that we’ve had to work doubly hard to adapt. Some of us have skilled up on our live streaming, others have upped our game on Insta and TikTok. 

And, tech companies have responded to our needs. One of the examples of this response has been in the realm of virtual exhibition spaces. Admittedly, in Spring 2020, these were almost universally clunky and user unfriendly, but they’ve evolved at pace and we’ve been pleasantly surprised at the improvements that’s occurred in this area since then.

So pleased, in fact, that when we were recently asked to set up an online gallery for the Catalyst Festival, we decided to keep paying our subs once the exhibition finished and we’re keen on exploring whether it will serve artists going forward.

If you’ve not seen it yet, we recommend checking out our first online exhibition entitled ‘The Year that Wasn’t’. It’s a collection of work that was made during the pandemic by artists in the network.

But you won’t have forever to do it, as in September, we’ll be putting up our next exhibition. This will feature new work from artists who are in and around the Sputnik network, and if you think that may describes you and you’d like your work to feature, get in touch. All you need to do is send us your submission with your name, place of residence, link to online work and a brief description of the piece of work and we’ll decide on the final selection by the end of August.

I, for one, am very glad that society is opening up again. I’m very pleased that I can now welcome people into my house without doing a headcount at the door, and I’m also looking forward to experiencing art live again, including visiting actual, physical, real world exhibitions. I hope that they will always be the primary way that art is experienced but if they can be helpfully supplemented by online experiences, all good!

To that end, check out our present online exhibition (below) and come back in September for our next offering. It may be just a temporary thing, while we slowly return to the cruiser or it may last into 2022 beyond. 

I think it’s fair to say that, as artists, we need all the life rafts we can get, so we plan to keep it going for as long as it provides a service. 

You can use the menu button in the top-right corner of the gallery to view in fullscreen – or alternatively, open the gallery in its own browser window.

Click on an individual piece of work, and click the ‘i’ button to see more details about that piece, including the artist’s website.

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Explore our virtual gallery for the 2021 Online Catalyst Festival

Update: This gallery is now offline. You can see our new gallery of 2022 work, here.

Sputnik as a project was born out of the Catalyst network of churches, and the bi-annual Catalyst Festival has often been an opportunity for us to showcase Sputnik artists, through exhibitions, workshops and performances.

This year, with the Catalyst Festival taking place online, we’ve put together a virtual gallery of work created by artists in/around the Sputnik network. Most of the work has been created over the course of the last year; some of it tackles the pandemic directly, as artists reflected emotionally, searched for meaning in the chaos, and looked ahead to new things. Other pieces don’t address the pandemic in themselves but were created in moments of stillness, stress, inspiration, or frustration.

The Year That Wasn’t

You can use the menu button in the top-right corner of the gallery to view in fullscreen – or alternatively, open the gallery in its own browser window.

Click on an individual piece of work, and click the ‘i’ button to see more details about that piece, including the artist’s website.

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Get six months’ free listing in the new Christian Creative Directory

Our friends at Christian Creative Network have been busy for the last 18 months building a new directory of UK Christian creative professionals.

At Sputnik we tend to draw a distinction between ‘Christian’ work and work for a wider audience; but many artists in our network will have done both. Whether it’s professional graphic designers doing church promotion, or musicians deciding to cover some favourite hymns, we all contain multitudes! Likewise, there are many Christian organisations who want to hire creative people who know their world.

A big part of our mission is to see churches take the arts seriously, and pay them responsibly. Organisations like the Christian Creative Network are doing great work putting all this together: helping freelancers to get work, and lifting the status of the professional arts in churches’ eyes.

With the new Christian Creative Directory launched, we spoke with founder Josie Gamble about the process involved, how she hopes the directory will serve artists, and how to get involved.

Can you tell us about how the idea came about?

The reason I launched the Christian Creative Directory is because I believe we are moving into a new era of creativity in the UK church and I wanted to create a way to championing that creativity in the body of Christ.

There was a time when the church was leading the way in creativity with stained glass, architecture, fine art, sculpture, song. But during the Reformation, when the church went back to basics, there was a stripping back and many creative practices and values were lost. Ever since then we have been playing catch up with the world.

During the Reformation, there was a stripping-back, and many creative practices and values were lost.

I have over 25 years’ experience in the creative industries: graduating with first class honours in Industrial Product Design; 7 years as a university lecturer; and running a design business for over 13 years. Through my design business, I have helped hundreds of businesses and organisations create their brands and website, and I am pouring all of that expertise into this directory.

As well as my creative experience, after graduating Bible school I became a founding member of my local church, which I have been involved in leadership with for over 23 years.  

In 2017, I launched the Christian Creative Network, which is a growing national network made up of local branches, connecting local like-minded Christian creatives: connecting, equipping and encouraging. We currently have 8 branches, from Torquay to Durham, and branches host monthly meets, workshops and events. However, during Covid the monthly meets have been online, and workshops and events have not been able to take place. 

When I launched the network, the vision was always three-pronged: a network, a directory and recognition awards. With the network and directory launched we are one step closer to the awards – well, we might give it a few years yet!

And how did that idea become a reality?

In 2019 I attracted seed funding from The Lions, a Christian entrepreneur program that offers business development and mentoring. It was with this seed funding that I was able to build the directory. It’s taken 18 months to develop and I had to pull together a talented team of creatives to work with me; a web developer, videographer, illustrators, a brand specialist, marketing specialist, photographer, copywriter and SEO expert, voiceover artist and I gathered together an advisory board.  

I have spent years networking and connecting with some of the most amazing Christian creatives which enabled me to pull together the team that built the directory, but where do businesses, organisations and churches go to find these services? Now there is a directory! A place to find Christian creative professionals and services, all under one roof. 

I’m passionate about creatives supporting creatives. I stared my business offering graphic design, however I’d always wanted to build websites. But with the restrictions of a young family I was limited and didn’t know where to go or who to ask. Then in an amazing God connection, a Christian web designer offered to teach me for free. Building websites revolutionised my business and ever since I have endeavoured to pay it forward where possible and have sat with numerous creatives since and shared my time and experience. The Christian Creative Directory is another way of sharing my experience and creating the opportunity for others to do the same. 

How might the CCD serve artists in our network? 

The Christian Creative Directory launched Wednesday 21st April, and is the No.1 place to find Christian creative professionals and services in the UK, all in one place.

This online directory gives creatives, such as the artists in the Sputnik network, who want more visibility online, a high-quality directory listing, resources and expert advice, so they can get found by business owners and organisations UK wide, work on creative projects and grow their businesses.

How can they get involved?

You can sign up today at using the special launch offer coupon cdlaunch6 before 21st May to receive 6 months free listing. Start getting your creativity noticed, engage with an incredible wider creative community, post projects, find jobs and opportunities. Plus, there is a wealth of FREE expert advice and high-quality resources that will guide and help you in every area of your business.

My hope is that the directory will play a part in strengthening of the creative culture in the UK church. 

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To keep the arts alive, we need a lot more imagination

Over the course of the pandemic, unemployment in the arts has cut deep – perhaps deeper than any other industry. The New York Times have called it a looming ‘Great Cultural Depression’. Many actors, musicians and writers have clung on – despite slipping through the furlough net, or witnessing endless setbacks – only to find themselves facing predictions that their sector won’t ‘recover’ for five years at best.

Yet the truth is that the problems in the arts pre-date Covid. The pandemic has accelerated a growing rot in our cultural sector. The arts need help – more than that, the arts need change. Somehow, it’s become not just accepted, but ingrained that being an artist means precarious work, completely uneven shouldering of risk, and high barriers of entry for anyone without privilege to stand on. Public opinion sees all that as the price to pay for ‘doing something you love’, and artists have accepted those sacrifices. But it’s certainly not the only way the arts could work. And after the pandemic, it remains to be seen whether it really will continue to ‘work’ at all.

The state of the arts

Money is a problem in the arts. Not the lack of it, but the distribution of it. As with many things in our society, the wealth gravitates towards a minority. Those who have “made it” are the obvious ones, but more significantly I’m talking about the managerial class who create stable jobs for themselves on the back of precarious workers. This trend is increasing, and will continue, for as long as this group consolidate their power and, in turn, transform the cultural sector towards their primary goal (ie. making lots of money, whatever they might say to the contrary).

One new example of this is Hipgnosis, a UK investment fund that treats songs as financial assets. This means they buy up the rights to songs, like Bob Dylan’s back-catalogue – whereupon their goal is to increase the value of said songs for their new owners – eg. giving them prominence on streaming platforms, getting them placed in adverts, films and squeezing all the nostalgia they can out of them. But, of course, they’re only likely to buy songs from artists who are already a safe bet, most likely older artists willing to cash in their pension, as it were. They want already-proven “hits” that can be squeezed anew, and why not: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing'” was streamed 10 million times a week in the last year.

Nothing reveals the truth more than that moniker “content creator”. The frame is the focus: you just fill it.

Putting aside the many questions this raises – and I think there are very pertinent questions about what this trend does to our culture – just ask yourself this: how can a sector of the economy worth £92bn – more than oil and gas, life sciences, aviation and the car industry combined – be creating steady, profitable jobs for investment funds, or PR companies, but be notoriously, flagrantly unstable for the actual art creators making work now? To the extent that the phrase ‘starving artist’ is a cliché?

It’s because the priority is the machine, the investments, the shareholders – not those doing the work. Nothing reveals that truth more than the moniker “content creator”. The frame is the focus: you just fill it. This ready acceptance of precarity is part of what made the arts uniquely unprepared for something as destabilising as a pandemic.

What hurts the arts, hurts our society

So far, so capitalism. But these trends, applied in the arts, have an outsized effect on our wider, communal life in our country. In a nutshell, what hurts the arts, hurts our society.

Culture and community are so interwoven as to be essentially the same thing. Culture is both the basis of community and the outworking of community. What affects our cultural spaces, affects the very core of our common life. In this case, if money is the driving factor in the making of art and culture, then our communal life itself becomes commodified. Our ways of gathering together, to sing songs, or watch games, or hear stories, happen in the shadows of vast advertising billboards, or on the stages of bizarre game shows.

Author and painter Makoto Fujimura puts it like this: 

An industrial map in the mid-twentieth century colored New York’s Hudson River black. The mapmakers considered a black river a good thing—full of industry! The more factory outputs, the more progress. When that map was made, “nature” was widely seen as a resource to be exploited. Few people considered the consequences of careless disposal of industrial waste. The culture has shifted dramatically over the last fifty years. When I share this story today, most people shudder and ask how anyone could think of a polluted river as good. But today we are doing the same thing with the river of culture. Think of the arts and other cultural enterprises as rivers that water the soil of culture. We are painting this cultural river black—full of industry, dominated by commercial interests, careless of toxic byproducts—and there are still cultural mapmakers who claim that this is a good thing. The pollution makes it difficult to for us to breathe, difficult for artists to create, difficult for any of us to see beauty through the murk.

Fujimura uses ‘beauty’ here in a very broad sense. It’s not just some pleasant ‘nice-to-have’, but the very humanness of life itself: meaningful human connection, spiritual revelation, joy, purpose, compassion: all of these things are threatened by a machine-like, money-driven approach to our own cultural spaces that alienates us from one another and any sense of community.

Yes, for now, art still flourishes in the dark, despite its constant manipulation: it’s a testament to its life and its potency, and of course to the many good people, inside or outside of the church, who strive for beauty and humanness against the tide. The many grants, funds and initiatives that exist are wonderful too, but they only underscore the fact that the ‘market’ approach to the arts doesn’t work on its own. Given the increasing pressure, soon it may not work at all.

Why should the church help? And how?

Frankly, I believe that everything I’ve described is the work of those ‘powers and forces’ that the Apostle Paul warned about: the dark influences warping human intent and appropriating good things for chaotic ends. As followers of Jesus, we long for our society to be more like the Kingdom of God, even though we accept that the work won’t be complete before Christ’s return – and in the arts, this has to mean overturning some tables, or rather, overturning the outdated concepts of work and value that have dominated our thinking (to the minority’s benefit) since the industrial revolution.

We should see the job of an artist as something like a carer: an unpaid, undervalued role, which nevertheless stops society from collapsing.

I began by mentioning just how much the arts are worth to our economy – but I no longer believe that the answer lies in simply paying artists more. Rather, we need category shifts in the way we look at art. Like Makoto Fujimura, we should worry about the state of our culture in the same way we worry about the state of our environment: because it affects all of us, and it reflects pretty poorly on us Christians if we are the ones neglecting it. Like Rookmaaker, we should see the job of an artist as something like a carer: an unpaid, undervalued role, which nevertheless stops society from collapsing.

If we haven’t seen in the past year how much we need culture-makers – the ones who cultivate our shared social spaces – then I can’t imagine what will convince us. But if artists are indeed carers of sorts, then expecting them to simultaneously make their work economically viable, while they keep our local communities alive, undermines everything.

To create a new model for artists is indeed a big feat of the imagination. But as Ursula LeGuin said:

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art.

I love that Sputnik can give out £500 grants to a few artists a year – it’s a joy to be part of. But we haven’t begun to change the power dynamic at play. We want to think much bigger, and I long to see the church catch the vision for how important, and spiritually revitalising, change in the arts could be. For now, why not let your own imagination run for a minute: if we accepted that artists play a necessary social role, but an essentially unpaid one, how do you think the church should treat them? And what could we do, right now, to make that role possible? If we don’t start asking ourselves that, it may stop being feasible altogether.

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Are you a patron, or a consumer?

Arts patronage sounds very grand. It’s the kind of lofty practice that built St Peters. It is the realm of rich philanthropists and open handed millionaires.

The only thing is that, well… it’s not. In a way, we are all patrons of the arts whether we like it or not. We all buy stuff, or at the very least stream stuff, and our attention and the capital behind it encourages more art like that to be made. 

This should cause us to be careful about the art we consume, but more than that, I think it is a warning against viewing our art engagement through the lens of ‘consumption’ at all.

Our society is not known as consumerist for nothing. We are offered different diets in all the different areas of our lives, and we make almost all of our choices like we’re ordering from a menu. The watchword is value for money and the key question is how can I get what I want for as little money as possible?

Now, it’s easy to write off this system completely, but I personally think that this is an acceptable course of action when deciding which green beans to buy in Aldi. 

It is not, however, a good way to approach art.

Muddy digital waters

Obviously in the good old days, this was more clear cut. Let’s take music, for example. Twenty years ago, to listen to the music you wanted to listen to when you wanted to listen to it, you had three options: a) Buy a physical copy, b) Copy it, c) Steal it. 

C was obviously bad. B was basically the same as C (and deep down we all knew it). Therefore, if we wanted to appease our consciences, we were left with A!

Fast forward to today. Not saying it’s better. Not saying it’s worse. It’s just different. At least in some artforms. 

Take music and film as two examples. Almost none of us pay for individual artistic products in these disciplines anymore. Obviously, there are still DVD collectors and I’ve heard cassettes may be making a comeback, but for the vast majority of people, we choose our provider, pay our subscription, then stream.

I think, for music, it’s 0.004p a song. Might work if you have 10 million streams (and an advertising deal, and a sold out world tour). Not good if you are feeling your way, trying things out and producing promising but flawed music that could evolve into something great. 

If we all continue to approach art as consumers now, we will probably kill off the artists who exist in the ‘aspiring’ category, and ensure that the art that survives is unchallenging, populist and totally forgettable.

Yes, the production costs for emerging musicians have gone down (no CDs to press) but there was always a real buzz about breaking even when you’d printed up 1,000 CDs. It is not so encouraging when you spend hours and days and weeks crafting your opus, only to receive back £12.50 from AWAL for 6 months of solid streams. 

It must be even harder for filmmakers, and it’s likely to get harder. In terms of film, we’ve already got very used to watching most of our content for free on YouTube and Vimeo. Of course, we stream major releases, but you are not likely to find your friend’s short film in the Amazon Prime search bar. 

If we all continue to approach art as consumers now, we will probably kill off the artists who exist in the ‘aspiring’ category, and ensure that the art that survives is unchallenging, populist and totally forgettable. 

Or worse, any artist who wishes to make a living from their work will have to bow before corporations to sell their products. Who knows what the future holds for live art, but what we do know is that we’re likely to be spending more time in front of screens post-COVID, not less. This means that we will be spending more time being sold stuff. This means that, while other revenue streams dry up, the lure of advertisers will increase and artists who are willing to jump on that train will get paid, while others won’t.

I’m in no way suggesting that artists shouldn’t work for corporations or contribute towards advertisements. In many disciplines, to draw a line here would be career suicide. However, surely this should be an exception rather than the rule. Surely, we don’t want the corporations to be the sole patrons of the arts. That would be a bad thing, right?

Approaching art as patrons, not consumers

Now, I’m not suggesting there is an easy fix for all of this, and there are complexities here that need to be fleshed out at much more length. However, if enough of us made an effort to approach art as patrons not as consumers, surely it would improve the situation.

When it comes to art, especially our friends’ art, I think we need to learn to turn off the consumerist part of our brains and act in a different way. 

What could this look like? Here are a couple of practical examples.

1. A local musician releases an album on Bandcamp, asking you to pay whatever you want. 

A consumer does one of two things. They either download it for free or shrug their shoulders and wait till it comes out on Apple Music. 

But what does a patron do? A patron pays them for their trouble. I mean seriously, even if it’s not a classic, have you heard many albums that are of less value than a medium sized Costa latte? Surely £2.50 is not asking too much just as an act of respect for the human enterprise of music making. If you actually enjoy it, why not go back and download it again and bump it up to a tenner?

This is not generosity. This is not giving to charity. This is common sense. If you want more music like that made again, pay the artists so that they might have another go. 

2. A film maker friend of yours goes off the radar for 6 months to work on a short film. 

You hear about the project when you see a Facebook event for the film screening (this is, of course, in the far distant future).

A consumer again does one of two things. He assumes he can blag a Vimeo code off his friend later on, so stays in that night to continue binge watching The Crown from his sofa. Alternatively, he pesters his friend for a place on the guest list. After all, they’re bound to have got an Arts council grant at some point anyway, so why do they need my money?

But what does a patron do? Firstly, a patron turns up. Secondly, she pays for her ticket without moaning. Thirdly, she, at the very least, buys her friend a couple of drinks afterwards. Maybe some merch, if there is some.

If we care about the arts, we need to change our mindset, from that of consumer to that of patron when engaging with the art that we say we care about.

Again, these are not the actions of a maverick altruist. They are simply the things you do if you value the art that you are consumi… sorry. Start again.

They are simply the things you do if you value the art that you are enjoying. The art that is firing your imagination. The art that is putting you in touch with your humanity. However imperfect it may be.

These are just two examples, and I’m sure you can think of many more. The specifics are not the point. The point is that, if we care about the arts, we need to change our mindset, from that of consumer to that of patron when engaging with the art that we say we care about.

And that is the case whether you are an appreciator of art or an artist yourself. At Sputnik, we’ve always underlined that we’re here to give money to artists, not pester them to give money to us. This is still the case and will not be changing any time soon. However, the call to patronage is for artists too. In fact, there is a sense that if you don’t pick up this role with others, it is hard to see how you can complain if others (for example, your church) refuses to take up this role with you.

I remember a few years ago, a friend of mine moaning about the fact that an album that she’d just released (on a reasonably reputable label) had been downloaded illegally something like 12,000 times from a particular torrent site (I told you it was a few years ago). I expressed my condolences, but was slightly less sympathetic when she revealed that she downloaded almost all of the music she listened to from similar sites. This was blatant hypocrisy. 

Let’s model the attitude that we want others to have to our art and if, to fund this spirit of patronage, you need to pass on the occasional medium sized Costa latte, well, you know, your reward will be in heaven!

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Don’t patronise artists by not patronising artists

One of my first questions to artists when we started Sputnik was “how can the church support you more effectively?” The answer was always immediate, instinctive and apologetic, and it was always the same.


At first, I thought that they were being facetious. I mean, you can’t go around asking for money. From churches at that. How brazen! However soon, it started to sink in.

After all, it’s not that different to what James writes in his letter:

Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

The churches that I connect with have an increasing openness to supporting the arts and artists, but it is often of the ‘God bless you. We appreciate you’ variety, but often stalls at the payment end of things! You could say that this is better than nothing, but in reality, to do the first without the second is demotivating, annoying and quickly appears very insincere. 

I got a small flavour of this a few years ago when I was in talks with a church about putting on an event for artists. Leaders from this church had been very encouraging to me personally and verbally supportive of Sputnik (we love your heart/what you’re doing is valuable and important/keep going) and as far as I saw it, they’d agreed for me to put on an event for the artists in their church and others from surrounding churches too.

I was happy to do all the legwork, do the presentation, etc., and I wasn’t expecting payment. However, I also wasn’t expecting to be told that I’d have to pay for room hire and for the attendees’ lunches too! Not getting paid is one thing, but paying £800 to provide a service is another thing entirely. I politely declined the ‘opportunity’.

It seems that when it comes to church and art, there is certainly a disconnect regarding money. Although this is only one of many reasons churches and artists often miss each other, it is an important one.

Therefore, we don’t want to just talk about art. We don’t even just want to build community for artists or profile their work. We want to fund them. In fact, we don’t even want to stop there. Why keep all the fun to ourselves? We want to sweep Christians (individuals and churches) back up in the joy of arts patronage.

We want to be able to say: this is from the church. The church that has made mistakes in this area. The church that may have taken you for granted before. But the church who is really trying to learn in this area.

For this reason, we started our patrons scheme in 2017, and since then we’ve slowly built up a group of lovely patrons, both individuals and churches, who provide the funds that we can distribute to artists in the form of grants for specific projects. When COVID hit, we rerouted these funds towards our Emergency Artist Fund, but now, we’re swinging our attention back to the patronage scheme. In light of this, we wanted to shine the spotlight back on to arts patronage and put forward the ‘whys’, ‘hows’ and ‘whats’ of supporting artists.

Yes, we are going to be asking you to give money to something. But, it’s not to us. We want to be a funnel to get money to as many Christ following artists as we can. And, with every penny, we want to be able to say: this is from the church. The church that has made mistakes in this area. The church that may have taken you for granted before. But the church who is really trying to learn in this area.

I’m not looking for the evangelical church to wind the clock back to the Middle Ages. If my memory serves me correctly, the church’s benevolence towards the arts in those days had its drawbacks! However, I am hopeful that we can do better than we have done in recent times.

Take, for example, the church I mentioned above. I was pretty fed up from the interactions described above, but with a bit of hindsight, I kind of get it. I probably didn’t communicate all that clearly and made assumptions along the way. More to the point though, that same church have more than made up for that slight misunderstanding in subsequent years and have given us genuine, concrete – and yes, financial – support since, for which I am very grateful.

If we can see past the blunders of the past, I think that this is a real moment for the church to grab hold again of its important role in patronising the arts, and if you’re even a little bit interested in getting involved, stick with us for the next few blog posts and we’ll spell out how that might look.

In the meantime, please feel free to peruse our back catalogue on this subject and hopefully we’ll see you next time. 

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2020 by Artists: Looking forward to new things

In an interview a few years back, the American installation artist Theaster Gates said this:

“There are two ways of approaching the plight of a place. You could either focus on the absolutely negative and curse the government and curse the people and curse the apathy. Or you could focus on the possibilities, you could focus on the hope of a place.”

I don’t know whether Gates’ hope is simply a humanistic hope for the best or something more than that, but his focus on looking forward to a better future rather than wallowing in a less than satisfactory present is a very Christian one.

As Christians we are people of hope. Like Gates, we understand that the future mostly consists of possibilities, not certainties, but we do hold on to one as-yet-unrealised state of affairs with some force. As followers of Jesus, we have a firm confidence that good will ultimately triumph. A confidence not based on wishful thinking but on verifiable facts of history, deep reflections on the nature of reality and personal experiences of interactions with our creator.

Many Christians, especially Christian artists, land here too quickly and their hope can come across as a flimsy optimism. I was so pleased to see that, in the work submitted to the ‘in the rough’ exhibition, the hope communicated was a little more rugged and I’d like to end our review of the year by highlighting four pieces that lead us out of our present plight into a future of glorious possibilities.

Gunwall Stretch by Jeremy Bunce

‘Gunwall Stretch’ – Jeremy Bunce

“The hills are alive!” sang Julie Andrews as she whirled around the green pastures of Salzburg. I’m sure she’d have repeated the sentiment if she’d ever had the pleasure to witness Jeremy Bunce’s Gunwall Stretch. I have nothing particularly profound to write about this painting except to say that it reminds me that there is life out there amidst all the death. There is vibrancy waiting to peep through our sorrow. There may be dark clouds on the horizon (note the top left corner), but you hardly notice them when you see the crazy energy and joy that God has injected into his creation.

‘Veni E’ – Finglestein

‘On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned’ Isaiah prophesied about 2 and a half thousand years ago. About half a millennium later, that light came. God with us. Immanuel. John Mason Neale’s famous advent hymn ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ expresses the rugged hope I wrote of earlier. It is mostly a desperate plea to God for deliverance but, of course, each verse concludes with God’s answer, the promise of His own dramatic intervention to not just rescue his people but come to live with us. However, despite this explicit call to celebration, this is usually the reflective, somewhat sombre scene setter for the carol service (and a fine scene setter it is too!). Not for Mark Farrin, a.k.a. Finglestein. This is boogie around your kitchen music. And when that crunchy guitar solo comes in at 2:30, I’m forgetting the loneliness and captivity of the pandemic and I’m rejoicing. Jesus dispersed the gloomy clouds when he came to us once before and He will come again. Rejoice!

Apocalyptic Lockdown Blues

Rounding all this off, I want to finish with two of my favourite COVID motivated pieces from the Sputnik stable, and they both feature David Benjamin Blower. At the end of April, one of two lockdown EPs appeared, entitled ‘Apocalyptic Lockdown Blues’. It’s all gold, but for me the title track shines the brightest. Though it was written less than a month in, it is the most penetrating and profound reflection on the Coronavirus crisis that I’ve come across anywhere.

On one level, listening to it simply plonks you straight back into that ‘strange hiatus’ of the first lockdown as David reminds us of the days when we all applauded from our windows, tried to suppress coughs in supermarket queues and suddenly noticed the deafening birdsong that had been drowned out when cars were allowed to leave their driveways.

But David heard something else. A groaning going on within our ‘Sabbath of grief’ that did not go away when the first round of lockdown measures began to be lifted.

For many of us in the last year, we’ve stared vacantly out of the windows of our isolation bedrooms and we’ve also gazed wistfully out of the windows of Jozef Pyper Egerton’s beachside apartment. David calls us now to a new posture. He pictures us…

‘… praying out of windows
for the soul of the earth
Oh for a New Thing
Oh for the Day of Rebirth’

For him, the experience of seeing the natural world come alive just outside our windows, but somehow still remain painfully out of reach to us while locked inside, awakens in us the desire for the coming kingdom that is nearby, but still not yet. The final verse gives us an encouragement to remember that groaning, but for me, it strikes me more as a warning not to forget:

And all are awaiting
For the world to awaken
From this strange and apocalyptic dream
but not back to how it used to be
Remember what was seen
In this sabbath of griefs

But what do we do as we wait, as we pray and as we groan? Well, one of the things we do is make art. This is far from a futile gesture. It is not even just assisting our own mental wellbeing. We’re documenting moments, infusing them with meaning and casting new and hopeful visions of what is to come. But we can’t do this on our own. Even in our creative practice, we must refuse to give in to the loneliness and separation of lockdown and embrace a new thing. We must cross borders and connect with like minded practitioners and allies.

Making art is far from a futile gesture. It is not even just assisting our own mental wellbeing. We’re documenting moments, infusing them with meaning and casting new and hopeful visions of what is to come.

In the first post in this series of reflections on 2020, I shared a lesson I’d learnt this year, and I want to finish with another one, before illustrating it with a final piece of art. I end this year convinced that art is very important. I also end it convinced that artists need to be connected together, and perhaps Christians need these connections even more. So, I look back on a year when Sputnik have done all we can to connect artists who follow Jesus, even though all of our normal ways to do that were blocked. We put on our online Industry Notes events, we moved all our Hubs on to Zoom and we started our Sputnik Slack, which is already proving to be a great environment to facilitate genuine, meaningful relationships. (Want to find out for yourself? Be our guest!)

Cabin fever is not fertile soil for good art. We need to cross borders and we at Sputnik HQ are very much looking forward to taking the skills we learnt this year into 2021 and beyond to help you do that.

And why do I think that may be a fruitful enterprise? Well, because of pieces like Sarah Rabone’s ‘From The Windows’ (inspired by David Benjamin Blower). Even when we’re locked up in our houses, we can be inspired by other pieces of work to create our own ‘new things’. Our lockdown kitchens can become dance studios. Our separation can still breed collaboration.

I’m looking from the windows and I’m praying for new things. Yes, the fulfilment of that groan will come when Jesus returns, but in the meantime, I’m expecting many other deposits of the new creation. New things that his groaning people create along the way. New things that you could bring into existence as a secretary, a commentator or a hope bringer.

Here’s to 2021. A year of new things.

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2020 by Artists: Searching for meaning in the chaos

Artists don’t just document events, they seek out the meaning that lies behind those events. As Pope John Paul II put it:

Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery.

(Letter to Artists, 1999)

In a sense, no true piece of art ever just documents, as I’m sure you can see in the pieces I’ve mentioned so far. However, some pieces that were submitted to the ‘in the rough’ exhibition were certainly more explicit in their commentary on the events of the year. It’s probably best for me to say at this point that the commentary that I see in these artworks may not have been intended by the artist in exactly the way I will suggest, but in the context of the events that surrounded them, I hope I’m not wildly misreading them.

The Great Worldwide Dugnad by Trygve Skogran

‘The Great Worldwide Dugnad’ – Trygve Skogran

Norwegian artist Trygve Skogran’s ‘The Great Worldwide Dugnad’ is a playful editing of a masterpiece by painter Adolph Tidemand. Skogran explains the concept of the piece:

In my home country Norway, we have a much-beloved word: “dugnad”. It means: working voluntarily and without pay for the common good. In a small, and up to quite recently, very poor country, the idea that we all have to stand together and work together to survive has been so important through generations, that now it is cemented as one of the main things we believe define us as a people.

For Skogran, the sacrifices we are enduring through the pandemic are a dugnad, an act of service for the common good. The dugnad that he focuses on in this piece is Christians enduring restrictions to the way we worship. I don’t think he intended the piece as polemic against Christians who have refused to take up this dugnad, but it certainly exists as one now!

Banquet of Consequences by Duncan Stewart

‘Banquet of Consequences’ – Duncan Stewart

Even if Skogran’s piece acts as a gentle indictment, its tone is gentle and playful. The same cannot be said for Duncan Stewart’s ‘Banquet of Consequences.’ Posted on to the artist’s facebook page on 7th July, it landed as the public mood, at least in the UK, had dramatically shifted. The early days of the pandemic were marked by an ‘all in this together’ sort of camaraderie, clapping for carers, praying for Boris Johnson, checking on our elderly neighbours, but by July, tensions had significantly heightened.

Politicians weren’t following their own rules, millionaire footballers were partying while the rest of us self isolated, and those who were appointed to protect and serve murdered a man in Minneapolis, seemingly because of the colour of his skin. Notice though that this painting doesn’t single out any specific wrongdoer or wrongdoing. It simply stands as a stark reminder: actions have consequences, the chickens do come home to roost, you reap what you sow. Or as Robert Louis Stevenson said in the quote that inspired the painting’s title ‘Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.’ As I look at the silhouettes of figures in the picture, I’m asking are we the vultures or are we the meat? Perhaps the artist is implying that we’re both.

It reminds me of Ezekiel 24, where God pictures his people as meat to be thrown into a pot and cooked, because of the blood that they themselves had shed. Is the pandemic itself divine judgement on us all? I think that any kneejerk answer to that question is a bad idea, however, it’s a question that we surely need to ask and wrestle with. Duncan helps us do that brilliantly with this visceral, ominous image.

untitled – Kate Crumpler

And wherever we land on that question, in the Bible there is always a fitting response to disaster. Repentance. In Luke 13, Jesus comments on two local tragedies and he raises a question very similar to the one above: did these things happen as direct punishment for the victims’ sin? He answers ‘no’, but applies it to his hearers as if he’d said ‘yes’: “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13, 3 and 5). Kate Crumpler’s short video piece presents her as the performance artist/prophet in the mould of Ezekiel, Isaiah or Jeremiah. Like the bloody cross in Benjamin Harris’ ‘Friar’, her message is unheeded as the streets are empty, but repentance is always first and foremost a personal act. As she enacts her weary trudge through suburban streets, clad in actual sackcloth, she surely points us to the most fitting response any of us could have to this year’s events. Again it leaves us with more questions than answers. For example, who is she repenting for? Herself? The church? Her nation? More excellent questions to ponder. Thank you Kate.

Well, that’s a downer! Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas and all that. In my defence, it has been a pretty grim year! However, for all its grimness and for all the sin and death and vultures and sackcloth and consumable human flesh, as Christians, we are a people of hope. And as Christians who make art, the artistic instinct to reimagine the future, combined with the Christian hope of the restoration of all things is a potent combination. As I’ll share tomorrow, you can see (and hear) that for yourself.

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2020 by Artists: An emotional response to lockdown

As the pandemic hit, we had to pull the plug on our Spring and Summer programme. We were left with a blank page. As we thought about how to fill it, one of the first projects to emerge was our ‘in the rough’ exhibition. We wanted to collate and exhibit the artwork that was going to be produced during this time. The pandemic certainly hasn’t been a creative muse for all artists but, for many, as we guessed, it has turned out to be an environment very conducive to creative productivity – and some of that has been captured in our simple online gallery.

Some of the work was simply people processing creatively to help them stay sane. Some pieces were conceived of before we’d ever heard of wet markets, furloughs and lockdown and the pandemic simply allowed these ideas to be brought to completion. However, other pieces in the exhibition either stand as powerful documents of 2020 or commentaries on the events of the past year.

The jazz musician Max Roach once wrote:

Two theories (of art) exist. One is that art is for the sake of art. That is true. The other theory, which is also true, is that the artist is like a secretary… He keeps a record of his time.’

Several artists in and around our network have performed this function admirably this year. Five images stand out for me in this regard.

Isolation Bedroom (ink) by Hannah Carroll

‘Isolation Bedroom’ – Hannah Carroll

A number of friends have told me that they struggled to get out of bed for days on end in the Spring, but even for those of us who dived straight into PE with Joe or home renovations, I’m sure Hannah Carroll’s ink sketch ‘Isolation Bedroom’ will resonate with you. We all got to know the four walls of our isolation bedrooms (and kitchens and living rooms) very well over those first few months!

Friar (oil and blood on canvas) by Benjamin Harris

‘Friar’ – Benjamin Harris

And when, in mid April, we did gaze out of our windows (an image that I’ll return to again and again in these posts) or go out for our rationed hour of exercise, this is what we saw. Empty roads and closed shops. This painting, ‘Friar (Oil and blood on canvas)’ is part of Benjamin Harris’ ongoing series focusing on the St George’s flag. This piece is probably best viewed in contrast to the other pieces in the series. In ‘St George (oil on board)’ and ‘Victoria Square’, the flag (painted in the artist’s blood) is a symbol for people to rally around. It’s not just that, in both paintings, the object is surrounded by people, it’s the fact that many of these people are gathering to the flag itself. In Friar, on the other hand, the flag continues sending out its rallying cry, but nobody can hear it. That could be viewed as a good thing because of what that flag has come to represent but, for some reason, the idea of a failed rallying cry has a deep air of melancholy about it for me. I find this a haunting and evocative image.

Untitled by Pyper Jozef Egerton

‘Untitled’ – Pyper Jozef Egerton

But then a new feeling set in. Perhaps it wasn’t so bad in our isolation bedrooms after all. Perhaps the stillness of our empty streets didn’t only speak of absence but was also an invitation to notice the world that has always been there, but that we’ve ignored in all of the commerce and commuting. Pyper Jozef Egerton’s hopeful, untitled image is a step outside of the isolation bed and, for me, signals the beginning of an appreciation of the enforced sabbatical that both we and the world around us had to come to terms with. Of course, it probably helps your general mood if you have this sort of view to look out at but, all the same, I can certainly remember the days when the stillness of the outside world turned from an eerie source of fear to a source of wonder.

‘Cabin Fever’ / ‘Crossing Borders’ – Jennifer Litts

Jennifer Litts’ two pieces, ‘Cabin Fever’ and ‘Crossing Borders’, bring a number of these themes together. We didn’t have to just reconcile ourselves to an unhurried, unsullied natural world, but also to each other. And I’d like to hope that we did. We found ways to get out of our boxes to support and comfort each other. It may not have involved the physical touch presented in the second piece, but as we got to grips with the situation and the technology at our disposal, we found meaningful ways to connect.

So, that was some of what happened and that may well echo some of what we felt at different points over the year, but what did it all mean? Tomorrow, I’ll highlight some more artworks that look to more deliberately get beneath the skin of what happened this year.

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After the Year of Not Gathering, art is more important than ever

In an alternative universe somewhere, a parallel version of myself is writing a review of 2020 and is waxing lyrical about an event that happened at the end of May, the first national meet up of Sputnik artists since our very early days. “Well, the weather was all right, wasn’t it?” – he quips, May 2020 being the sunniest calendar month on record in the UK.

And what a line up! Daniel Blake, Marlita Hill, TJ Koleoso, Pip Piper… And, of course, all the new friendships, collaborations and encouragements that sprung naturally from a load of us camping together for two days over the May bank holiday at (what we decided about a year ago to call) The Gathering.

A Gathering. Back in our universe, that word seems strange, even somewhat mystical at the end of this year.

2020 was meant to be the year of the Gathering for Sputnik. Instead, of course, it’s been the year of not gathering for all of us!

There’s obviously a solemnity and weight to that. Many people have died. Many people have lost their jobs. Many people’s businesses have gone under. For artists in particular, the inability to gather has made this year particularly difficult. The controversial ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber’ advert that came out in October may have been promptly pulled, but the reality behind it is more difficult to sidestep. 2020 has certainly forced many artists to consider whether they need to retrain and I wonder how many young people, real life Fatimas, who started the year looking to pursue a career in the arts are now thinking twice about that course of action.

In the light of all of this, I can’t just give you the highlights reel of the Sputnik year like usual. A year like 2020 demands more considered reflection. It’s not like nothing has happened in Sputnikville. Far from it. We’ve adapted, like most people have adapted, and seen many positives hidden in amongst the chaos. However, as I stumble out of the dust and rubble of what has certainly been the strangest year I’ve ever lived through, I want to kick off my reflections by outlining an important lesson that I’ve learnt this year.

I’ve learnt that Art is more important than ever.

I don’t want Fatima to retrain in cyber. I can see why she would but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t want to trade in our actors for bankers, our musicians for solicitors, our poets for accountants. And I don’t think that this is just personal preference. That wouldn’t end well for any of us.

One thing to be said for COVID-19 is that it has pulled us all to an almighty halt and caused us to question certain elements of modern life that we’d come to take for granted. On the back of such an opportunity, I’d like to hope that there is a genuine possibility for far reaching societal change on the back of this pandemic and, for that reason, we need artists more than ever.

In my experience, artists are at their best when challenging accepted norms and reimagining the future.

Now then is the time for artists to step up, not to jump ship. That means that now is the time to support artists, not to abandon them.

We need whole waves, even communities of artists, who can speak in all the different languages of artistry, to throw their weight behind the re-humanization effort.

The trajectory of western culture in recent times has been deeply concerning. For decades, the human being has been slowly and irresistibly reduced, first into a mere consumer and more recently into that least human of things, data. Our brains have been systematically rewired by the internet so that our attention, or what is left of it, is only able to focus on the most shallow and ephemeral targets. Self interest is now ethical high mindedness. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

And, in case nobody has noticed, evangelical Christianity is very politely doing its best to self destruct before everyone else does. Worship as entertainment. Pastors as celebrities. Abuse of power. Sex scandals.

Many of us have had an inkling that we’ve been ripe for a change for some time. This year, we’ve actually had time to reflect on this and found that our inkling was bang on.

But to step into a different future, we have to be able to imagine that future. To choose a different ending, someone needs to have told us the story. This is where artists come in. This is where WE come in.

Milton Keynes based poet, Sharon Clark, put it like this in a poem she wrote in October:

Writing is
for dreamers
who conjure up different worlds
-better worlds-
in the hope
that this world
will be
through their

But it is not just up to the writers. It’s also not just up to a handful of genius Artists to conjure up these better worlds. We need whole waves, even communities of artists, who can speak in all the different languages of artistry, to throw their weight behind the re-humanization effort.

If this is all sounding a bit humanistic for your liking, consider the examples we find in Scripture. Who are the bridge builders between the Old and New Testaments? Who are the people that God uniquely calls to lead his people from the wreckage of exile into the glory of the New Covenant? It’s the prophets. As we’ve written about before on this website, these people should not be seen primarily as ministers or even through the lens of the modern prophet: all booming voice and charisma. They were artists.  Most of them were poets. Many of them, like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, were performers.

And funnily enough, who do we find rounding off the Christian Scriptures and leading us out of the apostolic age? A guy called John who specialized in wacky, subversive, dystopian (or perhaps utopian) apocalyptic literature. Another artist.

And if we rewind to the very beginning, it is God, the artist, who makes the most dramatic re-imagining of all. From something to nothing. Chaos to order. Dancing over the seas. Speaking life into being. Fashioning dust and breath into Adam.

The world needs artists. The church needs artists. God knows it. I think that churches are beginning to learn it.

I really hope that we, the artists, catch hold of it too.

And so, if we’re going to reflect on this year properly, we’d be foolish to turn to anyone else. Therefore, in our next post, we will find out how artists viewed 2020…