Sputnik began about 5 years ago as a local church based arts ministry at Churchcentral in Birmingham.
After 7 years working as a secondary school teacher, my friend and church leader, Jonathan Bell, approached me about working full time for the church. A quarter of the job role involved a very open ended brief, exploring something to do with the arts and artists in the church. It was an intriguing offer and my wife and I responded by kicking off Sputnik to support some of the artists in the church.
It was the Catalyst Festival that began to widen our scope though. Catalyst is a network of about 70 churches in the Newfrontiers church family (probably what Ezekiel had in mind with all that wheels within wheels stuff) Our first annual gathering was in 2013 and Sputnik was asked to do the arts stuff. As we began to cobble some plans together, it became clear what our main challenge was going to be- how would we actually find the artists in churches? There were lots of people who liked to paint or draw or play covers of worship songs, but we found out pretty quickly that artists who were pursuing their work outside of the church context with a level of seriousness and a respect for their craft were a group that few had ever really taken very seriously in our churches and therefore nobody knew who they were. So I spent about 4 months simply trying to unearth enough visual artists and musicians who were making art outside of church to produce a half decent gallery and CD.
One of the most telling moments in this whole process was a conversation with one particular church leader. ‘Any artists in your church? I enquired. My friend responded with a few names, all of whose creative efforts were being plumbed very squarely into the Christian community. Then, just as the conversation was tailing off, Columbo-esque, he added enigmatically that there was one other person, but no, she probably wasn’t really what we were looking for. My curiosity piqued, I thought it was worth hearing more. It turned out that the person in question was a conceptual artist who’d just got back from America, where a secular gallery had just shipped her over to display one of her projects! To my friend’s (and apparently a large proportion of evangelical church leaders in Britain’s) surprise, this was exactly the type of person we were looking for.
I love being part of the Newfrontiers church family. I’ve been in a Newfrontiers church all of my life and I love the emphases on the Bible, grace, church, the work of the Holy Spirit and all that good stuff. However, it became very clear during my somewhat ponderous attempts to showcase some artists at the first Catalyst Festival, that our movement has not done particularly well with this specific demographic. It appeared that all of the serious artists had either left our churches or were so undercover that nobody knew their dirty secret. (Poets are especially covert in this regard and at the first festival almost all of the poets who came out of the closet did so with furtive glances and whispers).
This may sound like a criticism, but I mean it more as an observation. I’m very pleased that our churches are led and overseen by people who put the first things first. In my opinion, the Newfrontiers foundations have been laid very carefully and faithfully upon things that are probably on close examination a little more important even than the arts. I’m glad that we don’t take a particularly creative approach to theology for example! However, I guess foundations are there to be built upon and since the debut festival, we’ve taken great glee in exploring how we can try to do this a bit better. We’ve been given more than enough rope to hang ourselves many times over by the guys who lead Catalyst as well and that has been a real privilege (the permission that is, not the possibility of self-annihilation).
Now, having just finished our 4th festival, and with a year off festival duties (the next Catalyst Festival is in 2018), I thought it was time for a bit of a review of where we were up to. Therefore, for the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting about this year’s festival. There’ll be some posts about pieces from the gallery, but I’m also going to be taking this opportunity to summarise some of the key lessons we’ve learnt from the last 4 festivals and all the much more important stuff in between.
Hopefully this will be more than an exercise in navel gazing. I hope it encourages all you creators out there and I’d love to hear your feedback and get you involved in the next chapter. Mainly though I wonder if this is for Christians, whether artists or not, who would like to start something similar in their churches, church streams or Bible weekends.
So come back later in the week and we’ll get the ball rolling…