I appreciate the end of a year.

I like calendar markers: opportunities to reflect on what’s been and gone and what could be round the corner. When years seem to routinely pass in a flash, I find it encouraging to take stock of what’s happened in that flash and remember that it’s not been wasted.

I haven’t yet got my head round the ‘end of the decade’ factor, but as years go, in terms of Sputnik at least, it’s been a very exciting and potentially game-changing twelve months.

So, highlights? I thought I’d round up a few. In no particular order…

Mantis launched his new album, ‘The Legend of One’

Pythagoras the Praying Mantis is a force of nature. A Birmingham rap veteran and a longstanding Sputnik favourite, this year he released possibly his best album yet, The Legend of One, and we had the great pleasure of helping him put on the album launch party, through the Sputnik Patrons scheme.

Pythagoras the Praying Mantis performing ‘Steelwire Technique

The event was fantastic: Mantis was ably supported by an excellent house band and a whole host of vocal support, but he took hold of the stage and made it his own. Stage presence. Authority. Vocal precision. Good audience banter. Ticks all round.

The Sputnik Team kept growing

For years, Sputnik was essentially me, sat at a desk a couple of days a week, scheming, blogging and putting on the occasional event. Things have certainly changed.

Firstly, it was wonderful working with Jess Wood as she completed her internship in the first half of the year. Since then, the office team has been transformed by the brilliant Wumi Donald coming on board. Chris Donald, Wumi’s other half, continues to make the website shine and was responsible for our best publication yet – the second volume of our Anthology, a giveaway for our growing roster of art Patrons.

Edinburgh Hub’s Hannah Kelly

Outside of Birmingham, the team is expanding further. There’s Joanna, Luke and Hannah in Edinburgh; Dez, Alex and Christine down in London, and my old friend Jem Bunce in Cornwall. In September, we had our first Sputnik Hub leaders get together, and I’m so thankful for all the fantastic people that God has added to the gang. Go Team Sputnik go!

We found friends across the pond

After many years of searching, we’ve finally found another organisation with some Sputnik DNA!

There are loads of excellent groups doing excellent things in the intersection between Christianity and art, but we’ve always felt a bit like an odd one out.

Are you into worship art? Not really. So art as a vehicle for the gospel then? Nope. So, you just want Christians to be more creative? Ummm…

Well, this year, we found some other weirdos who seem to be on the same page. Renew The Arts is a US-based Christian arts organization that supports and funds Christian artists (like we do) and aims to encourage and challenge the church at large to carefully think through their relationship with the arts (like we do).

Their blog is definitely one of my favourite things of 2019, and I’d thoroughly recommend everyone clocking in. My route in would be this introductory episode, then this review of incarnation and Platonism in the church. Throw in this exploration of the difficulties of redemption stories and you’ll be hooked.

Kanye… no, really

I know that I’ve already shared more than my 20 pence already on Mr West, including why Jesus is King should not be seen as blueprint for Christian art.

Nonetheless, one of the world’s biggest celebrities claiming to have come to faith in Jesus, making a chart-topping album all about Jesus and then talking about nothing but Jesus for months on end – is still kind of a big deal! I’m on side: I think we should be thankful for Kanye, and I also think we should pray hard for Kanye. He’s going to need it.

Photo by Kenny Sun

One last anecdote won’t kill you.

I was talking to a friend the other day – a Christian student. He was listening to Jesus is King in his room, and on turning it off, was surprised to hear that it was still playing down the corridor, in not just one but two of his friends’ rooms.

A bit later, his housemates grabbed him, asking for some help. They’d been enjoying the new Kanye West album, they explained, but were struggling to understand what was going on. First of all, could he explain to them the symbolism of water in Christianity?!

The Generate(ion) Film weekend

In October, Sputnik teamed up with One Small Barking Dog to put on Generate(ion), a youth filmmaking weekend in Birmingham.

On the Friday night, we hosted a bunch of creative workshops for 30-40 young people – featuring artists from the Brum Sputnik Hub – then on Saturday, Pip Piper and his team put on a more focused film workshop.

The Generate(ion) Film weekend

Pip is the kind of guy who always does my soul good. Therefore, to simply stick him in the same room as a group of young people would have been time well spent.

However, to see him training and coaching them to develop their skills in film, and to think about using the medium effectively, was truly a thing of beauty. We’re very much looking forward to taking Generate(ion) out of Brum to other cities in 2020 and beyond.

Jemma Mellor showed how it’s done

She’ll probably hate me for this, but my wife, Jem, definitely makes the list of 2019 Sputnik highlights.

Technically, she’d always feature on the list (awwww!) but this year particularly so, as she is increasingly embodying everything that we’re about. Since completing her degree about 15 years ago, her art practice has been on the back burner, as she’s focused on being a super mum. However, she’s kept the flame burning, steadily producing work when she could, and using her skills to great effect in different part time jobs.

Then, this September, with the kids now all at school, she started an ‘Interdisciplinary Art and Design’ Masters at BCU, and has well and truly got back on the horse.

I imagine there are some artists out there who get skilled-up at a young age, and then seamlessly move into a life of non-stop creation and success, before dying at a ripe old age, content and satisfied. However, I’ve yet to meet any of them.

For most of us, we find time where we can, we have a few years of action and progress and then a few more of frustration. We want to create, but life gets in the way. Things happen. We get disappointed. We doubt ourselves. We wonder why we bother and we feel like giving up.

Jem hasn’t given up. She’s kept going and now she’s producing some of her best work yet. And it’s just going to get better. Not to mention the fact that we now get to discuss Martin Heidegger at dinner times. Result!

Next year…

Yes, I know that this is a bit of a cheat, as this is a review of 2019, but I think it’s fair to say that next year is shaping up to be pretty tasty in Sputnik-ville.

Faith and Arts days are happening in Bournemouth, Bristol and London next term, with more pencilled in for later in the year. However, the big news is that we’re going to be hosting our first ever residential: the ‘Sputnik Gathering’ in the West Midlands on 24th and 25th May.

So once you’ve had enough of turkey and mince pies and you’ve put your Santa onesies back in the wardrobe, come back in the New Year, and we look forward to telling you more.

From everyone at Sputnik HQ, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.