The two teenage lads looked confused and pointed at the painting derisively.

Statements like: ‘it’s just a load of colours’, ‘anyone could do that’ and ‘I don’t get it’ punctuated their conversation before they left the foyer outside Hall 2 to explore some of the less cryptic zones.

If you’ve attended the Catalyst Festival I wonder if you’ve had any similar conversations as you’ve wandered into one of the main meetings flanked by stuffed birds, a wicker sculpture and a St George’s cross made from animal blood!

As the curator of the exhibitions at the last two Festivals, I don’t mind these head scratching conversations. In my opinion, the purpose of art is to start conversations and while I hope that the galleries have produced many more profound and lucid discussions than the one related above, those two guys were halfway there – it had got them talking!

I believe that art is very important. Whichever form it may be in – seen, heard, read, whatever – it is a form of communication that is utterly unique and truly a gift from God. Therefore it has been great to be able to give some exposure to some of the gifted artists, musicians and writers that are connected to our network of churches.

However, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The art exhibitions at the Festivals were not primarily intended for you!

Please don’t misunderstand me. We hope you’ve enjoyed the galleries, the CDs and the Writers’ Anthology. It’s just that our greater hope is that ultimately people who aren’t Christians would enjoy them too, and that work like this would start them off on conversations that may well end up with Jesus.

Therefore the work we’ve displayed at the last two Festivals has been chosen on the basis that it would engage most effectively with people who wouldn’t actually be there!

Crazy as this plan seems, this year it’s worked brilliantly. After the Festival, we teamed up with Birmingham’s finest chain of independent coffee shops, Urban Coffee Company, and for the whole of August, we took over all three of their branches in the second city to display work from this year’s exhibition.

Jane Rosier’s stunning piece ‘The King’s Call’ took pride of place in the main city centre branch, powerfully conveying a story of spiritual transformation and freedom found through Jesus. In the Jewellery Quarter, the space was defined by Doreen Mellor’s triptych, documenting a prayer for healing for a blind Burmese man. Kim Seymour’s ‘Creation Groans’ explored ideas about the brokenness of our world and its future restoration in Christ. Sharon Boothroyd’s ‘They All Say Please’ investigated the nature of prayer. And so on.

I’m delighted that we’re starting to gain a voice in the city I live in that we’ve not had before.

Are you a creative or an artist? Are there ways you can engage your town or city with your work? Would you like to team up with other Christian creatives to raise the volume even more? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Get hold of us through Twitter (@sputnikmagazine) or our website. (sputnikmagazine.co.uk).

Let’s get people scratching their heads and talking about Jesus together.

By Jonny Mellor

Jonny Mellor

Jonny is an elder at ChurchCentral in Birmingham, and leads Sputnik, a project dedicated to showcasing and supporting art with a Christian worldview. He is married to Jemma and they have three children.