An Open Letter

From the desk of our Executive Director

  • 9 months ago

Dear Friends,

We hope that you are keeping safe and healthy during this ever-difficult time.

JM International recently conducted a survey of its members in order to understand the extent to which they have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis thus far. We’ve now had some time to reflect on the impact of the crisis on our membership as well as on our sector as a whole, and wish to share with you our thoughts.

The majority of JMI members are facing tremendous challenges with concerts, activities and events having been cancelled (65%) or postponed (43%). In the 23 countries that participated in the survey, over 600 musical activities have been cancelled in the span of the last 3 months. Economic turnovers have been reduced up to 75% to 80% and in the worst cases, have resulted in staff layoffs and real risk of bankruptcy.

These challenges are felt around the globe: from the lack of economic support and sustainability to the hardships of rescheduling and rethinking multiple activities, online and offline, and above all the struggles of reaching out and effectively supporting young musicians in such uncertain times.

On the bright side, the great majority of surveyed organizations have managed to implement (55.6%) or to plan (14.8%) digital initiatives of all kinds, and are ready to engage and contribute in online activities (such as sharing sessions and webinars) to be promoted within the network.

In ironic reference to the musical notation symbol "fermata" (aka Corona in Italy), COVID-19 has paused all music activities, halted music education for younger generations, cut into the livelihood of countless musicians and music sector employees (stage, sound and light, promo, sales, marketing, etc.), and separated audiences from live music performance.

It is the European Union action plan (in the cultural field) that names culture as an intrinsic value for the EU. A condition sine qua non of human existence. During these COVID-stricken months, we’ve seen that in practice. Confined at home, People were seeking contact with other people. Through terraces and backyards, the majority chose to do so by playing instruments, singing, dancing, raving, partying... Moreover, they used social media to do the same, and get as close as to live performance as was virtually possible. In the absence of a more organized strategic approach and support for culture and its dissemination by those responsible to do so, artists, organisations and audiences turned to what was available to them, to bridge the gap as much as possible - technology and digital media.

"It’s truly mind-boggling to see how, when it all comes down to it, culture, again and again, is seen as intrinsic in people’s hearts but is somehow marginalized in their minds..."

At this moment, many countries are in stages of deconfinement, justified yes or no - being not our topic here. Yet, for the past few months and even today, we can hear a lot about plans to support the economy, open businesses, shops and services, the forthcoming opening of borders and travel. And yet, culture is once more on the margins of those plans, with the exception of few governments that have created special funds to enable the sector to bridge the gap. Some perspective: the cancellation of the SXSW music conference in Austin this year had a negative impact of 350 million USD on the local economy. In Belgium alone, according to RTBF news, around 30% of all cultural organisations are at risk of bankruptcy. Arts and culture deploy millions of jobs globally, with a substantial percentage of income and taxes being generated for economic development. Let's not even start talking about the relevance of the sector... It’s truly mind-boggling to see how, when it all comes down to it, culture, again and again, is seen as intrinsic in people’s hearts but is somehow marginalized in their minds, where instead oil stocks, Dow Jones, Dax indexes, etc - rule the world. And yet, cut culture and the wellbeing of both the individual and society crumbles. Because the value of culture is not just in economics. It is also the artistic creation and the social effect on people, now and in the future. And the economy of those two is incalculable.

If we don't react, culture stands to be wiped off the map, almost entirely in some countries. Given the fact that activities will have to adapt to the new times and introduce new measures at events and venues, like social distancing, disinfection, masks, gloves, empty chairs and additional organisational costs and promotion - ticketing will also likely increase in the foreseeable future, further cutting access to culture for all. Many international networks, including JMI, have already joined forces in addressing the UN, European and national authorities, demanding the voice of the sector to be heard as well as concrete credible, realistic plans to be implemented in order to avoid, or at least mitigate, the negative impact of the current pandemic… bringing the entire sector back up on its feet in the shortest time possible.

"With human interaction and social cohesion at our core, how can these values survive in times of social distancing and digital substitution of live programs?"

Beyond the economic devastation to the sector, and bearing in mind that for JMI, music is an artistic form and product, as well as a tool for development, COVID-19 has also shaken the foundation of what we stand for: bringing quality live music to young audiences and empowering young people through music across all boundaries. With human interaction and social cohesion at our core, how can these values survive in times of social distancing and digital substitution of live programs?

It’s clear that one of the main needs that JMI should address in the new emerging age of living and mindset, is to keep everybody in touch and active, providing spaces and opportunities to share, connect and build the capacities of our members in order to support the "digital shift", or the coexistence and complementarity of both live and digital music experiences. It will make our members and their skills stronger, our activities more open and transparent, and should bring a level of security that, no matter the barriers, artists will perform and audiences will be able to listen, and the economy of the music sector will sustain.

Finally, seeing the fragility of our human existence on this planet, and the positive effects of confinement on nature, we also have the responsibility to design and implement environmentally friendly, humane and climate responsible musical activities going forward.

JMI will soon be announcing several digital offerings for our network, young musicians and the cultural sector in general. In this way we hope to serve young musicians and young audiences as best we can during this crisis, as well as supporting the international community of cultural organizers that provides crucial opportunities for them to develop and grow, personally and professionally.

Stay safe, stay in touch. Wishing you all strength to overcome these trying times.


Blasko Smilevski

Executive Director: JM International