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EJN Music and Community Award winner 2022: Bringing artistic and social values together

This year’s winner of our award for ground-breaking work in social inclusion is Katowice JazzArt Festival / Miasto Ogrodów (Poland).

We talked to Martyna van Nieuwland-Markowska, the festival’s outgoing artistic director. She reflects on her time at the festival and shares the joys and challenges of developing social inclusion projects, and offers tips for others wanting to work in a similar way.

Much more than a festival

Back in 2014 the JazzArt festival featured mainly white, male musicians playing American influenced jazz, with most of the artists booked through a single agency.

Fast forward to 2022 and despite budgets decreasing year on year, and a global pandemic, the festival has been reshaped into a modern, collaborative set-up, featuring a much more diverse line-up and international ethos.

Martyna was the woman driving the transformation, and she describes her vision: “Early on, I wanted it to be much more than just a series of concerts, and then later my ambition was for it to become much more than just a festival.”

This has meant working meaningfully with marginalised groups in the city, responding to their needs, and not the other way round. “Artistic and social values always went hand in hand for us.”

Earlier this year this was exemplified by Katowice Miasto Ogrodów (Katowice City of Gardens), the organisation that hosts the JazzArt festival, transforming some of its spaces into housing for Ukrainian refugees including artists and their families. 

Working with women prisoners at Katowice prison

One of the festival’s first social inclusion projects emerged in 2015 through a partnership with Areszt Śledczy and specifically, mjr Wojciech Brzoska, the cultural coordinator at Katowice prison.

Each year the festival invites artists to perform at a concert hosted for a group of women prisoners. The women really engage on an emotional level with the music and often approach the artists to discuss the music at the end of the concert. There were plans in place to develop the initiative further, with participative workshops, but the pandemic meant this wasn’t able to happen.

Working with disabled children in a specialist school

In parallel, JazzArt has also developed a long-standing partnership with a specialist school for disabled children in the city, starting in 2017.

A group of around ten children work closely with invited artists each year. Most of the children have difficulties with language. This means the festival can choose artists that are a really good fit for the children and the context, rather than Polish-speaking being the main criteria. “The common language between the children and the musicians was always music,” says Martyna.

After a series of daily workshops, the project culminates in a performance given in school. Children and their parents were also invited to the artists’ festival performance, taking them out of their familiar environment and an opportunity to experience live music in a gig setting.

JazzCamp for Girls

Promoting women's jazz music is a priority for Martyna and JazzArt Festival was the first music festival in Poland to be a member of the Keychange initiative.

Inspired by the success of a similar project created and led by JazzDanmark, JazzCamp for Girls took place for the second time in January 2023 for students of first and second degrees music schools from Katowice.

Tutors including pianist Artur Tuźnik and vocalist Ania Rybacka, will introduce the participants to the art of improvisation and the basics of jazz composition, but most of all, the joy of making music together. JazzCamp ends with a big concert for all the participants.

Reflecting on the first JazzCamp for Girls, Martyna says: “We were all positively surprised how successful the first call was in summer 2022. We knew right away that we would have to make another call as soon as possible to provide places for all children who could not take part in the summer camp. So we organised JazzCamp for Girls again for early 2023 and once more - within 90 minutes - the list was full.”

She continues: “This is very significant in a country where women’s rights are being questioned at a governmental level; where protests against anti-abortion policy became a sad reality; and where the minister of education is bringing back a narrative about conservative female roles in primary education. This is in the 21st century, in the middle of Europe.”

It’s in this context that Martyna feels that JazzCamp for Girls is increasingly important. “We want to provide not only professional activity for young people, but also a safe place for the girls where they can develop their skills, feel welcome and encouraged to follow their talents”, she says.

New horizons

For Martyna though, Jazz Camp for Girls is the last of these projects she has organised. The political situation in Poland - which is increasingly populist - means that it’s becoming more difficult to make this important work happen.

Reflecting, she says that “the festival represents integrity, equality and diversity, and these values are currently not in favour with the municipal or national government.”

Her long-term plans “to provide space and networks for local artistic communities and to facilitate international exchanges, interdisciplinary ideas and educational and social projects” has encountered just too many barriers.

As we enter 2023, Martyna is heading for new challenges at the Music Meeting festival in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, where she hopes to bring artistic and social values together once more.

Martyna’s advice on developing social inclusion projects

- Really understand your local environment
Start with conversations with people in your local community. Do lots of research, and talk to people about what is really needed.

- Listen first, listen more, then act
Listen all the time, and listen carefully to people’s needs. Don’t come with your own pre-determined vision.

- Take your time - this work isn’t quick
Build in lots of time and patience for this work, it will take longer than you think to develop projects.

- One size does not fit all
Get inspiration from other social inclusion projects happening around the world, but in the end you need to really understand how it might work in YOUR local community. It’s about a place, people and a community.

- Be human
It’s all about the human factor - have lots of meaningful one-to-one conversations and build relationships.

- Think small 
It’s about the quality of the project, of the interaction, of the experience. This is more important than how many projects you deliver. 

- Choose your artists with care
Not all artists are right for this kind of work. It demands special skills and qualities. And don’t forget to give them an artistic challenge, this is not low quality because it’s participatory work.
Photo (c) Radosław Kaźmierczak: French band Papanosh performing in Katowice correctional facility. Katowice JazzArt Festival 2017