I spoke with Alin Vaida, director of Jazz in the Park, about how the pandemic changed the concept of the event and about the challenges that the pandemic brings in organizing the festival.
This question aroused a mix of feelings in me. It is unexpectedly difficult, if you compare the size of the current event with the last edition held under normal conditions. First of all, the mental wear and tear we are subjected to is very high, because you always have the pressure on the background of your actions to do the right event and not to put people in danger. Then, your working conditions are constantly changing and you are never sure if the rules you follow are the final ones.
Secondly, I feel this experience as a return to time. We work with a budget more than 20 times smaller than in 2019 and you have to be very efficient, every decision is split in four before it is taken and you have to change the way you measure your success.
Last but not least, we no longer have landmarks to guide us, whether the direction is good or not. These are the bad parts.
As a side note, this is the period in which I have felt really useful in the last six months. And it’s beautiful the fight, the trial, the wear, the challenge. It started as humiliating and turned into something motivating. The feeling is not that you go to work, it’s that you do what you were meant to do.
From a technical point of view, it seems somewhat the same to me. We analyze each situation critically and act according to the conditions. Psychologically, the challenge is great.
Tell us a little about the concept. What are the similarities and differences between Jazz in the Park and this new version of it?
There are several premises here. On the one hand, Jazz in the Park was from the beginning a festival with many visitors. I started with 23,000 in 3 days and in 7 years I reached 100,000 in 4 days. We always wondered what a little Jazz in the Park would look like. This idea has been floating in the team for some time and now we have perhaps the most natural context to try it. On the other hand, we really wanted to show that the culture can adapt in the most difficult conditions and can be fine. We didn’t want to do pandemic concerts, we wanted to look like a festival.
As similar to Jazz in the Park, I would say it will be a festival atmosphere. More things to do, more concerts, that “Swedish buffet” of musical experiences and relaxing activities.
The major difference is the size. And for this reason we have promised to keep this concept in the future. A big festival can have the same charm as a small festival. It’s just that the reasons are different. And it’s worth a try. And I think that in the future, by delivering both concepts, we will offer a complete experience to festival lovers.
As a thinking mechanism, at a big festival you look for an abundance of activities, in order to be able to serve everyone who comes there. That’s the charm. But at a small festival, the attention to detail must be different. You need to think of the participants not as the audience, but rather as guests at home.
How was the communication with the authorities in planning this event?
It depends a lot on the authorities. From the City Hall, I felt a desire to somehow protect the cultural scene. However, in Cluj-Napoca, culture and festivals are representative of the city. We also received funding for this event. Communication is good and we feel we have an open door here. On the part of the authorities who have to advise events or monitor them, we feel a hesitation, we feel pressured by the situation. I think we’re talking about exactly the same mental wear and tear as the first question in the interview.
But what I think would be important is to somehow change the way we relate. The organizer should not be afraid of the authorities’ response, and the authorities should be more open to listen to the organizer’s plea. I don’t think it’s a better time than now for cooperation. And the truth is that both camps could learn a lot from each other. And the result would be better, fairer events and quieter authorities.
Jazz in the Park is an event awaited by an entire community of jazz lovers not only in Cluj, but throughout the country. Do you think that next year’s edition will be able to take place in conditions closer to the old normality, as things evolve?
Honestly not. I do not think that 2021 will be the return to normalcy in 2019. Rather 2022. Because the complete return to normalcy does not only belong to the country, but to the whole world. And when we think about this scale, the time until next year seems too short.
But it’s not all gloomy. It’s in our control how close we get to normal. It starts with the measures taken and goes as far as how we respect these measures as citizens. And I sincerely hope that by next summer, the conditions for the events to be developed will be much better elaborated, in a collaboration between the authorities and professionals in the field.
And I strongly believe that the context of 2021 has the potential to stimulate creativity and will give rise to excellent projects. But to get there, we must first make sure that the industry survives. For that, we need to know the cultural sector better, and the authorities to take a little more and a little clearer action.
What measures do you think would be useful in resolving the uncertainty in the cultural environment / events?
On the one hand, a plan to reopen the cultural sector, thought out in detail and scaled long-term, is vital. The starting point would be to adjust to current conditions, and then this plan should go as far as reopening the sector exactly as it did last year.
There is a very urgent plan to resume indoor activities, because the warm season is like the past and I don’t think we can stay with the culture only online until May next year.
Furthermore, it is necessary to plan the fair compensation of the cultural sector, as well as a temporary adjustment of taxes for the relaunch of the sector. Last but not least, a policy to encourage investment and sponsorship of the cultural environment should be considered. Many companies directed large portions of their marketing or sponsorship budgets to cultural events or actions. Or without this predictability, they will be practically discouraged from targeting budgets here in the coming years.
But if I had to choose just one of the ones listed above, that would be predictability. Some organizers may work for more than a year for a festival edition. How do they do their job when they don’t know what to do next month?
And very importantly, I believe that all these ideas must be implemented on the basis of a plan developed by the authorities together with event organizers and cultural managers, because both types of expertise and a complete overview of the situation are needed.
The key to getting out of the pandemic is to think about the common good and learn to collaborate, EVERYONE, at all possible levels. Every person counts, from ordinary citizens to those who lead us. If we do these two things, then all the time in this pandemic has not been lost.