Interview with Artistic Director Martyna van Nieuwland
Martyna van Nieuwland (1981) has been Music Meeting's new artistic director since October 2022. Martyna earned her stripes in several roles as founder and programmer of several jazz and other music festivals in Poland. After living in six different countries, it was time for her to settle in the Netherlands. In addition to her love of music, Martyna has a fascination with neon lights, language, literature and photography. With Van Nieuwland in charge, Music Meeting will be even more inclusive.
Uncompromising and adventurous are terms that describe Music Meeting. What do these words mean to you?
"For me, it means going against the established order. Or at least going against existing schools of thought. Values should be above what you already know or believe. Originality, difference in lifestyles, things like that. Enriching your life with all that is still unknown.
Meeting new people, discovering other cultures and embracing each other’s differences. Having lived in six countries, I’m not afraid of new experiences and cultures. I actually look forward to them."
'The light is always changing' is the theme of Music Meeting this year. Does the light in your life shine differently after your new position as artistic director?
"I can breathe again. It's a great thing to have the space to work out ideas. In Poland I was given less and less space to do so. Working with adventurous musicians as well as emphasising the importance of social inclusion was impossible. It is not that everything that was not in line with the current Polish political ideology had no right to exist, but it was often a struggle to bring ideas to maturity. In Poland there are still a lot of brave people developing cool concepts, it's just that you need the right connections.
Music Meeting gives me air. Nijmegen is a nice city, with nice people, with a friendly and safe atmosphere. I also find all that in my team at Music Meeting. We are a team here; we support each other's ideas and strengthen each other. The obstacles that need to be overcome are negligible here, unlike in Poland.
'The light is always changing' I think resonates with more people than just the team behind Music Meeting. We are in an era of many changes and shifts. The theme reflects on our current society. We have changed drastically as a human race because of the pandemic. I have also changed. In Poland, it felt like the war was like Damocles sword. To illustrate, the building where I held office with my jazz festival is four stories high. That has since been transformed into a refugee shelter. We were working in a building where refugees were also seeking refuge. We wanted to help, but how? How can you help when there is a race for one's habitat, for power? Times are changing, nothing can be taken for granted anymore. To paraphrase philosopher James Baldwin, "We want to change the world, when you know very well that you can't. The world changes because of the way people see it, and if you change even a millimeter of the way people look at reality, you can change it'. This is a principle I truly embrace.”
You've been artistic director and programmer for almost a decade. What value and experiences do you bring to Music Meeting?
"First of all, I have built a solid network in the nine years I have been working in the jazz and world music sector. I bring this network with me to Nijmegen. I work with musicians and artists from different backgrounds and disciplines. Inclusiveness is the key word in these collaborations. Our program and peripheral activities should not only be about music. You must give people space and their right to exist. You want to give people their voice (back). So also, to the minorities in the industry such as female, non-binary and trans artists. It's a language you must want and learn to speak. It's in the communication, it goes deeper than just the program. How do you give people a stage? This also means making space in the programming for people who haven't made a name for themselves yet, like bands that other festivals ignore.
I try to infuse the experiences of my life into my work. My background is not in music, but in cultural studies and philosophy. The relationship between different art forms and how people move around them is very important to me. Bringing other people's creations together into one whole that everyone is allowed to become part of."
The first edition of Music Meeting was 38 years ago. You were four at the time. How does it feel to become part of a festival that is older than you?
"I feel like Music Meeting is older than I am. The founders of Music Meeting were already adults when I was a kid. Music Meeting was born as an adult. The founders are the people who themselves grew up in the '60s and '70s. The legacy they built is broader than just the '80s and '90s. The way they think, and work is loving. It feels privileged to be able to add words to a story that has already been written and stands on its own. I am aware of the legacy they are now passing on to me."
Inclusivity is a topic that keeps coming up. At Music Meeting, but also at other festivals. How does Music Meeting aim to ensure inclusivity?
"It's a really high priority for us. We take that into account with programming, but we're aware that that's not the only thing we have to think about. Together with the production people, we are going to look at how we can make sure that we combat validism. How do we make the grounds so that everyone can go to the bathroom? That everyone can cross the grounds safely and independently?
I, myself, do not know how to go around with these issues, but I know we have an experienced team to tackle all this. During the festival, there is a coordinator who makes sure that people are not being harassed, and if they are, they are the first point of contact. Chances are that I, or Sophie (Blussé, general manager) will take on this role. Most of the Music Meeting team are women, by experience we know the urgency and how evident it is to have such a coordinator.
I have seen in courses how they do it in Finland. The techniques I learned in those courses, about how to deal with transgressive behaviour, I'm going to implement this year. We assume it's not going to be necessary, but better safe than sorry.”
Many paid festivals struggle to attract new audiences. This can also be seen in Music Meeting's numbers. People often don't want to pay more for culture. How do you deal with this?
"This is a problem we don't have a ready-made answer to. People can only spend their money once and culture loses out. Some would rather go to the pub than pay for a movie or a festival like ours. Even more reason why we value our loyal audiences so much. Because they make the choice to go to our festival, we can offer musicians and artists a fair rate, and invest in the next festival. We are aware that not everyone who would like it can buy a ticket to our festival. Therefore, this year we are introducing the suspended ticket. We encourage visitors to buy a suspended ticket for someone else. This gives you a chance to share your love of art forms. This way we are building the best festival of Nijmegen together."