Storm blows over festival sponsors

Bookmark and Share

As Norway’s summer music festival season reaches a crescendo, debate over their funding has hit a high note. Some artists have refused to be associated with various sponsors, and the festivals have been criticized for failing to be more selective and open about their financing.

Newspaper Dagsavisen has run a series of articles about conflicts within the sponsorship of Norwegian cultural events. Sponsors such as defense contractors and oil companies have been accused of trying to boost their own image by sponsoring jazz festivals and other events, while the festivals are accused of jeopardizing their own credibility.

‘Shell-free zone’ demand
When artist Elin Vister was preparing to take part in Moldejazz earlier this summer, she demanded a “Shell-free zone” so as not to be associated with the giant Dutch oil company that is a Moldejazz sponsor. She also wanted insight into the jazz festival’s sponsorship agreement with Shell.

In late June, she published an open letter to festival organizers in which she made her claims public and made it clear she wanted a contract “that stresses that I won’t be performing under a Shell logo.” She wanted to know the amount of Shell’s financial contribution to the festival so that she could “buy myself out of it.” Vister also asked festival organizers to arrange a debate on ethics, sponsorships and festivals’ environmental responsibility, and asked Moldejazz to end its cooperation with Shell and find another, sustainable sponsor instead.

‘Problematic’
“The festival was receptive but the dialogue was problematic,” Vister told Dagsavisen. Moldejazz has had Shell as a sponsor since 2008 and signed a new three-year contract with Shell last year. Festival organizers were also unwilling to offer Vister insight into the details around their deal with Shell, prompting her to “guess at an amount” that would be withheld from her payment. “I simply can’t live with receiving money from what I view as unethical sponsors,” wrote Vister in her letter.

Shell responded that it was active member of the community in the Molde region and wants to support “various arenas” including Moldejazz. A spokeswoman said Shell had “registered” Vister’s views but would leave the issue up to Moldejazz, which continued to refuse to reveal the amount of Shell’s contribution to the festival and refused to confirm “negotiations” with Vister. “She made her standpoints known and that’s fine,” a spokesman told Dagsavisen.

‘Have to confront them’
There has been controversy in the past over Statoil’s sponsorship of music festivals, too, and there were protests earlier this summer over the Kongsberg Jazzfestival’s sponsorship agreement with weapons producer Kongsberg Gruppen. “The festivals get off too easy,” complained composer Maja Ratkje to Dagsavisen. “We have to confront them with the environmental views of their sponsors.” Ratkje and Vister are behind the group Stopp Oljesponsing (Stop Oil Company Sponsorship), pointing out that Moldejazz, for example, gets NOK 6.9 million a year from the state.

“I believe that a festival that every year gets millions of state support should at least be open about its (private) sponsorships,” Vister said.

Others note that even the state sponsorship can, at least indirectly, be fueled by oil money because of the state’s own oil industry interests. The oil industry as well as companies like Kongsberg have also contributed to Norway’s economic well-being over the years. Mode Steinkjer, cultural editor at Dagsavisen, wrote in a commentary that there can be a “whiney” element to artists who refuse to perform under the logo of a company that has helped boost Norway’s welfare.

Call for more public funding
Steinkjer noted, however, that cultural sponsorship is problematic for festivals like Moldejazz, Træna, Malakoff in Nordfjordeid, Kongsberg and the Stavanger Chamber Music Fesvital, to name a few. “When festivals at this level go to bed with industrial players characterized as among the worst for the environment on a global basis, it affects the festival’s own environmental profile and ethical credibility,” he wrote.

Calls are going out for more public funding, so that festivals won’t need private sponsors. “It’s not the same whether Kongsberg Jazzfestival receives direct support from a weapons maker or from the state cultural council,” Steinkjer wrote. Events obtaining public funding, he notes, have been subject to professional evaluation and avoid commercial motivations, while private firms offer funding to gain publicity and portray themselves in the “best possible light,” he claims. Statoil decided to avoid “criticism from noisy rock musicians” after controversy arose over its sponsorship of the popular Bylarm music festival. Other commercial sponsors seem to prefer classical music festivals and orchestras as partners, because they tend to be more harmonious recipients.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund