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Activities of music cities in refugee crisis were discussed at Tallinn Music Week

At the international music and city festival Tallinn Music Week (TMW) last week, representatives from the UNESCO Cities of Music - Tallinn, Norrköping, Katowice and Veszprém - discussed the role of culture and music in addressing the refugee crisis.

TMW took place in Tallinn on 4-6 May and in Narva on 7-8 May, celebrating collaboration and solidarity. Alongside the rich music programme of the festival, an international music industry conference was held on Friday 6 May at the Nordic Hotel Forum in Tallinn, led by Tallinn as a new UNESCO City of Music. The role of music and culture as an upholder of the economic and social well-being of society was discussed.

Among the speakers at the conference were Lennart Sundja, Head of the Cultural Unit of the Tallinn Culture and Sports Department, Helen Sildna, Founder of Tallinn Music Week, Balázs Weyer, Programme Manager of music festivals in Veszprém, Sandra Wall, Creative Industries Development Coordinator of Norrköping, Martyna van Nieuwland, Programme Manager of the Katowice City of Gardens, and Codruta Vulcu, Director of ARTmania Bucharest. The panellists discussed how UNESCO Cities of Music can contribute to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

Lennart Sundja, who represented Tallinn on the panel, said: "Music is a unifier of communities in crisis and has the power to bring hope even in despair. "We didn't foresee what was going to happen when Tallinn applied for the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and when we were drafting the Tallinn Music Strategy, but we are all now experiencing that the world is not the same. Russia's aggression against Ukraine has brought devastation, the largest refugee influx Europe has witnessed, and tensions in our own communities. War takes the progress we have achieved back several steps - not only in integration, but also in sustainable development. We need to adapt quickly and do our best to achieve the goals we have set ourselves."

According to Sundja, some of the goals set out in the Tallinn Music Strategy are even more relevant in a refugee crisis, such as broad-based inclusion, improving access to music and supporting the next generation of musicians. "When children are happy, it gives peace of mind to their parents," said Sundja.

Participants in the panel agreed that it is the role of all Music Cities to work for peace, and that the network is therefore essential as a creator of cross-border cultural relations. In the same way, individual artists play an important role in society, and their statements and actions have a great impact on their audiences. Music was seen as an important tool for social engagement and the music sector, like everyone else, has a responsibility not to let the issue of the war in Ukraine be silenced.

"We can only support Ukraine if we are united," said one of the panellists, Codruta Vulcu. "Discussions on helping Ukrainians should not take place without involving Ukrainians. It is important not only to provide shelter and basic assistance, but also fair work for a fair wage, so that the creation of music and art can continue in its natural environment."

The panel discussed some of the best practices of helping, such as educational programmes, concerts, charity events and workshops, the promotion of cultural and creative projects in city management, and an online platform for residencies, scholarships and job offers. Concerts around the world are being dedicated to concert venues destroyed in the war and to finding solutions to rebuild them. The panel collectively found how one of the member cities of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network - the music city of Kharkiv – has been very inspiring in coping with the war and the courageous decision to organise one of the city's most representative music festivals underground, despite the active war. It was expressed that a difficult time had in fact demonstrated true European values and had created a new faith in Europe in many. The panel concluded that while peace may not come in six months or a year, it is important to remember that the more culture flourishes, the better world we live in.

This year, Tallinn Music Week, the international city festival, showcased both Tallinn and Narva, a border city of the European Union, through art, public talks, youth and children's programmes, concerts and tours. The TMW music festival featured nearly 200 artists from all over the world, and the conference, held in both cities, was attended by nearly 700 representatives of the international music industry.