Short Stories

Stories you didn’t expect to read

Wars, rights and caring

  • Musicians without Borders: Mitrovica
  • Refugee Week tests new strategies
  • Freemuse calls for UNESCO reforms and a UN plan for safety of artists

International relations

  • China mysteriously punishes South Korea, blocks imports of its culture
  • UK creative industries’ key priorities for Brexit negotiations

Nobel Dylan

  • Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize speech

Making it better

  • Ten plagues facing musicians, and how we must save ourselves.
  • Is it time for an arts think tank yet?


  • Making paper out of rock
  • WNO’s virtual reality opera to bring Magic Flute to a shipping container

Wars, rights and caring

Musicians without Borders: Mitrovica

Also, Invitation below

In Mitrovica, Kosovo, Serb and Albanian communities live entirely divided: one city with two languages, two currencies and parallel education systems. Crossing the dividing bridge is considered dangerous. Ethnic conflict and poverty dominate, with no space for culture and no investment in young people’s future.

At the Mitrovica Rock School, students form ethnically mixed bands, attend mixed workshops and give concerts for mixed audiences, gradually normalizing inter-ethnic friendship. Youth develop their talent and identity as musicians and songwriters, shifting focus away from the ethnic identity that dominates every other part of life.

Proximity Mine are a new Rock School band who put their music above the conflict. Crossing the bridge on foot every week for rehearsals, they are determined to make their band a success despite the odds. Proximity Mine are important role models for young people in Kosovo and their voice should be heard.
You can help them produce their first demo album, any amount helps:


MWB leader Laura Hassler will speak at a conference on music and peace building at the University of Melbourne on September 21-22. Information here:

Laura has written to The Music Trust expressing interest in speaking or meeting with interested people, organizations or institutions in Sydney or Brisbane in the days ahead of the Melbourne gathering. With renewed hope for a long-term collaboration of Musicians without Borders with Australian partners, Laura would also be interested in extending her visit to include other cities to explore the possibilities. Email <>


Refugee Week tests new strategies

From a story by Emily Churchill Zaraa

Haymanot Tesfa performs at the British Museum for Refugee Week 2016. Photo: Denisa Silas.

Refugee Week is a UK-wide festival that takes place around the time of World Refugee Day on 20 June, with the aim of connecting audiences and local communities through the creative contributions, actions and experiences of refugees. It was founded in 1998, in response to rising hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers, and in 2016 over 600 events took place across the UK.

Refugee Week is coordinated by Counterpoints Arts, and national partners are mainly refugee advocacy and service organisations. It has an explicit social change mission: to help shift public attitudes and create a more welcoming environment for refugees.

  • It gives a platform to artists from refugee backgrounds who face specific barriers to (re)establishing artistic careers in the UK.
  • Many events showcase the work of participatory arts projects, which enable refugees to share experiences with others through media including theatre, music, craft and photography.
  • Our communications campaigns highlight the positives that refugees bring to the UK.

There are inherent tensions in coordinating an arts festival with a social change mission. How do we give a platform to refugee artists without reinforcing labels? When does ‘art with a message’ become propaganda? What impact does such a mission have on artistic freedom and quality?

The project would be self-defeating if it pushed refugee artists into silos or made immigration status a criterion for participation. So we showcase artists from many backgrounds, and refugee artists are free to wear that label or not. Many artists with experiences of displacement explicitly explore this in their work while others may be classical singers or folk instrumentalists simply sharing their craft.

We focus on arts as a space for exchange and conversation rather than a conduit for a simple message. Displays of community artwork may open up conversations between local and newly arrived neighbours, while interactive installations actively facilitate encounters between strangers. Local events can be shaped according to their context, without heavy-handed input from central coordinators.

Emily Churchill Zaraa is Refugee Week UK Coordinator at Counterpoints Arts: Emily Churchill


Freemuse calls for UNESCO reforms and a UN plan for safety of artists

Freemuse co-founder Ole Reitov, in his keynote speech on 2 May 2017 at the World Press Freedom Day event in Jakarta called on UNESCO, the UN and parties to strengthen their mechanisms and commitment to protecting artists and ensuring the safe promotion of art, as guaranteed by the 2005 UNESCO Convention.

Ole Reitov

Attacks on artists continue to rise globally, as evidenced by Freemuse’s Art Under Threat annual research on artistic freedom violations, and yet plans and programmes to safeguard their right to create, publish and distribute without facing censorship, intimidation or personal safety are limited and weak.

“Today I call on donor countries to develop, together with UNESCO, support programmes for those artists and cultural industries that have suffered immensely from the intentional destruction of the living arts,” Reitov said. “I call for the parties to the 2005 UNESCO Convention to show, through action, that they live up to the two main principles of the convention: Promotion and protection.”

Freemuse calls for the current and forthcoming Director General of UNESCO to strongly condemn censorship, imprisonment and attacks on artists, and to draft a UN Plan of Action for the Safety of Artists and the Issue of Impunity.

Parties can also show their commitment to artists by joining Freemuse in calling on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to initiate investigations and to charge well-known and identifiable leaders for their intentional destruction of intangible culture.

Media contact: Dwayne Mamo |

POSTSCRIPT. Freedom Index – Human rights advocates have launched a new project seeking to “create a system that can permanently identify and preserve all human rights data across all languages, and radically improve its availability to anyone who is working on the same issues” (EDRi).

International relations

No Korean music in China, for the foreseeable future

Last year, South Korea deploys a US-built missile defence system to defend against their belligerent North Korean neighbor.

In response, China institutes a hard (but unstated) ban on all Korean cultural exports: starting with K-pop stars, extending to the entire K-drama TV industry, and now all music (underground or classical) of Korean origin.

What the Chinese are missing

Two Korean classical musicians are denied performance visas. Venues and cultural bureaus are informed that Korean bands and artists are unwelcome. Restrictions are imposed on Korean drama-related events and promotions. But when asked, all knowledge is denied. “We’re not aware of any restrictions,” goes the official line.

In other words, a classic China response.

These cultural sanctions are nothing short of diplomatic bullying. Chinese contemporary culture is already entangled deeply with Korea’s, and this sort of economic ‘import substitution’ just doesn’t work with art and music.China Music Radar


UK creative industries’ key priorities for Brexit negotiations

From an article by Tim Bano

The government must become a “global-facing” nation after it leaves the European Union, according to the Creative Industries Federation in the UK.

The government must guarantee the rights for EU nationals currently working in the UK, and retain freedom of movement for EU workers, people in touring exhibitions and shows, and those working in education.

The UK should remain part of the EU single market and customs union and preserve EU intellectual property regulations, as well as reciprocal market access for film, TV and audio-visual distribution. EU schemes such as Creative Europe, which funds a large number of British creative organisations, should be maintained. “Our current ability to attract talent, tour freely, and trade on our doorstep is vital to the creative industries,” the federation said. “This is why 96% of our members voted to remain ahead of the referendum.” (From The Stage, June 20.)


Nobel Dylan

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize speech

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last December. Dylan gave his Nobel Prize speech on June 4 in Los Angeles We cannot publish the speech in print for copyright reasons. However we can publish the audio recording, which can be heard here.


Making it better

Ten plagues facing musicians, and how we must save ourselves.


At the 2017 Jazz Connect Conference, held in New York in January and organized by JazzTimes and the Jazz Forward Coalition, composer and bandleader Maria Schneider delivered an amazing keynote address that brought passionate, even fiery clarity to an increasingly complex issue: artists’ declining rights in the age of big data. Here are some excerpts.

‘Music. I dare say it’s the most underutilized resource for peace, progress, child development and diplomacy in the world. Thousands of kids in Venezuela have been inspired and saved through [the music-education program]El Sistema. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in Seville, Spain, made up of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians, illustrates through music how beauty and harmony can be found in the most impossible context.

‘Why am I speaking about the power of music? Because at this moment in history, our livelihoods and the entire culture of music—jazz and more—stand in jeopardy. And so does the power for good that music brings the world.

‘So, who exactly has put all of this in jeopardy? I see three culprits. First: big data, with their endless appetite for eyeballs and information. Second: our government, buckling under oppressive lobbying from Silicon Valley. Conflicts of interest are everywhere, as Google inserts their people into all three branches of our government.

‘Third is, sadly, some powerful people within our own industry. A good example is how the three majors [Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group] made Spotify the giant it now is. Together, they handed over 80 percent of the world’s recorded music in exchange for equity. At a recent intellectual-property [IP] conference, counsel for Spotify confirmed that that contract “made” Spotify. He additionally volunteered that, of the 1,200 employees at Spotify, 900 are data analytics scientists, making the streaming service more of a big data company than a music company. What a breach of trust, to trade our music for ads and data.

‘OK, that’s a little heavy and downright uncomfortable. So let’s perk things up by drilling down on 10 challenges, or better said, 10 “plagues,” I think we face.’

These are the ten plagues. Schneider’s descriptions bring life to some rather abstract headings. For those, you will have to read the speech.

  • The First Plague: Data Lords—you can picture them like locusts
  • The Second Plague: Decimation of copyright
  • The Third Plague: “Internet exposure” we can’t control, due to the decimation of copyright by the Locust Data Lords
  • The Fourth Plague: Not being allowed to set our own prices
  • The Fifth Plague: Ad-based freemium streaming
  • The Sixth Plague: Big data denying us our own data
  • The Seventh Plague: Out-of-date copyright law, namely the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
  • The Eighth Plague: “Curation”—a lofty word for something so horrifying
  • The Ninth Plague: The mounting pressure on our Performing Rights Organizations (PROs)
  • The Tenth Plague: Our inability to advocate for ourselves   

‘Musicians strive their whole lives to become like alchemists, healing the world with their music, turning the world’s pain to beauty. But we haven’t yet learned how to save ourselves. If we remain passive bystanders, I believe we will watch the music that we most value slowly silenced. Just ask the 80 percent of songwriters who have left the profession in Nashville.’

Schneider completes her speech with a list of organisations and projects set up in the US to deal with these issues. Unfortunately, we do not know of Australian counterparts. But read the speech and you will get some ideas for action.


Is it time for an arts think tank yet?

From a blog by Barry Hessenius

Californian arts guru Barry Hesenius makes a proposition that is relevant to Australia – though we came close last year with the temporary activity around ArtsFront. Hessenius writes:

Given the disparity between what the public says about arts and culture and their actions, given the repeated and regular attacks on the Arts, given both the suggested and proven value of the arts on multiple levels and given the extent to which the arts and creativity are a major facet of the American job market and economy, one would think the many disciplines under the banner of Arts and Culture would be a prime area for the formation of a Think Tank dedicated to the study and consideration of the field.
… there are a number of national arts service organizations that have programs and events that are almost mini abbreviated Think Tanks – but again transitory and without portfolio or faculty.   And, to be sure, there is now widespread, independent, robust and rigorous research being conducted on a global basis on Arts, Culture, Creativity and the attendant subjects thereto.
But no real Arts and Culture Think Tank.  No organization with the authority, prestige and cache of an established Think Tank.   And we could use something like that.  Such an institution could play a role in protecting and sustaining the knowledge base of our most accomplished and experienced leadership as they retire.  It could also play a role in the mentoring and preparation of future generations of leadership.  And it could launch and sustain deep conversations about issues that impact all of us.  Finally, it could command media interest and attention so that the field isn’t ignored.




Making paper out of rock

Yes, paper is still technology!

Nobuyoshi Yamasaki’s venture TBM Co. makes paper from limestone, a rock it proclaims is “almost inexhaustible.” He says it’s the answer to concerns over deforestation and water shortages, with world demand for paper set to double by 2030.

“Our material will play an active role in many places as the world faces population growth and water shortage,” Yamasaki says. To make a ton of regular paper requires 100 tons of water, TBM says, while its Limex paper is made without water. In place of 20 trees, it uses less than a ton of limestone, as well as 200 kilograms of polyolefin.

[What is a polyolefin? ‘Polyolefins are macromolecules formed by the polymerization of olefin monomer units… The most common polyolefins are polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE).’ We hope that helped. They are not toxic and are relatively environmentally friendly.]

Comment. This is a fascinating concept. What is the environmental balance sheet? No water use, therefore no water pollution. Remember water pollution estimates killed a major paper mill scheme in Tasmania on environmental grounds. Trees saved – native forests suffer from the woodchip industry. Lots of plastic created and used, presumably much of it eventually becoming environmental waste. What damage will it do as waste?


WNO’s virtual reality opera to bring Magic Flute to shipping container

From an article by Georgia Snow

A virtual reality opera experience, billed as the first of its kind, is set to re-imagine scenes from classic shows in a shipping container.

Welsh National Opera’s Magic Butterfly project will combine motion capture, animation and music to create an immersive virtual reality experience. Photo: Kirsten McTernan

Created by Welsh National Opera, the project will allow visitors to step inside the worlds of The Magic Flute and Madam Butterfly, including performances from WNO productions.

Called Magic Butterfly, the production will combine motion capture, animation and music to create an “immersive experience using responsive animation and sound”.

WNO claims this is the first time an opera company has used VR in this way.