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TMW’s world

Helen Sildna, founder of Tallinn Music Week (TMW), details some of the organisational obstacles and key takeaways from this year’s rejigged conference and festival

30 Oct 2020

Helen Sildna_Kertin Vasser

Promoting TMW 2020 was by far the most challenging experience that our team has had in our 12 years of festival history. It is fair to say that organising events with huge financial risk, at times like this, can be done only by putting your organisation under a pressure it has never been under before.

Going ahead with an event is a tough decision for any company leader to make. He or she will need to analyse and decide whether it’s reasonable or sustainable to do so, and ensure that the event not only lands on its feet but bounces back afterwards. If the experience gained can then help to promote workable measures for the music industry, it was a necessary investment.

Greatest challenges

  • International travel – had we foreseen in March that there would be no joint travel measures in place even within the EU and the Schengen area by August, we would have made a decision to go regional (Baltic-Nordic) with our music and conference line-ups, instead of European. International work in the field of the performing arts, in circumstances where every country – on the basis of their individual virus rate, testing capacity and political pressure – sets their own travel restrictions system, cannot be done. As a matter of principle, we did not want to give up on the international collaboration aspect.
  • Rapidly changing event restrictions – our governments have gone for the easiest, but probably not the most efficient means of restricting social gatherings, basing the entire logic on capacity numbers instead of zooming in closer to look at how the virus actually spreads. Six months later, we should be smarter than that now.
  • Confusing public messages – even when events are officially allowed, our media space is flooded with ”expert” advice, discouraging people to attend events. “Allowed, but not recommended” is a damaging concept. The result is a drop in public attendance as well as a lack of trust in our sector.

During the summer season, not a single case of Covid was registered at professionally organised events

What we discovered

  • The human desire to physically meet and share physical space is strong. This longing for human connection will most probably increase in the coming autumn months.
  • When communicated well, in a clear and calm manner, audiences are ready and willing to maintain social distances and follow health guidance.
  • During the summer season, when events in Estonia of up to 2,000-capacity were allowed outdoors, and 1,500 indoors, not a single case of Covid was registered at professionally organised events.
  • There is a lack of general trust in the professional capacity of our sector. We need to consciously upgrade this by strategic
    work and clear communication.
  • There are competent private sector medical aid companies ready to offer tailor-made solutions. In collaboration with security companies, a new level of crowd-control expertise can emerge. These competences need to find a permanent role at the core of our event teams. Health and safety is a topic that needs our full attention both during industry conversations as well as at the top management levels of our companies.

Letting our governments base their decisions on venue capacity numbers alone will bankrupt the sector

Future considerations
The events and culture sector across Europe and the rest of the world should join forces to achieve the following:

  • To find new solutions for the sector, we need direct collaboration links with scientists and health specialists – only then can we find new pathways. Letting our governments base their decisions on venue capacity numbers alone will bankrupt the sector and still not solve the health crisis.
  • The psychological impact of reduced social interaction should be measured more seriously and the culture sector should play a bigger role in addressing this. The topic of health should not only consider physical but also mental health and wellbeing.
  • There needs to be a much stronger lobby at EU level to balance travel restrictions. Freedom of movement is one of the core functional aspects of the EU and Schengen area. International collaboration can only temporarily progress with digital-only meet-ups.
  • We need to pay closer attention to how our basic freedoms are being compromised. We should confidently stand against any moral judgement upon our sector, constantly striving for better and smarter professional solutions. We need to turn the situation around and lead the conversation, with pride and with the knowledge that we now have.

TMW 2021 will take place 6–9 May. Passes via: www.tmw.ee


Helen Sildna is founder of Tallinn Music Week.

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