What will happen to the collections of Swedish traditional music, jazz and multi-ethnic music?
Worrying news has reached us, musicians, scholars, and public in the narrow field of traditional and world music. The Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research, Svenskt visarkiv, has always been an inexhaustible source for us to pour from with all its collected knowledge. It is now threatened with closure as an independent institute.
The recently published Government Official Report SOU 2010:12 Interplay in the musical field – a new national platform for music http://www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/12613/a/140073 mentions Svenskt visarkiv as follows (translated from the Swedish):
“Here it seems possible to widen the field and strengthen the focus on important contemporary cultural expressions in collaboration with those units of the governmental agency which deals with innovative music. To initiate such development, the [in the recent document] expressively mentioned work of The Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research/Svenskt visarkiv should be completely integrated in the agency as a whole. Thus the staff resources can become more flexible. It is also very important that all organisational connections to certain genres be discontinued (my italics).
Instead strategies for documentation of the whole field should be initiated, giving priority to areas now underrepresented in the collections. Thus conditions will be created that ensures that contemporary and future cultural heritage will be of great interest and greater representativity.”
The planned great change seems to mean closing down the specialised work at Svenskt visarkiv and similar institutions. Service provided by competent staff, and space for scholarly work and documentation, which provides the essentials for musicians within any genre, will be replaced by a vaccuum where nothing new will grow.
One delicate commission for us musicians is to take care of the experiences of the generations before us. It should be natural, like our need of breathing and food, that memories consisting of music, dance, theatre or other cultural expressions have a value in themselves. The deep knowledge tilled down in this field will easily be dissolved if the earth is layed fallow. If it is lost we will find ourselves over-fed and drained of imagination and memories.
The author Mats Alvesson describes in his book The triumph of emptiness (2006) the desire to make useless changes and what he calls a zero-sum game, grandiosity and conjuring tricks:
“About this relationship between entertainment and “heavy-weight knowedge” much can be said… I will constrain myself to pointing out a couple of negative consequences of the fanatical desire to create changes. Tengblad (2003) means that the greatest problem in the Swedish professional sphere is the low appreciation of deep knowledge and professionality, a blind faith in flexibility, and suspicion towards systematic and long-term work. Possibly there is also an excessive desire of change that may lead to destructive effects.” (Alvesson 2006, p. 137, translated from Swedish)
Possible effects of a closing down of Svenskt visarkiv:
Waste of resources.
The collections might become dead collections. The staff has worked on a scholarly basis since the 1950s, placing the collected material in its social, historical and cultural contexts, analysing, editing, publishing and commenting on archival material – and adding new perspectives. If this work is discontinued the collections will become a mausoleum of vernacular culture. Oral cultural heritage needs to be continously interpreted for new generations to be able to use it.
The target group of Svenskt visarkiv is large and varied: musicians, both professionals and amateurs, scholars, teachers, students, many cultural institutions, and the public in general. Where will they turn if the task of the staff will be to document randomized samples of many different kinds of music? There is no other institution with this competence.
Identity and credibility.
Lost credibility is lost forever. Many well-known musicians and private collectors have donated material to Svenskt visarkiv. Without the institute’s strong genre-connected identity and credibility in the fields of traditional music, jazz and multi-ethnic music this acquisition of material would not have been possible. If the institute is substituted with a general unit for documentation of concerts etc. the credibility built up during decades will be lost.
International cooperation and networks.
Institutions like Svenskt visarkiv are to be found in the whole of Europe and in many other countries, and the staff, like their colleagues, participate in networks and international associations. Cooperation and exchange between scholars and institutions globally are important for the understanding of the importance of music in our community. Svenskt visarkiv has in several cases been a model for the creation of similar institutions, both in the neighbouring countries Norway and Finland and in Zambia, Vietnam and South Africa. International cooperation will not work without a Swedish counterpart.
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