Music from Norway: Just How Important Is It, Really?
Just as some American artists now spend half their year living in cities like Berlin to be connected to the European scene, so, too, should Norwegians consideras Håkon Kornstad did, for a time, spending half his time in Oslo, half his time in New York City, and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, who now lives in Texasspending some of their time living elsewhere, whether to study explicitly, or to simply assimilate the culture of wherever they are through osmosis.
From an outsider's perspective, the Norwegian scene continues to grow and appears to be healthy. Exposure to other cultures will only help it to evolve further, and become part of what has, in the past two decades since the advent of the internet, become true globalization, where artists from many different countries can engage in collective music-making. The results may not always be successful, but the experience is always valuable; sometimes the journey is more valuable than the destination, after all. And while it's perfectly natural to look at Norway's good fortune with envy, it's also important to remember that, as mentioned earlier in this piece, Norway's oil money is not the reason that its leaders choose to devote that one percent to the arts; it simply acts as facilitator, albeit on a very large scale. Before you have money you must have visionary leaders prepared to commit to something without a bottom line impact, and to do so for the long haul because they believe it will enrich the lives of their constituents, just as Cultiva did in Kristiansand. Rather than looking upon this situation as something to merely envy, it should be seen as something to which to aspire by other countries, even if they don't have access to the same sized pot of gold.
Culture needs to stop being a dirty word, and the only way to make that happen is through gradual exposure, beginning at an early age and including education. If anything, Norway should be viewed as an example of how a long-term commitment to culture has not only yielded great fruit in the sheer numbers of exceptional musicians that have emerged over the past forty years, but in the life of the average Norwegian, who clearly supports these musicians through purchasing recordings and supporting live performances. If a city the size of Oslo can support its large number of live venuesa few examples ranging from the tiny but wonderfully funky MONO and 300-seater jazz club, Nasjonal Jazzscene Victoria, to the larger Rockefeller and, of course, Oslo Operahusetis there any reason why a city, for example, the size of Ottawa, Canada cannot? The answer is complex, but in a nutshell: no, there is absolutely no reason. But in order to do so, the city would have to examine what drives the inhabitants of a city like Oslo to go out and support live music and theatre, art exhibitions and other cultural events.
It may not be perfect, but it's an exceptionally compelling model. Coming from Ottawa, Canada, a city twice the size of Oslo whose one and only jazz club went belly up in 2012, it seems that the idea of looking to Norway as a model of how arts should be funded and presented, and how arts can be made once again populareven if there's less money per capita to go aroundis an admirable objective, and one that should be pursued sooner rather than later. Norway has proven the value of making the broadest range of culture a part of its nation's overall social tapestryand that is, in many ways, a far more important raison d'être for arts funding than its direct impact on the artists it supports.
All Photos: John Kelman