Collaboration with Kongsberg Group
Many musicians, especially younger performers, are feeling unsure about the implications of playing at the Kongsberg Jazz Festival. This is primarily because of concerns related to the festival's collaboration with Kongsberg Gruppen. A socially engaged group from the "Motvind" festival is working towards a more sustainable and ethically oriented cultural scene. One of their areas of focus is Kongsberg Jazz Festival and Kongsberg Gruppen's sponsor relationship. Kongsberg Gruppen is one of Norway's leading technology enterprises.
Motvind will shortly be publishing their own magazine, with an article focusing on this topic. They sent Kongsberg Jazz Festival's manager Kai Gustavsen some questions, and we would like to share their questions and Kai's answers with you.
- You have on several occasions expressed pride over the collaboration you have with Kongsberg Gruppen. As we know, Kongsberg Gruppen sells weapons and other munitions all over the world, including to dictatorships such as Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia. In Norway it is the government (Stortinget) who decides to whom we as a country will export weapons, but given that this trade takes place, how does Kongsberg Jazz Festival consider its moral responsibility as a presenter of culture, and especially the jazz tradition, in 2019?
- There are of course many dilemmas in connection with sponsorship of cultural institutions. However, large cultural institutions that are not state-funded are very dependent on financial support from other sources.
Behind every sponsorship deal lie careful considerations from the parties involved. For example, there may be concerns about whether to collaborate with a bank that loans money at unacceptably high interest rates, or whether it is a good idea to collaborate with a local shopping center that deprives the town streets of shops and activity. In this case, it is Kongsberg Gruppen we have to consider.
In our deliberations we have highlighted the following points:
Kongsberg Gruppen is by far the largest employer in Kongsberg, is a cornerstone of the local community, and contributes to technological advances all over Norway. Many jobs outside of Kongsberg Gruppen are also connected because they deliver services, parts or products to the group. It is also essential to remember we live in a small town where most of the community is connected to Kongsberg Gruppen in one way or another. If we distanced ourselves from this network of industries we would be alienating our local community. Many of our festival volunteers are employees of Kongsberg Gruppen, and over the years they have invested thousands of hours of their free time to help the festival. If we turned our backs on Kongsberg Gruppen, we would in many ways be turning our backs on volunteers and festivalgoers who have followed the festival since its early days.
It is important to acknowledge that Kongsberg Gruppen is much more than a weapon export business. It is one of Norway's leading technological enterprises. For example, Kongsberg Gruppen is collaborating with Yara to develop the world's first autonomous, zero-emission container ship. Yara Birkeland is set to be the first electric and self-driving container ship, designed to transport fertilizer from Yara's factory in Porsgrunn to the ports of Breivik and Larvik. In addition to being self-driven it will load and unload automatically. When the ship is in operation it will replace 40,000 journeys by diesel-powered trucks annually. This will massively reduce CO2 and NOx emissions, as well as improve traffic in a densely populated area.
Kongsberg Maritime's subsea systems department has developed many types of sensors, and is considered to be a world leader in sensor technology. During the 2018 festival, prime minister Erna Solberg officially announced a new collaboration between Kongsberg Gruppen, the Institute of Marine Research, the Norwegian Shipowners' Association and Klaveness to map the amount of plastic in the sea. The proposed mapping, of the extent and location of microplastics in the sea, is a pilot project on which the public and private sectors are collaborating. The background for the project is the world's growing concern about the amount of plastic that is dumped in the oceans – not just the 15 tons of visible plastic waste that is deposited in the sea every day, but also the microparticles derived from degraded plastic, clothes washing and so on.
Recently Kongsberg Gruppen has acquired Rolls-Royce Commercial Marine, as a result gaining 3,600 new employees. The acquisition is considered to be very important for the Norwegian maritime industry. In total, Kongsberg Gruppen will have approximately 8000 employees outside of its defense division.
These are all examples of the positive elements that are massively undercommunicated in the debate that you raise. Kongsberg Gruppen is a conglomerate that actively works with so much more than weapons and munitions; it is also important to note that we do not have a direct collaboration with Kongsberg Defence, which is an independent legal entity – and with which we have no financial transactions. As I see it, the company operates within a strict regulatory framework and is committed to continuous innovation in order to create better and safer products, whilst being environmentally considerate.
Kongsberg Gruppen has never interfered or voiced any opinion about the programming or content of the festival. On the contrary, they continue to support and encourage the city where they have several thousand employees, and contribute to them all being able to participate in quality cultural events.
– Kongsberg Jazz Festival recently received increased financial support from Buskerud county council, from NOK 850,000 to NOK 2.5 million, as well as increased financial support from Arts Council Norway (Kulturrådet), from NOK 200,000 to NOK 2.6 million. How much of Kongsberg Jazz Festival's total budget is contributed by Kongsberg Gruppen?
– In 2018 our contract with Kongsberg Gruppen constituted approximately 3% of the festival's budget. In total, our sponsor contracts made up around 12% of our turnover. If we include group ticket sales to the various sponsors' employees, the total would be around 15%.
The major collaborations we have with our general sponsor TechnipFMC, as well as DNB, Toyota and Kongsberg Gruppen, give us the opportunity to keep developing and improving the festival to benefit festivalgoers, musicians and Kongsberg as a whole.
Having a strong network of baseline financial support, from both the public and private sectors, is essential to achieving our goal of being able to offer Norway's best jazz experiences. The fact that we have received NOK 1 million in increased financial support from Arts Council Norway (Kulturrådet), and NOK 2 million from the county council over two years is of course a massive contribution to this goal.
- Lots of musicians, both national and international, are critical towards this collaboration - when they eventually find out about it. Does Kongsberg Jazz Festival have a plan for how to inform the musicians about this sponsorship agreement, to avoid situations such as the one with Mike Cooper (who refused to play after he was made aware) last year?
- I have never heard of a sports or cultural institution that has a strategy for informing individual athletes or performers directly about their sponsorship collaborations. On the other hand, we are happy to participate in discussions and debates. We reply to the media, and of course musicians directly if they have questions.
It is not hard to understand that people react with criticism, given the way in which the group from Motvind is presenting the case. In my opinion, their current presentation of Kongsberg Gruppen is oversimplified. In any case, I highly doubt that Kongsberg Gruppen would amend their business strategy even if we were to back out of our agreement with them.
I support, of course, artists' right to voice their opinions. The fact that they use their position in society to advocate change nationally and internationally is central to the nature of art. However, it is still my opinion that the campaign you have started on Facebook is unbalanced; I am also unsure of who the intended recipients are.
Kongsberg Gruppen's main owner is the Norwegian state, and any campaign against their work should be directed at the government if the goal is to create change. Kongsberg Jazz Festival cannot alter the country's political course.
- Kongsberg Jazz Festival has a commendable focus on freedom of expression through music, which historically speaking has been a radical voice against injustices in society. The festival's program history is without doubt one of the strongest in Europe. How does the current festival administration perceive that the collaboration with the weapons exporter is received by earlier administrations? Administrations who have built up and laid the foundations for the festival's positive reputation amongst experimental jazz musicians all over the world.
- For decades Kongsberg Jazz Festival has had volunteers, leaders and board members who have in some way been connected to one of Kongsberg Gruppen's businesses. This simply because the company employs thousands of people.
While I don't have all the information to hand, I would not be surprised to find that most of the cultural institutions and sports clubs in Kongsberg have received financial support from Kongsberg Gruppen over the years. The Kongsberg Group is over 200 years old. Kongsberg Jazz Festival is 55 years old. I am certain that previous festival administrations are aware of the foundations of, and connections within, the Kongsberg community.