Blog post by Julia Payne – Director, the hub

As the mighty Sun Ra himself once said “The possible has been tried and failed. Now it’s time to try the impossible.” And with jazz promoters across the UK having to wrestle with how to keep music live, in the here and now and once we’re able to re-open our doors – now definitely feels like the time to try if not exactly the impossible, then at least the newly invented or the ingeniously re-purposed. 

In professional terms, jazz is the sector I grew up in professionally. My first ‘proper’ job was at The Stables, that internationally-renowned venue originally set up by John Dankworth and Cleo Laine. Where better to get the jazz bug?! After that there was a stint at the Barbican. And since co-founding the hub in 2002, I’ve always had a finger in the jazz pie (now what would that filling be???!), whether through working with organisations like Jazz Services, mjf or Jazz North, or mentoring countless musicians and promoters, whose passion for the music is simply infectious. 

That’s why I’m so excited to be facilitating JPN’s ‘open space’ event on 24 June. Like JPN, I see the event as a chance for promoters, musicians, venue reps and a host of other people from across the UK jazz sector to explore the future. Getting inside the challenges and opportunities we might face – post Covid 19, and while we continue to wrestle with being under lockdown – my hope it that it will  help foster the sharing of ideas, start to identify new solutions and bring us renewed hope. 

Change has to start somewhere, and open space events are a great place to (as Phelim from Devoted & Disgruntled says) “engage with the stuff… I only knew how to complain about before”. 

Open Space is people power in action

This is no ordinary conference. It’s called an ‘open space’ event, because the agenda at it won’t be set by JPN, or determined by the agendas of those funding or sponsoring it. It will be set by those of you who come along. No government task force is going to crack this for us. Neither will funders alone be able to get us back on the road to recovery. We are. The promoters, festival organisers, venue reps, musicians, producers and agents who make up our ever evolving sector. We all have our part to play in working out how we can rebuild, renew, and hopefully come back more resilient than before. And if we’re going to do that, we need time and space on an equal footing to explore, discuss and identify how we might do that. I hope that this event provides just that, and be where the seeds of a collectively re-imagined live jazz scene might get sown. 

So, how’s it going to work? Read on for the low down…

So what’s going to happen? 

‘Before’, ‘open space’ events happen in a physical space, buzzing with the sound of conversation, networking and much slurping of frothy coffee. These days they happen online, powered by Zoom… and much slurping of not quite so nice coffee. But that’s pretty much the only distinction between this JPN event and any others we’ve run in the past. At least we hope it will be! (If you’re worried about using Zoom, please let us know, and we can give you whatever help you need.)

As usual, the process starts with a gathering of people; people who’ve come along because they care about the future of our jazz sector, a group of people that’s unique, and who have never and will never again be together in exactly this grouping. 

Open Space ‘technology’ is simple. It’s people. At the outset of the session there’ll be a chance for anyone with a burning issue, big question or great idea to timetable a conversation about it. Normally you’d post your idea on a big ‘market place’ wall; in Zoom we’ll post it on a screen everyone can see. All the questions and ideas put forward will get timetabled, and the agenda for the event will come together in front of our eyes. Thanks to the magic that is the Zoom breakout room, over the course of the couple of hours that follow, people will join the conversations that ‘speak to them’ the loudest. 

At any one time, there might be 5, 10 or even more breakout conversations going on at the same time – each of them in a separate Zoom breakout room – with people in each one working hard on the topic at hand. The ‘law of 2 feet’ (or of ‘personal mobility’) means that you can dip in and out of conversations as you want (again using simple Zoom wizardry to do so); you might sit through 2 conversations from start to finish, or move like a bumble bee between loads more than that, adding a few ideas to all of them as you go. The choice is yours. The responsibility is yours. Then, at the end of the event, everyone will come together again, to share their reflections, learning and the actions they want to commit to after the event. People power in action, taken together, these conversations and pledges will stand as a snapshot of our collective hopes, ambitions and plans for the jazz sector; a kind of manifesto if you will. 

More than just a talking shop, the aim is to get things and people moving 

‘Open Space’ isn’t about any one person or organisation taking control or promising to solve everything; rather, it’s way of bringing together people who want to address a complex issue, focus on what matters to them, make essential connections, and do what they think must be done. It’s about a culture of shared responsibility through which ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things. 

At ‘open space’ events I run, I like to document all of the thinking, all of the ideas, all of the pledges. Because the aim is for this event to feel like a beginning of something bigger not an end in itself, JPN will produce a manifesto from it that captures all of this and will act as a potential blueprint for whatever participants want to do next – individually or collectively. They’ll also feed the headlines from it into a wider report they’re producing about the needs and ambitions of the jazz sector, which will be shared with funders and government later in the summer, with a view to informing future sector support. 

I’m hoping for some ‘atomic collisions’ that will propel our sector forward

(We’ve heard a lot about ‘the science’ over the past few weeks; this is my dodgy science analogy!) 

I love the ‘atomic collisions’ that occur when you bring together people with different ‘norms’ and starting points to explore and invent new ideas and alternative realities that wouldn’t otherwise have seen the light of day. I’m expecting some real ‘atomic collisions’ at this event. My hope is that everyone will leave the Zoom with some new insights, some potential new collaborators and friends and some clear action points to keep them busy and connected in the weeks and months that follow. But who knows exactly what will happen, which ideas will surface?! I certainly don’t. That’s the beauty of open space, and what makes it so exciting! 

I’ll sign off with two ‘wordy’ reflections I think are pertinent to where we all are at the moment. The first comes courtesy of Suzie Dent (of Countdown Dictionary Corner fame), who took to twitter recently to remind us of the word ‘respair’, which means ‘fresh hope and recovery from despair’. The second, as old as the hills, is that in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity. Both of these represent the kind of curious and generous thinking that’s definitely propelling me at the moment, and that I hope will power us when we get together in a few weeks’ time.  

Julia Payne Director, the hub

JPN’s open space event takes place on 24 June, from 1.30-5.30pm, and is free to all JPN members and anyone else from across the UK’s jazz sector. Head here to book your ticket.