By Sarah Fenwick, co-founder of Sarah’s Jazz Club, Nicosia, and Editor of CyprusNewsReport.com.
The petition to make Nicosia a great musical capital of the EU has been submitted to the Nicosia Municipality, the Ministry of Culture and the Cyprus Tourism Organisation.
We have over 900 signatures for the plan from members of the public and supporters of live music. The musicians, audience and city would benefit from having musical talent showcased and accessible on a daily basis. It would also bring more visitors to the city, creating more revenue from parking, and boosting local businesses because quality live music is an unbeatable attraction for any city. EU funding would be easier to get for the municipality, if it can show that it is investing in supporting quality live music venues and reforming specifically to support great live music.
I visualised a system similar to the Office for the Citizens, where you can go one time, apply for all the licenses simultaneously and receive them within a reasonable time limit (perhaps two months) along with the relevant inspections. Most venues are run by very small teams struggling to survive, so this would save them time while creating more revenue for the city in terms of repeat licensing fees. Click here to read the full plan
Currently to open a small-scale music venue you need: Alcohol License, Health License, Safety License, Speaker License, Premises License, Planning Permission, Building License, PRS License, Professional License and the CTO License. Just those licenses alone would be intimidating enough, but each one comes with complicated bureaucracy and a slow-moving process that wastes time and money. At random times, one license may be granted only if you have another one. You have to go to five different places to get those. There are no online application forms, the staff barely answers their phones, and going round in circles is the order of the day.
If there were a streamlined system on the part of the municipality, it would be easier for artists/supporters of live music to invest in doing what they love. I know of at least three cultural venues which had to shut down because they did not get the support they needed for their work.
We are talking about the performing arts here. Even though virtually all the funding for the arts has been cut dead because of the recent financial crisis, the least that can be done is to support those artists who want to perform and who are active in building the music scene here. Support in the form of streamlined licensing application systems would be a good start. Tax breaks, sponsorships and a real commitment to building the music scene here would go a long way towards a healthy cultural life.
Live music is essential for mental health, as it plays an important part in releasing negative emotions. This process is called catharsis. The municipality’s and other authority’s support for such a scheme would encourage culture, entrepreneurship and the arts, while ensuring quality control without needless pressure and the current uncertainties and bottlenecks faced by small-scale live music venues.
In addition, the city would gain a reputation for freedom of the arts. Regretfully, I am going to court on March 12th to defend my position on refusing to pay the fine from OPE for not having an alcohol license through no fault of my own – just bureaucratic delays and unreasonable burdens imposed by the Technical Services. It took over six months to get the alcohol license from the date of the initial submission, and we had to overcome groundless objections with a letter-writing campaign, eventually receiving the license after we had been fined. Sarah’s Jazz Club paid the full amount for the annual alcohol license but it was only valid for six months due to the deliberate delays caused by the Technical Services. The fine was not paid so I can have my day in court and explain to the judge that while we tried to be responsible and get the licenses, we were faced with official blocks and dead ends that strained our resources.
My interpretation is that it was censorship and abuse of power by the authorities in question, and I will tell that to the judge and to the public through articles about the case. We were not even open for one month before PC’s Eirini Kountouri and Iasonas Michaelides came to fine us, and did not listen to our reasonable points, behaving in an intimidating way in front of the entire audience. One member of the audience told the OPE officers that they should be ashamed of themselves. That didn’t stop them from fining us 85 Euros.
On that night, I couldn’t believe that this is the Cyprus that as a Cypriot citizen I grew up in and call my home. It was not the end of the police harassment. At the beginning of 2018, they came to Sarah’s Jazz Club on a weekly basis demanding to see licenses that they know we already have. Nobody is allowed to smoke in the jazz club and we are careful to follow and respect the laws. From our visitor’s feedback, it seems we are one of the few places that actually respects the non-smoking laws. While the police are welcome to come and do their jobs if they respect us, this is not the feeling we get from them. The feeling is intimidation, censorship and authoritarianism.
It boils down to censorship when artists cannot express themselves due to non-transparent and unnecessarily burdensome licensing complications or face police intimidation.
If the licensing system for the performing arts were streamlined and modernised, such situations wouldn’t happen. We did everything we could in good conscience to follow the laws but they were used against us in an unfair way. Instead of being fully supported for bringing quality live jazz music to life in the capital, we were pressured by repeat police visits and our paperwork was delayed to the extreme, along with an unhelpful, unappreciative approach from the Technical Services, whose offices are open for only two hours per day for the public. Most people complain of non-transparent, confusing and expensive processes when it comes to submitting their licensing applications. The dampening effect on the city’s cultural life is obvious. I can only imagine what a great city it would be if our musical talent were allowed and supported to freely express themselves.
Abuse of power added to police intimidation equals a breach of human rights laws about freedom of expression. It is wholly inappropriate in an EU country.
If we are able to do what we love and bring great live jazz to Nicosia, it is only due to the support of the audience, the Municipal Council and the Mayor. I believe this plan would alleviate many of the issues faced by artists and supporters of culture who want to open their own live music venues. Or simply enjoy a quality music night out to lift the spirits whenever they want.