ESNS Editorial: ESNS Science sets out to catalyse agents of change


Researcher Frank Kimenai reveals how we can use science to imagine a brighter, more equitable future and tools to set it in motion

The music sector is in dire need of significant, systemic change. Driven by a vision for equity in the music sector, Senior Researcher of Resilient Music Ecosystems at Erasmus Frank Kimenai presents the third edition of ESNS Science – a conference programme that reveals how we can use science to imagine a brighter, more equitable future and presents tools to set it in motion. Following the focus on transitioning towards a sustainable future, this edition turns to ‘Agents of Change’ and offers both practical examples and optimism in a time of uncertainty and the pitfalls of pessimism. Bringing light to darker days, this programme spotlights the first sparks of change. Together with a selection of highly skilled researchers and music sector professionals, the specialised panels and sessions take on the power of activism in popular music, improving mental health concerns in the sector and city planning for better live music ecosystems. Dive in to find out more.

Interview by Roxy Merrell

Photography by Bart Heemskerk

Last year, the ESNS Science programme focussed on imagining a sustainable future for the music sector, and this edition is themed ‘Agents of Change’. What change are we geared at?

Frank Kimenai

The programme last year looked at the system and sector as a whole and thought about how to change it. We tried to give insight into how to change complex systems to models like the x curve (developed by Derk Loorbach, a professor in transformation sciences, from the Dutch Institute for Transitions (DRIFT)), and the importance of having these future scenarios in making change.

This year, we zoomed in and tried to demonstrate how and where change begins – with agents of change. There’s lots of theories on how systems change, but I wanted to make the programme concrete and dive into practice.

(Image by Lana Mesic)

Last year, you explained: “First, you have to envision where you want to go, and then you have to figure out how to get there.”

Exactly! This is part two. Following the growing awareness of the issues at hand, and imagining futures to gear towards, we now turn to the untapped potential of agents of change.

I want to show positive examples and reveal positive futures, to inspire the sector to do better.

What do we mean with ‘agents of change’?

A person or an organisation that catalyses change for the better. ‘Better’ is of course subjective, but in a world filled with doom scenarios, it’s good to give examples of positive stories. Next to agents of change, there’s agents of doubt and agents of doom, and these resonate deeply with audiences online. Doubt is very fertile on social media. I want to show positive examples and reveal positive futures, to inspire the sector to do better.

These stories may be on a smaller scale – nothing in light of the big doom scenarios we’re living through – but change often starts on this level. It’s important that these positive stories get amplified as well, otherwise it’s hard to navigate towards a positive future.

Music has always been a great amplifier for speaking out – and activism is of course geared at change.

Can you tell us about the key themes in the conference panels and sessions you have organised?

The subjects addressed this edition may seem disconnected, but the theme o f  change connects them. In short, we will talk about activism and pop music, city planning and nightlife, and protecting the mental health of music professionals. The panels respond to current issues in the sector or in society, but all three give new visions for more feasible and thriving futures of the sector. In these sessions, we explore how to get there.

The first panel open to all delegates is Popular music and activism: Agents of change? Coming from the punk scene, I have witnessed a growth in the number of people in the broader music industry speaking out on political, environmental and social issues. Music has always been a great amplifier for speaking out – with activist roots and social agendas outspoken in the origins of hip hop, the counterculture of hippies, punk. 

In this panel, we explore how popular music can be used as a tool for activism – and activism is of course geared at change. We will highlight how the panel members used activism to inspire tangible change in the sector.

Mental health is a major theme for the music sector. How do you address this in your panels?

The music industry is renowned for its creativity and passion, but it often comes with intense pressures and challenges that can impact the mental health of those working within it. We’ve organised a panel that asks the question: What can organisations do to improve and promote the mental health of their workforce?

We also ask: Can music make you sick? In this panel, we delve into conversation with George Musgrave. He is a leading voice and one of the most eloquent speakers on the subject, in my opinion. Musgrave knows how to get a message across – he’s a great speaker and great academic, and used to be a rapper signed with Sony and working with major artists. Rapper’s core business is getting a message across. And he has the data to get it across.

He co-authored the book Can music make you sick? Which proposes that whilst making music is therapeutic, making a career from music can be traumatic. Last year, we addressed the stress of working in the music sector. Musgrave did some comparative research, and revealed that working in the music sector comes out just above the stress of deep sea welding. I think we have to do something about the social economical health of people in the sector. If we want a healthy, sustainable, resilient sector we need to change that. He proposes a lot of ideas in the book and panel on how to instigate that change.

Photography by Bart Heemskerk

Another practice-driven theme is how to create sustainable music ecosystems in European cities. Can you tell us more about the panel of this subject?

Live music venues, clubs and festivals are facing challenges in cities – from gentrification to ‘densification’. The Live Music Mapping Project is an innovative initiative to enhance the live music ecosystem in European cities. We address this in the panel Building better live music ecosystems in European cities, where we turn to the collaborative research of two universities of applied science and tangible tools of city planners to steer us towards cities of the future.

There’s an invite only workshop on Sowing the Seeds of Change. Can you tell us about this?

ESNS is a time when there is unparalleled knowledge available and exchanged on-site, taking place once a year in the Netherlands. For Sowing the Seeds of Change (invite only), we have organised a workshop to structure our efforts. Based on my research, I’ve been collecting these agents of change, seeds of change, niche initiatives with a high transformative potential in the Dutch music sector. I want to test and analyse these initiatives together with professionals from the sector, to help they develop their scaling strategies and create more impact.

What comes after sowing seeds of change?

For this edition, the programme offered an answer to the question you asked last year: What comes after a future vision and a roadmap? We turn to examples of positive change in practice. As for what’s next, hopefully we can figure out ways to start and create these positive narratives for a brighter future because I think we need them.

What do you hope industry professionals take away from the ESNS Science panels?

I hope to inspire any delegates interested in making things happen and creating positive impact – whether representing institutions or acting on an individual level.

The programme brings together many different expert opinions and insights. How do you envision that playing out?

The idea behind my curation was to bring together different perspectives, to generate insight and impact. I am proud to say that this programme is made possible together with our partner in this project, the Regieorgaan SIA, who are underwriting the importance of this kind of research for the music sector. 

I am also excited to share that this programme is not only fuelled by academic science from the EUR, UU, Goldsmiths and Aston university, but also by the insights and perspectives provided by applied science – with a special mention of BUAS, Fontys, the AHK and RUAS. What I hope people get out of the programme is awareness, inspiration and agency. Basically, agency to start acting.

Presented by: ESNS Science
Thu 18 Jan - Marathonzaal - 16:30-17:30
Popular music and activism: agents of change?
Conchitta Bottse, ADE Beats - Kim Hoorweg, VULVA/Vulvaverse - Leonie Gerritsen, Partij voor de Dieren - Nathalie Roos, Amsterdam University of the Arts - Frank Kimenai, Erasmus University / Hive Mind
Go to panel
Presented by: ESNS Science
Thu 18 Jan - Rode kamer - 10:00-11:30
Sowing the Seeds of Change
Mark van Bergen, Fontys Academy for the Creative Economy - Frank Kimenai, Erasmus University / Hive Mind - Jon Heemsbergen, Art-up - Joost Vervoort, Utrecht University
Go to panel
Presented by: Music Support
Fri 19 Jan - Ronde Kamer - 15:00-16:00
What can organisations do to improve and promote the mental health of their workforce?
Eline Van Audenaerde, The Unicorn Mothership - George Musgrave, Goldsmiths, University of London - Carina Sava, Watermelon Agency - Suzi Green, Healthy Touring - Joe Hastings, Music Support - Benjamin Feyen, European Parliament - Eric Cyuzuzo, VK, Kunstenfestivaldesarts
Go to panel
Presented by: Metal Health Podcast
Fri 19 Jan - Podcast Area - 16:30-17:30
Can music make you sick?
Dimitri Hubregtse, Metal Health - Marcel Schop, Metal Health - Bart Verkuil, Metal Health - George Musgrave, Goldsmiths, University of London
Go to panel