Inspiring Change

27 September 2023

Music festivals are one of the most important and popular spaces of interacting with culture.  

Community, interdisciplinary artistic projects, intertwined elements of high and popular culture, hybrid activities and state-of-the-art technologies are all essential elements of today’s festivals; they also help us identify pressing problems and issues of the present.  

Ars gratia artis? 

The perception of art is determined by the horizons set during various eras. At one end is the nostalgia for ars gratia artis, while on the other the postmodernist tendency to blur boundaries between art and other cultural practices. In any case, if were to go back in time to the days of Plato, we would soon learn that Athenians would struggle to recognise the category of “autonomous art”. All their cultural practices would today be described as “political”, since the polis was always in the background. Regardless of trends and changing times, artists have always borne social responsibility since they are the focus of attention. It’s still the case today – and this responsibility also lies with creators and curators of music festivals. They decide the values to be promoted at their events and which burning issues of today should be explored – who should be given a loud and clear voice in the public space.  

NeoArctic eco-opera, Sacrum Profanum 2022
photo by Joanna Gałuszka

Last bastion of decency 

Seeking links between differences and building original platforms for telling diverse stories is the domain of one of Kraków’s most important festivals: Sacrum Profanum. Artists who appear at the event are given space for free expression, and they have an opportunity to take a stand on important social and political issues of the day. “I’m certain that culture and art are the best media for conducting dialogue, expanding the audience’s horizons and inspiring change. Current political discourse is highly aggressive and populist, as well as being polarised and ineffective, so in this perspective culture appears to be the last bastion of decency,” says Krzysztof Pietraszewski, curator of the festival. In the introduction to this year’s event, he describes contemporary music as a multiverse – the leading theme of Sacrum Profanum. The festival has myriad dimensions and provides ample space for many universes. Pietraszewski also draws an analogy between “superheroes” and artists whose creativity helps us notice and understand the complexity of solutions to contemporary problems. The introduction focuses on one of the festival’s most important values: diversity.  

Polish Female Composers of the 20th Century concert, Sacrum Profanum 2022
photo by Joanna Gałuszka

Changing thinking 

This narrative is also reflected in past editions of Sacrum Profanum. When we were dealing with the covid pandemic, and the music industry was facing threats on an almost apocalyptic level, the festival stressed its solidarity with Polish artists. It was a gesture of support to artists and the opening of an important discussion on how to avoid excessive retrospection in festival programmes which can lead to ignoring contemporary issues and living artists. Last year’s festival focused on environmental issues. One of the most powerful elements of the programme was an eco-opera with techno rhythms – a spectacle combining classical singing, electronic music, choreography and visualisations based on NASA photography. As well as the ideas outlined above which mark the rhythm and vision of each edition, Sacrum Profanum has always worked hard to achieve gender parity. Pietraszewski stresses that he has found it an important challenge: “We devised several special programmes promoting women, such as the concert by Marek Pospieszalski and his octet featuring music by Polish women composers. Sacrum Profanum is a tool and space for changing the way we think about developing programmes alongside our performers, curators and partners.”  

Bubbles of Creation discussion, Unsound 2022
photo by Natalia Knyc

The egalitarianism of the festival is also reflected in its audiences. In spite of what you might expect, the event attracts a highly diverse group of listeners. They aren’t just connoisseurs of contemporary music – they are mainly people open to discovering the subtleties of the latest art expressed through sound, movement and imagery.  

Looking to the future 

The Unsound Festival has become a truly visionary event over the last two decades. The radical choice to showcase the latest sounds and music scenes also translates into the event’s social aspect. The festival is famous for its engagement with issues dominating public discourse. It reaches far beyond Kraków and Poland – events under the Unsound brand are also held in London, New York, Toronto, Adelaide and cities in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Last year’s edition explored the concept of “bubbles” created by different communities, including the festival itself. The discussions held during the event brought people together and helped free them from hermetic ties. It is a challenge which Unsound has been meeting for many years; last year’s event can be seen as a diagnosis of social phenomena and an impressive form of self-examination.  

This year, organisers of Unsound (held in Kraków between 1 and 8 October) aim to take another important step towards introducing audiences to the complex realities involving state-of-the-art technologies and artificial intelligence in particular. The event revolves around themes of Dadaism. Founded in the 1920s, the movement opposed the brutality of the First World War and the growing threats of nationalism and capitalism, as well as rejecting the idea of trust in progress based solely on rationality and logic. Dadaist ideas are still highly contemporary; they reflect the stipulations of many groups and organisations which oppose populism in almost all corners of the globe. The festival aims to use this reflection in the context of the future and how we can pay close attention to what it brings. Dadaist concepts of radicalism and agitation will be the main themes of this year’s event. To rise to this challenge, the curatorial team is joined by the Artificially-Intelligent Artistic Direction (AIAD) acting as an advisor on non-standard programme ideas and encouraging the curators to make wild decisions. Pioneering, uncompromising and bold – exactly what we expect from Unsound.  

In the era of a crisis of listening, empathy and openness, in the shadow of wars and alarming predictions of our planet’s future, the role of festivals as spaces where we can experience solidarity seems key. We should strive to be a part of this community, listen to debates and make the most of art; to ask insightful questions so we can expand our discussions. Why do we talk? What’s the right thing to do? Does music silence important matters? Do we give enough time to exploring problems? Kraków’s festivals are like boisterous agoras where discussion doesn’t cease after the last concert finishes.  


Ula Nowak
Journalist, producer and curator of music events. Panellist of the Transglobal World Music Chart. She has worked with the J. Słowacki and Łaźnia Nowa theatres, the “New Tradition” Polish Radio Folk Festival and the OFF Festival Katowice. She has written for publications including “Dwutygodnik”,, “Gazeta Wyborcza” and “Jazz Forum”. Participant in the international music talent development programme “Keychange”. She hosts radio programmes on JAZZKULTURA and the Berlin-based Programme manager of the Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków. 


Kraków Travel
Kids in Kraków
Close We use cookies to facilitate the use of our services. If you do not want cookies to be saved on your hard drive, change the settings of your browser.