The messenger logo

Helen Mechitova, founder of Kavkaz Jazz festival, talks with the Messenger

By Mariam Chanishvili
Friday, October 6
Kavkaz Jazz is a unique non-commercial jazz festival in the region, which includes an educational component. The purpose of this project is development of jazz, as well as leading a cultural conversation among the musicians in the South Caucasus.

The festival is held in Tbilisi annually since 2010. By now, up to 100 musicians have participated in festival from Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, U.S., Lithuania, Austria, Iran, Turkey and other countries.

Helen Mechitova is a cultural entrepreneur and arts administrator based in Tbilisi, Georgia. She works on different projects related to arts, social changes through arts, and education. Since 2010, Mechitova is the founding director of an annual music festival Kavkaz Jazz. The festival was launched as a peace building platform for artists from Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, especially as Armenia and Azerbaijan have been in military conflict since the beginning of 90's. With years, Kavkaz Jazz became a significant music event for the South Caucasus region.

This week, The Messenger had a chance to interview the Art Bridge, KAVKAZ Jazz Festival founder, and cultural entrepreneur Helen Mechitova.

-How did you start your career as an art manager?

Initially I graduated from Tbilisi State Conservatory as a violinist. But except music, I have always liked communications, risks, planning, problem solving.

While studying at Conservatory, I was part of the Rock Band The Light Year since 2003. Together with the band, we decided to organize an event called Rock Cantata Generation XXI. Performing with about 150 people on the stage of the Georgian National Opera and Ballet Theater of Tbilisi was an amazing experience, but I noticed that I received more pleasure from organizing the event, than actually performing.

Later, I studied Art Management at Shota Rustaveli Theatre and Film University. At the same time, I was busy with musical tourism in and out of the country.

-When was the Kavkaz Jazz Festival idea born?

In 2010, the festival was launched. The idea was born earlier while I was a student at Conservatory. I wanted to create some kind of cultural merge to break stereotypes along with music.

In partnership with the US Embassies in Tbilisi, Baku and Yerevan, this initiative came true. Four bands compiled with musicians from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan were playing together after a long break since the collapse of Soviet Union and following military conflicts. The festival included an educational component (workshops, master-classes). The professor of Manhattan School of Music and Jazz Ambassador, Justin DiCioccio, was directing the rehearsals. Kavkaz Jazz became a platform for young musicians of the region.

At the same time, we were leading a research on how Jazz was being developed in the region with the participation of experts from South Caucasus and the US.

-What have been the outcomes of the festival?

The musicians have finally been connected after many years. They have cooperated with each other, inviting each other to their home countries to perform. Young musicians had a chance to participate and gain knowledge. Kavkaz Jazz established several educational programs, one of them in partnership with Jamey Aeberesold Jazz Studies Programme. Kavkaz Jazz hosted two amazing professors Michael Tracy (Saxophone) and Craig Wagner (guitar) who were training local musicians and also performed with them. Martin Rosen, a journalist who arrived to oversee the process wrote a great review about Kavkaz Jazz , which appeared on the papers of the world famous American magazine based in Chicago, Downbeat, devoted to "jazz, blues and beyond."

-Who is the main financial support of the festival?

As I already mentioned, in the beginning, it was the US Embassy. Later, the Ministry of Culture and embassies of participating countries [have become involved]

-When was ART Bridge founded? What is the goal of an organization?

Art Bridge was founded as a non-profit organization in 2012. We are supporting young musicians, promoting emerging talents, bridging cultures and making changes through arts. We have held several charity activities.

-As far as we know, you are the first art manager from South Caucasus who received ISPA fellowship and represented Georgia at the international performing arts congress. What other international activities have you participated in?

Every year ISPA receives over 300 applications, but only 12 art managers all over the world become Global Fellows. The organizer of 99th Congress in New York is the International Society for Performing Arts (ISPA).

The ISPA congress opening took place at legendary Apollo Theatre. Seminars for fellows were held at Asian Society Center, and discussion panels - at TIMES CENTER. Congress participants had the opportunity to attend different cultural events.

It was an amazing experience. Participating in such event is very important. It helps to establish contacts between the international art managers and entrepreneurs and gives access to international network.

Many interesting issues such as culture in global, political and social context were discussed.

Before ISPA fellowship, I have participated in CEC ArtsLink program in 2015. It was a five-week exchange program in Louisville, Kentucky at University of Louisville - through a cultural exchange, CEC ArtsLink creates mutually beneficial relationships between the US and 37 countries, including Georgia.

-Do you have any specific plan or program for the upcoming Kavkaz Jazz Festival?

I have plans to expand international cooperation, to bridge music schools, festivals and artists.