Björt Sigfinnsdóttir is a busy woman. Between releasing her first solo album, creating an adult colouring book and managing a unique festival in Iceland, the girl ‘ain’t no slouch’ as my father would say. We met up with her to discuss the upcoming arts festival LungA—a weeklong artistic invasion of the tiny town of Seyðisfjörður.
As one of the four founders of LungA, what inspired you to create the festival?
We started the festival because we felt that there was not enough creative output from young people on the east side of the country, and we wanted to broaden the cultural horizon for them. The young people growing up there didn’t have as many opportunities to learn and express themselves artistically as the youngsters in Reykjavík, and we wanted to change that.
Well, my mother, ‘Mama LungA,’ and I are from Seyðisfjörður so it just kind of happened here.
It has definitely put the city on the map for something new and unique. The town’s culture has been growing for the last decade and we have been a vital part of establishing that. It has also encouraged people originally from Seyðisfjörður to come back again for the week. I really don’t think there is anyone who wouldn’t want LungA to be held in Seyðisfjörður.
So what happens exactly?
Prior to the event anyone between the ages of 16 and 30 can sign up for one of the workshops on offer. The entire festival is a weeklong process and the workshops vary in terms of what is explored. Usually each workshop focuses on a topic or technique to explore through a specific medium, and then on Saturday they end with a big final show. There is no set agenda for how each workshop should function, and therefore whatever is brought to the table can emerge.
What are the festival’s main objectives?
The main objective, I would say, is to collect creative people and provide them with a platform to unfold their creative sides both individually and collectively. My job is to make sure that those platforms are strong enough, but still open enough, for participants to explore themselves and their surroundings freely and comfortably. LungA is a place to express yourself, to meet other like-minded people, and to learn and develop from those interactions.
How many participants are involved?
It varies from year to year depending on how many workshop leaders there are and how many people they are ready to take in. This year is quite big; there will be approximately 120 to 150 participants, which is almost too big. It’s hard to find a place for all those people to sleep—that’s the main challenge we are facing now. On the other hand, it also provides me with energy to do it—that so many people are interested and we also have quite a lot of people on the waiting list.
LungA grew a lot the first seven years, starting with only 20 participants and now having grown to 120. In 2007, we had the most participants, totalling 130 people from seven different countries. But since then we have been trying to hold it down because it was a little bit too much, and we don’t actually want to become bigger. We are afraid it would take away the uniqueness and intimacy of the experience, and we don’t want to lose that.
During my experience at LungA last summer, I noticed an immediate familial ‘stemning’ or ‘vibe’…
That’s the intimacy that I was referring to earlier, which I don’t want to lose. It has a lot to do with the location of the festival; for the last decade the town has been raised in this weird artistic atmosphere and has been, well I wouldn’t say forced, but gently asked to open their arms. You just go there and feel this acceptance from the local people and you kind of get forced to adapt to it, which creates this warm open feeling that we don’t want to trample on by bringing too many people.
What sets this festival apart from the others?
Most of the festivals in Iceland are music festivals and we are not just that.We are a festival that celebrates all art forms. Our main focus is on creating together—on collaboration. Most of the festivals that I have heard of are about attending and enjoying what is served to you, while LungA is about attending and participating in what is being created. You are here to get input, but also to contribute output, which is exhausting but also inspiring. We ultimately want everyone to go home and continue being creative.
How do you define a successful LungA?
Success is solely defined by the individual, but for me it’s successful if everyone leaves with a smile on their face. It’s really hard to explain in words what LungA is, because it’s so amazing to experience in person.
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