At the Skaftfell Arts Centre in Seyðisfjörður, people interested in Icelandic art and culture gathered together recently to find out which regional projects would receive recognition for their efforts from the annual Eyrarrós awards. With Iceland’s president and first lady looking on, the crowd waited with smiles and bated breath to see which of the three final contestants would win the first prize of 1.6 million ISK and which would come away with the two runner-up prizes of 300,000 ISK.
Under a deep blanket of fresh snow, the thriving little town of Seyðisfjörður is a perfect example of the value of the arts to Icelandic culture. With Skaftfell, LungA school & festival and a Technical Museum that is home to some fascinating and arcane old technology, it’s very clear that life out here in countryside is much improved by the splashes of colour that cultural spaces provide.
Projects From Far & Wide
The Eyrarrós awards offers to shine a spotlight on some of the most deserving projects, as well as a little money to help them along. Now in it’s tenth year, the fund is jointly administered by the Reykjavík Arts Festival and The Icelandic Regional Development Institute. Its purpose is to fund and promote projects in the sparsely populated regions outside of Reykjavík, where it can be a challenge to maintain a thriving cultural programme for the local populace.
There were 46 applications to the fund, showing that interesting projects are springing up all over; people around Iceland are developing alternative spaces for culture, often with a lot of resourcefulness and passion but minimal income.
The applications were sifted through by a panel of representatives from Reykjavik Arts Festival, The Icelandic Regional Development Institute and Air Iceland, which narrowed the field down to a shortlist of ten before a final three were chosen. All of them are present in the homely confines of Skaftfell for the Eyrarrós ceremony, which was held at the Presidential residence just outside of Reykjavík until last year. Fittingly, for an award that celebrates the outlying regions, the presentation was moved to Akureyi in 2013. That time around, the winner was the Skaftfell itself, making the much-loved Arts Centre the perfect host for the 2014 event.
The Final Three
One of the final three is Verksmiðjan á Hjalteyri, a converted herring factory that plays host to a range of art events of various types throughout the year. “Eyrarrós really puts a focus on the project,” says Gústav Geir Bollason who has travelled to Seyðisfjörður to represent the project. “We’ll see a lot of curiosity come from this. We make shows, so the money is useful of course, but the publicity is great. We have a busy programme coming up and it’s good that people know.”
Verksmiðjan á Hjalteyri is up against some tough competition in the shape of the Skrímslasetrið á Bíldudal Monster Museum, and Áhöfnin á Húna, a seaborne tour by Mugison and a crew of musician friends who circled Iceland aboard the Húna II, playing 16 shows in 18 days around the country’s coastline.
After a few speeches from those involved in the decision-making, it’s this project, from literally all around Iceland, that takes first prize to warm applause from the assembled audience of nominees. In front of photographers and camera crews, the ship’s somewhat stoic captain Víðir Benediktsson lets slip a proud smile as he is presented with the award by its patron, first lady Dorrit Moussaieff.
“We’ll use this money for the upkeep of the vessel,” he says. “It’s an old boat, and protecting it takes work. We’ll paint it, clean it, make it very fine.”
When it’s not acting as a floating tour bus, Húna II takes groups of children out to sea, and has various other trips planned including a jaunt to Norway. The boat has a unique history and is something of an artefact in itself. “It’s an old boat, built in Akureyi in 1964,” Viðir explains. “Today it’s the biggest oak boat in the whole of Iceland, and it was built here in this country. It’s our duty to protect it, work with it, make it better and better and better.”
With Eyrarrós offering much needed support and publicity to such great projects, the awards fulfill an important role in celebrating the culture of Iceland’s remote regions.
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