As an isolated island, Iceland must find ways to stay relevant in the international art scene. In the ever-changing landscape that is contemporary art, artist in residence (AIR) programs are the most reliable way to foster both local and international creative growth.
After some brief research, I have found that Iceland has fifteen AIR programs specifically geared toward visual artists. By either sponsoring local artists (providing studio space, stipends, and exhibition opportunities) or hosting international artists (to visit and work in a provided studio environment on a specific project), many different visual art platforms secure a steady flow of creatives.
Some of these residencies are located in Reykjavik, the largest and most popular city in Iceland, yet the majority of AIR programs are hosted in more isolated areas. Artists from all over the world, much like tourists (myself included), are drawn to the island by its natural beauty.
Nes Artist in Residence Program
Among my travels in Iceland, I went to an open studio day at the Nes Artist Residency. In 2008, Nes was established and opened by the local townspeople of Skagaströnd with Reykjavik artist Hrafnhildur Sigurðardóttir. Nes is a member of the Baltic – Nordic Network of Remote Artist Residencies along with 7 other artist residency organizations. As Skagaströnd has traditionally been a trading and fishing town, I wasn’t surprised to see that the residency’s studios are located in a former fishing plant!
Nes Artist Residency aims to develop an amalgamation of creatives and welcomes visual artists, dancers, musicians, designers, researchers, and writers to Skagaströnd for residencies lasting two to six months.
The main goal of the residency is to provide an opportunity for the development of contemporary arts through international exchange, studio practice, discussion, artistic cross-pollination, and to create an open possibility for collaboration or new networks. Nes is a process based residency, with no mandates for production or exhibitions although we do encourage artists to present work if they like.
Nes encourages artists to experiment and push themselves into new territory enabling failure or success in order to gain new ground outside of their usual artistic context.
An additional focus is on engagement with the community, which is how I crossed paths with this organization. Skagaströnd is more rewarding when you come with open eyes and participate in town events. Open Studio days are held on the first of each month.
Gullkistan Center for Creativity
After my wonderful experience with Nes, I sought out to find another AIR program that welcomed visitors. I found Gullkistan: an artist-run residency for creatives, artists, and scholars of any profession.
Gullkistan is a place of activities, from seminars to exhibitions. Gullikistan brings groups of students from around the world to work together on their projects as well performing forms of community outreach.
The organization is located in a quiet village by the Laugarvatn Lake with a breathtaking view of the Hekla volcano. Accommodation ranges from single rooms to studio apartments. You can take a bus to Reykjavik (1hr) and Keflavik Airport. Gullkistan is a quiet and remote place, but only 70 km from Reykjavík and 40 km to Selfoss.
A friend I met when visiting Gullkistan referred me to my next stop: HEIMA, a nonprofit organization owned and run by five artists. It is a house in a town in a fjord, gently surrounded by majestic mountains. The town and fjord are both called Seyðisfjörður.
HEIMA is Icelandic and means “home”, “at home”, ”at my home”, “the home of”, “the home”.
The collective consists of 20 members. Each membership lasts for 10 months.
A membership gives each artist access to the house and facilities for 10 months, along with the possibility of collaborating with the other members, taking part in exhibitions etc.
I caught one of their exhibitions, which was accompanied by an artist-run talk, focusing on collaboration within the organization.
My final destination on my tour of residency programs was Herhúsid. in Siglufjördur, the international artist-in-residence home, and workshop opened in 2005. Known for its great winters and mild weather, Siglufjördur is the northernmost town in Iceland, surrounded by towering mountains all around. The town is most famous for having been the Capital of the North Atlantic Herring Fishery from 1903-1965, flourishing as a vibrant center of culture in the North.
The house, commonly referred to as Herhúsid (meaning “the Army house“), belonged to the Salvation Army. Herhusid is dedicated to artists of all media and to the creation of contemporary art. Herhusid provides a unique workshop, spacious and bright for one artist at a time.
That first friend I made while at Gullkistan traveled with me to Herhúsid. He arranged a tour of the facilities with the head of the organization. It is truly a wonderful place to make art, and I remained envious of the artists for weeks after my visit!