[Festivals Stories] Reykjavik Arts Festival

16 Dec 2021

Reykjavik Arts Festival
1 > 19 June 2022
Reykjavik, Iceland


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When Covid19 hit Iceland in early March 2020, Reykjavik Arts Festival was fully programmed for its 50th anniversary edition in June. We had to rethink our plans. Our aim was to stand by our artists no matter what.

We made the unusual decision to launch the full programme as intended at the beginning of April, only without dates. We got extremely positive reactions to this decision from our artists and partner institutions. Every single one agreed to stay on board. Our declaration to the general public was clear: It might take us a year, but we will deliver this amazing programme to you. In the end, we managed to deliver 2/3 of our full programme within the year.


In spite of everything, this trying year has brought some gifts. It has given us opportunity, time and space to experiment with new ideas. When Reykjavik City offered us the chance to foster an old theatre in the city centre for the summer, we decided to go for it.

The artistic director of the festival, Vigdis Jakobsdottir, decided to use this very special and unusual opportunity to explore ways to share her curatorial power in a direct way and involve a wider group of artists in the festival. Together with her team, she selected several arts collectives to take over the space for one or two weeks each. Each got full curatorial power for their period, technical support and their own budget.

This extended circle of artists from the periphery of the Icelandic art scene not only delivered far beyond expectations but also attracted flocks of new audiences, especially young people.


In October, Iceland faced yet another wave of Covid. We felt a strong need to make some sort of artistic intervention which would bring joy to the public. We decided to realise a beautiful concept from our friends at Helsinki Festival, called Art Gifts. They had developed a special web application where members of the public could order an Art Gift - a short 5-minute performance of music, dance, circus or poetry - to be delivered to a friend or loved one.

We offered 140 art gifts spread around Reykjavik in the first weekend of November. The gifts were delivered by opera singers, pop musicians, circus artists, classical musicians and even a drag queen, to people of all around the city. Social media went wild!

Art Gifts in Reykjavik were such a hit that, with special support from the Ministry of Culture, the project was repeated on a much larger scale, across the whole country in December. This time 750 gifts were offered and 105 artists took part. The project was a touching experience for everyone involved and ignited a sense of hope in people's minds during these challenging times.


The Reykjavik Arts Festival team is proud of how flexible and intuitive we have allowed ourselves to be in the decision making through this difficult time. A festival is the perfect model to adapt to an ever changing world. But we must dare to take a leap when we need to!

More information: https://www.listahatid.is/en

(General Editor: Simon Mundy)