Um, where did the time go?

For someone who has facilitated dozens of month-long artist residencies, I am shocked at how quickly my month in Neskaupstaður is flying by! Let me tell you a little bit about the first half of my residency:

My arrival to Iceland was fairly uneventful until my flight from Reykjavik to Egilsstaðir. I’d never flown over the island before, so seeing the Highlands from above was quite the treat despite the heavy cloud-cover. At the Egilsstaðir airport, I was greeted by the lovely Karna Sigurðardóttir, an icelandic filmmaker and project manager extraordinaire. Karna and I had met briefly back in 2013 when we both participated in Explore. Reflect. Respond. during which she, Pete Collard, and Lára Vilbergsdóttir presented their impressive project Designs From Nowhere. As soon as I learned of this project, I knew these were my people. A year later, Pete would come to Green River, Utah, to develop the community project This is Green River with me, and now I'm working alongside Karna in Neskaupstaður. 

 Flying over the Highlands.

Flying over the Highlands.

 Flying into Egilsstaðir.

Flying into Egilsstaðir.

 An Art Attack meeting at Beituskúrinn.

An Art Attack meeting at Beituskúrinn.

After a gorgeous drive from Egilsstaðir with Karna and her family (sorry, I didn't take photos... I wanted the memories all for myself), I was greeted by my dear friends Megan Urban and Daniel Byström as well as my soon-to-be friend-for-life Hákon Guðröðarson. Hákon generously treated the Art Attack team to pizza and drinks at Beituskúrinn (aka "The Bait Shack"), a cozy cafe directly on the fjord that would quickly become my second home. Anyone who knows me, knows my ability to make the local coffee shop or bar my second living room. I've already been deemed a bartender-in-residence.

 The Art Attack team cleaning Þórsmörk

The Art Attack team cleaning Þórsmörk

After a delicious meal and despite my jetlag, the whole team dove head-first into preparing Þórsmörk, the visiting artists' housing for the summer. The incredible Þórsmörk house, used mostly as studio space in winter, is run by a local group of artists. Prior to my arrival, Megan had already done an incredible amount of work setting up the house, but there was still much work to be done. We spent multiple days cleaning, setting up the house, hanging black-out blinds, and more. The result is a cozy live/work space that we adore.

 "The Scandinavian room" at Þórsmörk

"The Scandinavian room" at Þórsmörk

 The spectacular view from the master bedroom at Þórsmörk.

The spectacular view from the master bedroom at Þórsmörk.

Currently in residence at Þórsmörk (in addition to me and Megan) is Sigga Björg, a visual artist that lives and works in Reykjavík, Iceland. Sigga studied at the Glasgow School of Art, has exhibited widely in solo and group exhibitions around the world, and is a friend of Hákon. She's working on a mural on Neskaupstaður's main street at the entrance to the town botanical garden/park. Along with Sigga is her partner Mikael and daughter Clara. It's been a pleasure getting to know them and I've already invited them to Green River.

 Sigga Björg works on her mural with company from Clara, Hákon, Mikael, and Megan.

Sigga Björg works on her mural with company from Clara, Hákon, Mikael, and Megan.

Megan and I have met with various local groups and leaders both to learn more about the community but also to offer our expertise. To start a new weekly tradition, we hosted Coffee & Waffles at Þórsmörk. We've met with the organizer of and provided a nearly-exhaustive document of ideas for Eistnaflug, an infamous metal music festival that takes place every July in Neskaupstaður. We're planning a design workshop for next week's Neistaflug, the annual local town festival.

Multiple residents have taken us on tours, invited us into their homes to learn more about life in Austurland, and for barbecues in the nearby forest above the avalanche wall. Takk fyrir Ína, Jóna, Sigurður, Danni, Þórður, Hákon, Hafsteinn, Karna, and Nalli! One of the major highlights was visiting the nearby valley/farm with Jóna & Sigurður who even provided classic Iceland treats for the drive. Can you believe this lovely waterfall is just one of many in the area? Anywhere else, this would be a major attraction!

 Touring Hákon's family farm and the old schoolhouse grounds.

Touring Hákon's family farm and the old schoolhouse grounds.

The local music scene has been an unexpected pleasure for me. During my short time here, I've been to four house-shows that have varied drastically: a concert for the older crowd (basically classic British/English easy-listening pop songs with Icelandic lyrics), a hiphop group complete with Icelandic lyrics, a rock/metal band, and an experimental jam session. Most of these bands feature many of the same musicians, a few of whom I've already befriended. My second home, Beituskúrinn, hosts most of the shows, but I've also had the pleasure of going to Garage Party which is literally bands playing in someone's detached car garage to a cul-de-sac full of bundled-up families.

 The final Garage Party of the summer.

The final Garage Party of the summer.

Ah, the pool. I wonder if the folks in Neskaupstaður realize just how lucky they are to have this pool? Probably, but also I think outsiders might be more impressed and appreciative of the view. I'll have to ask around. As someone who lives in a spectacular natural and rural setting, I often wonder how/if people get jaded about the views and nature in general. How could you get bored of this view? Speaking of the pool, I'm off for a soak myself...

Hungry for more? Follow #artattack740 and Art Attack Neskaupstaður on Instagram and Facebook.

Back to East Iceland...

I’ve been invited to reside in Neskaupstaður (pop. 1400), Iceland, for one month as a designer-in-residence working alongside locals, other visiting designers/artists, and regional Austurland (East Iceland) partners. This residency is the continuation of a partnership I’ve been fostering since my initial visit to Iceland in 2013 to present at Iceland's annual national design conference ("DesignMarch") on behalf of Epicenter.

Why does East Iceland matter to rural Utah? 

Many rural communities in the American West and East Iceland have been challenged with population decline, mitigating destination development, and an uncertain economic future. Though these regions share these and other dilemmas, both are rich in culture, mythology, history, wilderness... and all the reasons we love rural places! I’m excited to continue my ongoing research and to better connect Green River and rural towns in Austurland. Neskaupstaður is ready to be Green River's sister city!

While I'm there (Jul 17 - Aug 18)

During my residency I will share and document lessons learned, best practices, and more through a series of conversations, community meetings, workshops, and various cultural exchanges (eg. Pie & Beer Day, bonfires & s'mores, pennant flag making, jumping into the freezing cold fjord, early morning meetings at the town pool, etc.). I will document my activities through this blog. Please follow along if you're interested. Comments and questions are always welcome.

Once I'm back

To extend this rural-to-rural exchange beyond my one-month visit, I hope to identify East Iceland residents and/or partners to visit Green River in the near future. When I get back, I'll produce a report and prepare a presentation for Epicenter staff, board, and Green Riverites. I plan to broadcast the presentation on the web for those of you not in Green River.

Outcomes desired and expected:

  • Experience the “other side” of a month-long residency. I’ve co-founded a residency (The Frontier Fellowship) and facilitated 60+ month-long residencies for Epicenter, but I have never been a visiting designer for more than one week. I expect to get many ideas for Epicenter through this experience.
  • Improvement of industry knowledge (creative rural community development, remote artist residencies, etc.).
  • Improvement of creative rural community project facilitation and presentation skills (especially since English is Iceland’s second language!).
  • Improvement of ability to work with remote partners/contractors. Improvement of ability to make better use of technology to plan, communicate, and collaborate virtually with partners, Fellows, resources, grantors, etc.
  • Learn more about the East Iceland regional and local creative economic develop efforts of Austurbru (eg. best practices, resources, lessons learned) and bring this information back to Green River.
  • Improvement of strategic thinking through interacting with other designers, artists, and rural development professionals.
  • Reduction of “home blindness”: After eight years at Epicenter, I’m becoming partially “home blind,” the inability to see the organization or the town with the perspective of an outsider (a very valuable skill!). I hope one month away from Green River and Epicenter will rejuvenate my strategic thinking abilities to better serve my home.
  • Improvement of change leadership. Be more of a change catalyst and a champion of change. Learn to better implement and sustain change in Green River and at Epicenter. I’m am already a certified “Change Leader” through the Utah Division of Arts & Museums and I want to expand on this knowledge.
  • Expand and make official the exchange program between Green River (Epicenter) and East Iceland. Idea A: Invite Icelanders and their partners to be Frontier Fellows. Idea B: Pursue a rural-to-rural youth exchange.
  • Learn more about the operations of Austurland’s regional economic development efforts. This would be particularly applicable if Epicenter pursues becoming a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) next year as laid out by our technical assistance provider RCAC.
  • Learn more about the operations of the design store (Hus Handana) and workshop in Egilsstaðir as inspiration for the potential for Epicenter to expand our earned income opportunities and better support local artisans.
  • Meet with leaders in towns in East Iceland specifically Seyðisfjörður, a town that is similar to Green River because of influx of visitors via the mainland Europe ferry. They have a thriving tourist economy and rich local culture that we can learn from.