With haunting natural beauty and dramatic landscapes to inspire creativity, perhaps it is not surprising that there are more artists, writers and musicians per capita in Iceland than anywhere else in the world.
Considering that Iceland has only 320,000 people, the number of museums and art galleries in the country is astounding. Even in small towns and out-of-the-way fishing villages, you will encounter some public place dedicated to preserving the national heritage or displaying the work of local artists.
From the avant-garde to the historical, Reykjavik’s galleries, museums and theaters support a vibrant yet sophisticated artistic culture. The Reykjavik Arts Festival, cutting-edge music festivals like Airwaves, special exhibitions and stage productions mean that the cultural calendar is always full of events for the visitor to enjoy.
The city’s latest cultural hot spot is the stunning Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center which is the new home of the Icelandic Opera and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra as well as an ideal venue for major music concerts. From the fire of the festival to the lure of literature, Iceland boasts a rich tapestry of arts and cultural activities.
Iceland is a nation of music lovers, with a trending music scene that has gained widespread international acclaim. The scene offers a diversity of styles and genres with everything from punk and indie rock to chamber music and hip-hop.
The capital boasts a large number of intimate music venues, as well as the newly opened Harpa Concert Hall which houses the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Opera Iceland’s cultural season begins in the fall with the first concert by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra which has won fine reviews for its regional tour performances. Throughout the season the orchestra gives around 60 performances which include traditional classical concerts and contemporary music.
The Icelandic Opera also opens its cultural season in the fall and produces about two to four operas or other musical events throughout the winter at its new home at Harpa Hall. The Icelandic Opera is a world-class professional company, featuring Iceland’s top performers including the country’s newest opera star, Gardar Thor Cortes.
Reykjavik is renowned for its ever evolving contemporary music scene with everything on offer from jazz to heavy metal every night of the week/throughout the year. Gigs are held in local cafes and tucked-away bars where you may up and coming bands or some of the more established acts that have gone on to international fame like Olafur Arnalds, For a Minor Reflection, Emiliana Torrini and Asgeir Trausti, just to name a few.
There are a number of wonderful music festivals throughout the country and the most celebrated are the Reykjavik Jazz Festival in August and the Iceland Airwaves Music Festival held in October which draws bands and music fans from all over the world.
From avant-garde nightlife to sustainable geothermal energy systems, Iceland has never been short on innovation. Artists and designers find inspiration and innovation in Iceland’s outstanding surroundings which is evident in unique works of visual art from paintings to sculptures to jewelry and glass work.
The visual arts are highly valued in Icelandic culture as witnessed by the vibrant art scene displayed on walls everywhere from clothing boutiques and cafes to hotels and office spaces. Reykjavik has always been the hotbed of Iceland’s subversive creativity renowned for its vibrant, energetic character. A walk around the capital reveals dozens of cool galleries, as well as the pensive architecture of Gudjon Samuelsson, the color-drenched paintings of Johannes Kjarval and the bold sculptures of Einar Jonsson.
Iceland is home to a wide variety of private and public galleries, many of which can be found in small towns and villages throughout the countryside. The capital is where the largest museums and galleries are located and among the most visited are the Culture House, Einar Jonsson Museum, and the National Gallery. Some museums are architectural delights in their own design, others galleries are intimate and cozy; while some of double as cafes or event venues
Design in Iceland is a field that has been growing rapidly from its craft-based roots into a thriving industry. A trait typical of contemporary Icelandic design is its pioneering spirit using sustainable products with a playful unique style. Using the country’s few natural resources as materials for products results in a range of designs unique to Iceland. Pottery made from volcanic lava, lights from dried fish sit alongside aluminum stools and belts created from salmon skin leather. The best time to soak up Iceland’s emerging and established design talent is during the Design Festival in Reykjavik held in March.
The cultural scene in Reykjavik is renowned for its vibrant, energetic character. The city is packed with metropolitan delights and is especially strong in the performance arts, from film to theater and dance. A special Culture Night is held in August where the city becomes a living stage for theatrical performances in unexpected locations.
Iceland offers up exceptional theater with actors and directors of international caliber. The capital has a choice of many different venues and has two full-time companies performing at the National Theater and the Reykjavik City Theater year round. Broadway-style musicals bring out the best-of-the-best talent with very reasonable ticket prices.
The Icelandic Dance Company stages dance performances between September and March with the base of their operations at the City Theater in Reykjavik. The company which has toured extensively abroad is made up of both Icelandic and international dancers. In recent years the Icelandic Dance Company has gained recognition as a contemporary dance company on a global scale.
A blossoming genre on the Icelandic cultural scene is the film industry with Icelandic actors, writers and directors making waves on the international circuit. Filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson was nominated for an Academy Award in 1992 for ‘Children of Nature’ and was named one of the most influential filmmakers in Europe. Baltasar Kormakur is another heavyweight figure making a name for himself writing and directing major motion films such as ‘A Little Trip to Heaven,’ ‘Contraband,’ and most recently ‘2 Guns.’
Iceland also has two Palme d’Or winners with Bjork as the Best Actress in Lars Von Trier’s ‘Dancer in the Dark,’ and in 2013 writer-director Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson won Special Mention for his short film ‘Whale Fjord’ at the Cannes Film Festival.
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