Harpa and the cultural revival of Iceland
Halldór Guðmundsson -- Director Harpa concert hall and conference centre, publisher & biographer of Nobel winning writer Halldor Laxness & author Wir sind alle Isländer on the Iceland crash
Weds April 23rd 2014
Committee Room 2, Scottish Parliament 6-8pm
Hosted by Linda Fabiani MSP
Chaired by journalist and NH Director Lesley Riddoch
The new centrepiece of the Reykjavik skyline is Harpa, a magnificent concert hall which opened in 2011 -- against all the odds. In 2008 it was part of a doomed waterfront redevelopment including a 400-room hotel, luxury flats, shops, restaurants, and new bank headquarters. The quarter-built project went on hold once the financial crisis hit and two massive upright beams created a very visible “V” to the city. At one point campaigners argued it should stay that way as a reminder to the folly and greed that had nearly destroyed Iceland. But the government and council eventually decided to co-fund construction of the venue. The result is a home for the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Opera and an awe-inspiringly beautiful, shimmering glass cathedral – a tribute to a new economy built on what’s real, not leveraged or illusory. And with 90% occupancy of a 1600 seat stadium – a tribute to the support of native Icelanders for every type of arts event. Creativity in Iceland is very real. There are seven thousand creative arts businesses in this population of 320 thousand people – famous names like Bjork, and aspiring names like Dogma (the makers of provocative T-shirts like “What part of Eyjafjallajokull don't you understand” and the uncompromising; “We may not have cash but we have ash”). Tourist companies like Icelandair were also quick to realise the crash made Iceland affordable at last and even the volcanic eruptions had a silver lining – demonstrating how close the island is to mainland Europe. Although Iceland has only 7% of Scotland’s population, this remote “basket case” appears to have regained its confidence – opting recently not to seek sanctuary in EU membership -- and transformed its economy. This smallest part of the Nordics puzzling “bumble-bee” economy has resumed its ungainly, science-defying flight. According to Nobel Laureate and economist Paul Krugman; “Iceland broke all the rules again and yet things are not too bad.” But is a culture-led revival sustainable?
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