In 2008, the Stavanger region was awarded the ultimate recognition for its burgeoning cultural industries: designation by the European Union as a European Capital of Culture, together with Liverpool, UK. The award was a proud moment for the region, initiating a year-long extravaganza of music, art, dance, sculpture, literature, drama and more besides. But with massive new investments planned in the arts and an ever-growing influx of tourists and new residents from around the world, Stavanger 2008 is perhaps only the beginning of something larger on Norway’s western coast: a genuinely international cultural hub with a unique regional flavour.
The vision during 2008 was expressed as the “Open Port.” Mary Miller, Stavanger 2008’s Director, was impressed by its inclusivity: “We delivered a very radical programme,” she says. “It was about bringing together international artists and building something together. The criteria for success was never commercial, but was to do with affecting a certain state of mind. It was important that so many people took part.” And take part they did – around a million of them with over 160 projects in 1,100 events.
Among the highlights was Norwegian Wood, which aimed to blend Stavanger’s modern, environmentally conscious wooden architecture with traditional wooden structures. An open-air theatre project, known as Fairytales in Landscape – the first of its kind in Europe – was another, as were substantial residencies, including by the Inbal Pinto Dance Company, the Handspring Puppet Company and music theatre ensemble Muziektheater Transparent, a first of their kind in the EU’s Capital of Culture Programme. During the Spring, Stavanger’s cathedral – the oldest in Norway – and surrounding areas were taken over by the spirit of the medieval age: a jester’s parade, Passion Plays and even a knight’s jousting tournament took the city back in time.
“There is no doubt that it was a great success,” admits Miller. “It certainly exceeded all our expectations. We are proud that we delivered on the promises that were made – ask anyone in Stavanger and they would agree,” she says.
Investing for Success
Local, national and international commitment from sponsors was an essential factor. “In addition to many major sponsors, 128 smaller companies came in who had never sponsored culture before,” says Miller. “Two of the title sponsors, Total and Lyse, have offered further substantial sponsorship beyond 2008.”
Norway’s Minister of Culture and Church, Trond Giske, raised funding to Stavanger by 14.2%, whilst the local area authority, Stavanger Kommune, aims to put around NOK 18 million into an “afterwards fund.” Local newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad and SpareBank 1 SR-Bank were the other major sponsors. Companies with a special interest in individual programme elements also provided key funds, including Shell, Ernst & Young, IKEA, Radisson SAS (now Radisson Blu) and Avinor.
The Festival City
The success of Stavanger 2008 was hardly a surprise to anyone acquainted with the region’s rich history and range of cultural opportunities, nowhere more sharply in focus than at the astounding range of annual festivals and events that have filled Stavanger’s cultural diary for years. Many of these festivals have an international appeal, commensurate to the region’s cosmopolitan outlook. “With a big international population, and as an oil and energy capital, we had a strong bid with a lot of self-awareness,” says Miller.
Since 1989, the international jazz festival, MaiJazz, has featured local and international artists as prominent as this years’ performers, Jan Garbarek, the Wayne Shorter Quartet and the Neil Cowley Trio to name a few. Sandnes Sparebank, Total, PTC, SAS and Stavanger Aftenblad are the main sponsors.
Lovers of classical music are not to be disappointed either. The International Chamber Music Festival, in August each year, features performers of worldwide acclaim, such as the Hilliard Ensemble and the Oslo, Grieg, Ysaÿe, Borodin, Allegri and Britten String Quartets. Resident composers, from George Crumb to Witold Lutoslawski and Krzysztof Penderecki, cellist Truls Mørk and pianist Håkon Austbø have been amongst the highlights in recent years.
The sponsorship of the Norwegian national oil giant, StatoilHydro, has enabled the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra to grow into a renowned international group, performing and touring regularly.
The region is also soon set to boast a brand new concert house, designed by Norwegian architects Medplan AS Arkitekter, complete with a large amphitheatre for outdoor concerts and two halls with adjustable acoustics, due for completion at the end of 2011.
A Summer to Remember
Stavanger’s summer festivals attract thousands of visitors. The FIVB’09 Beach Volleyball World Championships, presented by Conoco Phillips, is the focus in June and July. Sand, carried by ship and dumped up to a metre thick around the harbour, makes up four separate match courts, and a number of practice courts. Men and women compete for one of the biggest prizes in the beach volleyball calendar.
Soon afterwards, food takes over as the “Gladmat” (“Happy Food”) festival dominates the harbour. Thousands of stalls, tents and restaurants lay out gastronomic delights from around the world. Local producers of fish, herbs, breads and other regional dishes stand shoulder to shoulder with master chefs from Italy, South America, China, Vietnam, India – in short every taste imaginable is catered for. There are even competitions, run by the gastronomic institute.
Year Round Culture
But Stavanger is far more than a summer city. All year round, the region is dominated by sport – ice hockey and skating are available in the city centre, whilst skiing, snowboarding and hiking – perhaps to the top of the spectacular precipice, Pulpit Rock (Prekestolen), Kjerag or giant waterfall, Månafossen – are all within easy reach. In recent years Stavanger has hosted the Tall Ships’ Race, set to return in 2011.
Those who wish for more sedentary entertainment can enjoy arguably Norway’s finest cinema in Sandnes, or a long established theatre scene, often featuring plays by famous Stavanger-born playwright Alexander Kielland.
Preserving the Past
Stavanger’s cultural prowess is perhaps best preserved by its many unique museums. The region’s modern, bustling centres owe much to industries that might otherwise have been forgotten.
Stavanger Museum, founded in 1877, is divided into four separate areas, including the Department of Cultural History, which comprises rural, church and ethnographical collections, whilst the Maritime Museum presents a proud maritime past.
Piers Crocker, curator of Stavanger’s renowned Canning Museum, explains the importance of the canning industry to the city’s past. According to Crocker, “We know of about 350 canneries in Stavanger, which at its height in the 1920s employed half of the town’s working population. Another 15% were employed in the associated industries – either those supporting the industry, or supported by it, for example printing and the rubber industry.”
Stavanger’s international reputation owes much to the industry. “There is hardly a country in the world to which cans were not exported at one time or another – including being taken on expeditions to the North and South Poles,” says Crocker.
“It is a former factory, with authentic milieu, machinery, tools and equipment to show the whole process of brisling production and fish balls,” Crocker adds. Visitors are even able to taste freshly-smoked brisling from the oven on certain days.
The cultural impact of the canning industry made it an important part of Stavanger 2008. “We had about 2,000 more visitors in 2008 than in 2007, largely owing to fruit borne by a lot of promotional work on our behalf by Region Rogaland, resulting in articles in foreign travel magazines and visits by foreign film crews to take footage,” says Crocker.
Elsewhere, visitors can find the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, a reconstructed Iron Age settlement, and a new industrial museum and science centre, Jærmuseet Vitenfabrikken. Opened in May 2008 in Sandnes, it includes a planetarium – one of only six in the world – as well as Krossen Oats Mill, which documents the production and milling of oatmeal in the area. A pottery and brickworks exhibition demonstrates the essential contribution of these industries to Sandnes’ history – indicative of a setting where old and new combine to establish a place on Norway’s cultural map far beyond 2008.