European Capital of Culture 2024

With soaring mountains as a spectacular backdrop, Bodø in Norway (you can pronounce it something like ‘Buddha’) is the first city north of the Arctic Circle to hold the title of European Capital of Culture. It is the capital of Nordland, an area stretching over 800 kilometres from north to south, where people have been living for over 10,000 years. Over 1,000 events are planned throughout North Norway in 2024, when Bodø shares the title with the Salzkammergut region of Austria and Tartu in Estonia.

‘After School’ , Russian street artist Rustam Qbic’s image of a child spray painting the Aurora Borealis above Bodø, is one of a number of monumental murals around town.

Most of Bodø was destroyed in a Luftwaffe attack in 1940, and today’s buildings stem mostly from the 1970s and ‘80s, their no nonsense design built to withstand the harsh winters, when the sun is barely above the horizon. However, it makes up for it in summer, when it is light for 24 hours by June 1, making it the world’s lightest city measured in the number of daylight hours per year.

Bodø was formerly home to NATO’s most important Cold War air base in northern Europe (now closed down) due to its strategic location and proximity to the Soviet Union. It was to Bodø that the American U-2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers was headed when he was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960.

Bodø’s breakwater is lined by an untitled series of seven huge boulder pieces by the sculptor Tony Cragg, which have been drilled through Swiss cheese-style for passersby to peer at the sea and far off peaks.

Today Bodø’s airport is practically within walking distance of the town centre – but not for long. In order to create building space for the expanding city of around 55,000 inhabitants, the entire airport is about to be moved 1,500 metres, freeing up development land for a new, zero emissions district.

For a city its size Bodø has several impressive civic buildings. Opened in 2014, the cultural centre Stormen (the Storm) contains a library, a theatre and a concert hall, where the Arctic Philharmonic (pictured top) performed at the opening of the European Capital of Culture year. The complex was designed by London-based DRDH Architects (Staatstheater Stuttgart, Polish Royal Opera, Sheffield’s Site Gallery, etc.).

The Stormen (Storm) Concert Hall, Photo: Danica O. Kus

The library also contains an exhibition space for contemporary art and the Papir Cafe, a popular hangout. Here hangs a work by Eilert Adelsteen Normann, the first professional artist from Bodø. A noted landcape painter, Normann is credited with helping to popularise the Norwegian fjords as a visitor attraction. It was he who invited countryman Edvard Munch to exhibit in Berlin, where Munch developed the symbolic psychological style later seen in The Scream. One of Normann’s paintings was owned by Michael Jackson and came up for auction after the performer’s death.

A work by Eilert Adelsteen Normann (1848-1918), Bodø’s first professional artist, hangs in the Papir Cafe.

Nearby is Bodø’s impressive Town Hall, a modern interpretation of a Renaissance city hall, while opposite is perhaps the most remarkable of the reconstruction buildings, the 1956 Bodø Cathedral, a modern concrete interpretation of an early Christian basilica.

Facing the harbour, the Bodø Art Association has spacious galleries which host changing contemporary art exhibitions as well as the annual North Norwegian Art Exhibition, a juried competition open to artists with connections to North Norway, which the association has organised since it was founded in 1946.

Bodø Art Association

Noua (Now) is an artist-run exhibition space specialising in contemporary photography by Norwegian and international artists.

An installation shot from the exhibition Octahedral by the Swiss-born, Amsterdam-based artist Batia Suter at Noua (Now).

On the opposite side of the peninsula from Bodø, the Bodøgaard Gallery combines three exhibition areas and a print workshop. The main galleries stretch the length of the building and host a changing programme of contemporary art, while a side room houses a collection of religious icons. Downstairs is an extensive ethnographic museum with North Norway’s largest private collection of artefacts.

The Bodøgaard Gallery during an exhibition of work by 95-year-old Håkon Bleken, one of Norway’s foremost contemporary artists.

European Capital of Culture 2024 Highlights

A hybrid between indigenous storytelling and innovative film technology, Arran 360° features five new short films on the history and culture of the indigenous Sami people, whose traditional homeland, Sapmi, stretches across Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Russia. ‘Arran’ is the fireplace, or hearth, within a ‘lavvu’, a traditional dwelling similar to a native American tipi and the place where stories are told. An earlier series of films was shown at the 2022 Venice Biennale.

Films are shown inside the world’s largest lavvu.

The fims are shown inside the world’s biggest lavvu, erected inside a building, with a film screen around the inner wall. Themes include the relationship between indigenous peoples and technology, ancient holistic beliefs and historical struggles of the Sami people.

About 45 kilometres north of Bodø, the Kjerringøy Land Art Biennale is Europe’s only biennale dedicated to land art.

Land art by artist Eva Bakkeslet

Bodø City Museum is becoming a Sami museum for the year. The exhibition Giving It The Right Shape features new products by over 50 makers using traditional Sami materials found in nature such as roots, birch burl, leather, tendons and reindeer antlers.

A world’s first, the Cave Concert will be performed in a submerged grotto, where all the musicians, technicians and audience members (limited to around 50) will have to be accredited cave divers. Part of the ‘Leave nothing but footprints’ concept exploring art and performances in vulnerable places, the concert will be streamed to a global audience.

Local saxophonist Håkon Skog Erlandsen, who will perform in the Cave Concert, has played in several extreme locations, including on Mount Everest. Photo: Pekka Tuuri-Kopi

Showing at Bodøgaard Gallery, From The North features a collection of rare Arctic travelogues together with paintings and drawings by Peder Balke (1804-1887), one of Norway’s foremost landscape painters.

Winding its way through Bodø, Kunstkanten (Art Edge) is a new sculpture trail, with works displayed on five concrete modules repurposed from the old military airfield. Exhibits will change throughout the year.

Featuring art made outside the mainstream, Nordic Outsider Art includes work by artists from Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Sweden.

Ann-Mari Erichsen’s work (marker pen on paper) is included in Nordic Outsider Art.

The Sapmi Triennale is a new project exploring what is new in contemporary Sami art.