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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Sparks fly around Bodø’s opening as a European Capital of Culture

Norway’s northern city of Bodø defied all the odds and could officially start its year this week as a European Capital of Culture. Neither hurricanes, power failures nor the costly effects of high inflation halted opening ceremonies over the weekend, but the outdoor show did spark some cultural controversy.

Crowd estimates varied, but as many as 20,000 people turned out to watch the opening ceremonies for the Northern city of Bodø’s year as a European Capital of Culture in 2024. PHOTO: David Engmo/Bodø2024

It was a huge relief to organizers that the ceremonies could be held at all. Bodø was badly battered last week by another hurricane that had severely disrupted transport, stranded guests in hotels that lost power, and even forced police to cordon off the entire downtown area for safety reasons.

A floating stage and other props set up in the harbour were also at risk, as the weather threatened to cancel the outdoor portion of the show that was billed as a “spectacular” mix of music, theater, Sami chants, dance, lights and fireworks. André Wallann Larsen, director of the hosting organization Bodø2024, claimed it would be the “biggest show Northern Norway has ever seen, and he was almost crying with joy on national radio after the weather improved and thousands of people had turned out to watch it.

Not all of them were as enthusiastic when it was all over. State broadcaster NRK reported on Monday on how debate was flying among spectators. Many complained on social media and other channels that the ceremonies were dominated by the culture and frustration of the Sami, Norway’s indigenous people who were also celebrating their national day on Tuesday. The show started with a Sami joik (chant), there were several performances portraying Sami reindeer herding and other aspects of their life and culture, and it ended with a performance by Sami singer and activist Ella Marie Hætta who flashed the message “This is Sami Land” written on the inside of her coat.

Reaction was swift and strong, with commentator Anki Gerhardsen telling NRK that Hætta was “more or less saying that the non-Sami portion of the audience doesn’t belong” in Bodø. Gerhardsen thinks some of the audience also felt they were being asked to take on the role of “silent observers” or assuming “Norwegian guilt” after centuries of discrimination against the Sami.

Gerhardsen lauded, however, how the opening ceremonies highlighted Sami artists, telling NRK that “there is an incredible amount of exciting things happening on the Sami art scene. The problem is that these artists haven’t managed to create a fellowship that includes the entire population.”

At least Queen Sonja seemed impressed by the opening ceremonies, which continued outdoors on a chilly winter night after beginning indoors in Bodø’s Stormen auditorium. Standing just left of the queen is Bodø Mayor Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen, who had to calm critics the day after. PHOTO: David Engmo/Bodø2024

The debate got so heated that Bodø Mayor Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen called on Bodø residents to “calm and distance themselves” from hateful comments spreading on social media. The Sami have long been targets of hatred and he wanted all the nasty comments circulating on Sunday and Monday to stop.

“It’s allowed to agree or disagree, art should spark engagement and debate,” Ingebrightsen stated. “What’s not acceptable are the demeaning descriptions of Sami that are appearing in social media and on media commentary pages. I’m aware that Sami are being subjected to harassment, and that’s not okay.”

Others complained that the opening show, which cost around NOK 300 million to produce, didn’t portray Bodø itself enough as a city, although it did draw attention to the city’s importance fishing and maritime history. It should be noted that the nationally televised program about the opening featured the spectacular mountain scenery around Bodø and even made it humorously appear that it was Norway’s 84-year-old Queen Sonja who was filmed skiing down steep mountainsides and even performing a sommersault on the way down. The queen has long been an accomplished skier and hiker, but wasn’t the daredevil portrayed in the opening sequence.

The show continued with a floating parade of boats, portraying Bodø’s maritime heritage, and large illuminated fish, meant to represent the importance of the area’s cod and seafood. A large tower was built on the main stage that also floated in the harbour. PHOTO: Marie Nystad/Bodø2024

Others had no problem with the balance of the opening ceremonies, which also featured renowned Norwegian violinist Eldbjørg Hemsing, local musical composers and participants in traditional Norwegian costumes called the bunad. It all kicked off an entire year of 1,000 events in Bodø and the large surrounding Nordland County that will include art shows, concerts and an exhibition exploring the dark side of author Knut Hamsum, who grew up in the area and won a Nobel Prize for Literature before being embraced by Nazi German occupiers during World War II. The schedule for the year ahead (external link to Bodø2024’s website) also features Arctic food festivals, Nordland’s first-ever light festival and more exhibitions of homegrown painters and other artists.

Bodø’s year as a European Capital of Culture is also involving thousands of local volunteers but unexpectedly high inflation has cut into budgets. Newspaper Klassekampen reported last week that funding shortages caused by higher prices may force cancellation of some programs. “We are underfinanced,” Wallann Larsen told the newspaper, adding that “the only possibility we have (to avoid a deficit) is to cut our ambitions on the program.”

Bodø2024 managed to obtain 17 private sponsors and partners to help with funding, but it lacked around NOK 13.6 million as of last week with no prospects of more money from the state, which amounted to NOK 100 million. Klassekampen reported that the two other European culture capitals this year, Tartu in Estonia annd Bad Ischl in Austria, have bigger budgets than Bodø.

Nationwide interest in the opening ceremony Saturday night also had to compete with the annual national final of Melodi Grand Prix, Norway’s popular qualifier for the Eurovision Song Contest. NRK broadcast that live from Trondheim, instead of the Bodø opening ceremonies, but offered a taped version of much of the action up north later on Saturday night. Berglund



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