Here and Now:
The HERE Creative Centre Iceland
Through collaboration, creativity and hard work, the quiet seaside village of Stöðvarfjörður has been transformed into a quirky arts and crafts hub in the East fjords of Iceland.
When you arrive at Stöðvarfjörður, a small and remote seaside village of about 200 inhabitants in the East fjords of Iceland, the first thing you will probably notice while driving through the only road into town, is the large quantity of ambitious street art which covers almost any wall that is not private property. The decorative façade of Stöðvarfjörður is extremely atypical for a small fishing village in Iceland, but it is representative of the methods taken by some of the locals to save the town from the depressing fate many of these small towns have experienced.
In 2005, the fish factory in Stöðvarfjörður closed down and thirty-four people lost their jobs. Without any means of employment much of the younger population moved away and as a result, the post office and the bank eventually shut down their services too. It seemed inevitable that the town would end up as a summer resort for suburbanites. But in 2010, the first steps were taken in transforming the abandoned fish factory into a creative centre for arts, crafts and design; which, consequently, has reinvented the local culture and economy of Stöðvarfjörður.
HERE Creative Centre is the brainchild of Rósa Valtingojer, a ceramics and textile designer, and her husband Zdenek Patak, a graphic designer. “Zdenek and I moved to Stöðvarfjörður in 2007 and this gigantic, empty house just stood there in front of us every day”, says Rósa. “We saw the great potential this big house offered but never really took these ideas any further since it seemed like such a big project; besides, we just had a kid, were broke and without jobs. Then in 2010, the municipality decided that the building was to be demolished, since the place was basically falling apart.” In stepped Rósa and Zdenek. I took them nearly a year to convince the municipality to sell them the building. Rósa explains “I don’t think we ever realized what we were getting into, which is probably for the best, since we probably would not have gotten involved if we had known!”
"We believe that creativity can work as a force towards development and advancement of the community, and the community takes an active part in the development. The Creative Centre is a platform where people can follow through with their ideas.”
In July 2011, a co-operative was formed around the organisational side of the project which bought the factory for 101.000 ISK. The Creative Centre is built around three key words: community, creativity and sustainability. “In short, the purpose of the project is to strengthen the community, which is facing a rapid decline in population and a shortage of job opportunities. We wanted to create an exciting scene for young people to live and work. We believe that creativity can work as a force towards development and advancement of the community, and the community takes an active part in the development. The Creative Centre is a platform where people can follow through with their ideas.”
Through hard work and helping hands of locals and other supporters, the crumbling walls of the old fish factory have now been transformed into workshops, with studios, a market and gallery space on the ground floor. Among the services offered are a dark room, a framing studio, metal and wood workshops, as well as different residency programs for visiting artists. Recently, the Creative Centre took over the production of the toy making company Stubbur, which specialises in environmentally friendly toys for children. George Hollanders, founder of Stubbur toys, came to the centre and held a training course for local volunteers, and in March this year the first line of toys was made available for sale.
“We definitely feel that the Creative Centre has had a positive effect on the community here”, says Rósa. “We have been met with such positivity and helpfulness from the locals” The increased attention that the project has brought to the town has also been a positive influence, according to Rósa. “The town has become more social, for sure. Young people visit the town and participate as volunteers in the project, some even move here permanently later on. When I was studying in Reykjavík, I rarely met someone that knew that Stöðvarfjörður even existed. That has completely changed now.”
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Words: Kristján Skúli Skúlason