By Ben Culpin, photo by Madalina Paxaman
2017 was a busy year for Aarhus, a time when we witnessed cultural events, local elections and the opening of the light rail (letbane). And although the political debates and the introduction of a new transportation line caught the public’s attention, 2017 will be best remembered as the year Aarhus hosted the European Capital of Culture.
Hundreds of events took place all across the Mid-Jutland region in 2017. Among these were the ‘MEGA Events’ which included the opening ceremony in Aarhus, on 21 January, directed by Nigel Jamieson (who also oversaw the opening of the Sydney Olympics in 2000). About 70 000 people took to the streets to witness a fantastic sound and light show as 5000 volunteers and 7 Viking ships ‘set sail’ from the Rådhus Park to the harbourside.History was also made when the Røde Orm performances at Moesgaard Museum staged the largest ever outdoor event in Danish history. And from the 24 May to 1 July, thousands turned out to watch the Royal Danish Theatre’s adaptation of Frans G. Bengtsson’s classic novel, on the roof of Moesgaard.
The Garden, which grew out across the city – at O-space, ARoS and southwards to span 4km of Danish coastline from Tankrogen towards Moesgaard, covered the past, present and future of people’s representations of nature and the issues facing humanity with our move into the so-called Anthropocene: a man-made climate phase. German artist, Katharina Grosse, sparked outrage with her artwork, spraying the grass outside Mindeparken red and white. Most important, her work encouraged debate and discussion: national newspapers and radio were talking about the functions and purpose of art as well as the impact of human actions on the natural environment.
Single-day events of debate and dialogue, such as the four ‘Hypotheticals’ at Aarhus Theatre and ‘The World Creativity Forum’ at the Musikhuset, gave ordinary people the opportunity to come forward and hear the newest ideas, issues and solutions facing humanity. Academics, experts and creative minds converged on Aarhus to participate in a hearty and often heated debate which focused on the themes of Aarhus 2017: To rethink our limits and encourage sustainable development.
In October, Dokk1 hosted the Hay Literature Festival for children where the best authors and illustrators came to give live talks and engage in debate and presentations with the next generation of Roald Dahls and JK Rowlings.
It is impossible to sum up in a few lines the diversity and creativity of the hundreds of events of the past year. Aarhus and Mid-Jutland experienced underwater orchestras, opera on the streets, the future of feminism and festivals celebrating our past and our future. Through the events, performances and gatherings, people were encouraged to talk, engage, communicate and rethink how we perceive the world.
The closing events of Aarhus 2017 took place on December 9th. More than 10 000 people attended the festival of music and lights. The ceremony itself took place in Hvide Sande. Known as the ‘Gateway to the North Sea’, this location was chosen in order to emphasize the importance of the entire Mid-Jutland region to the year’s capital of culture status. As the closing ceremony unfolded, it was streamed live to Aarhus and projected onto the side of the vast silos opposite Dokk1.
This ceremony was followed by a poem and accompanying film by Aarhus poet Mads Mygind, entitled ‘Vi er Her Nu’ (We are here now). The hushed crowds listened to the poem’s celebration of the beauty of Aarhus and surrounding areas, leading them on an imagined walk through the city and the wider Mid-Jutland region, taking in events and sights such as ‘The Garden’ at Tankrogen, The Røde Orm at Moesgaard and artist-in-residence Anohni’s performances at the Musikhuset.
Aarhus 2017’s Chief Executive, Rebecca Matthews, spoke about the aims of the organisation: To rethink our everyday lives, whilst also celebrating the year as the European Capital of Culture and creating an environment where people could be happy, dance and listen to a lot of good music. The solemn closing ceremony was followed by a spectacular firework display at Dokk1, sending the excited crowds out into a night of partying and festivity. 75 concerts and live performances entertained us across the city, most notably at Godsbanen where the Aarhus Volume Festival reveled into the early hours.
The stated mission of Aarhus 2017 was to ‘create the sustainable development which meets present needs without depletion of resources for future generations in all life areas from cultural to human and economic growth.’ Thus the essential focus of many projects was searching for new practices, business models, partnership forms and new concepts of growth. A collaboration project between Aarhus 2017 and Aarhus University, has already started looking at the impact on the city and its citizens under a programme called RethinkIMPACTS 2017.
Furthermore, the influence of Aarhus 2017 goes beyond using culture, creativity and ideas to create sustainable development. It also means building a foundation and a network of volunteers eager to show the rest of the Europe that passion and originality can make a positive change. For some time already, Aarhus has distinguished its self as a city that promotes the cooperation between the municipality and the civil society as volunteers play a very important role in addressing issues that the local administration and the business sector cannot always solve.
Aarhus European Capital of Volunteering 2018 will be officially opened on January 21st with a fair organized at Ridehuset. Approximately 700 organizations working with volunteers are expected to showcase their projects in an effort to promote and celebrate the diverse volunteering community existing in this city and in Midjylland area. The events planned for the opening include also outdoor cooking, ice-skating and fundraising for homeless children.
With the formation and strengthening of strong cultural organisations and groups in Aarhus, combined with its status as European Volunteering Capital 2018, we already look forward to what will happen in the following year.