Vardø is only a small spot in the north-eastern corner of Norway. It is the easternmost city in the country, situated on an arctic island in the Barents Sea, close to the Russian border. People have lived here for a thousand years. At all times, it has been the rich resources of the sea that have given people here a basis of life. The city has a rich history, arts and coastal culture and not least a spectacular Arctic nature.
A few years ago I was vistiting Vardø. I was suprised to discover the amount of street art and graffiti compared to the size of the place. I learned that this was due to an art project initiated by a Norwegean street artist as an effort to highlight the issue of depopulation. Together with locals he arranged an art festival – The «Komafest».
In recent years Vardø has suffered from depopulation, like many other small towns in northern Norway. It has led to decline in business. The population today is around 2,000. Vardø is the only city in the county that has maintained some of it's pre-war (WWII) buildings in a historical city centre. From around the end 1960s the population has been halved. Since the city is built around fishing and the decline in the industry has led to people moving. Especially the young generation. While walking around town, we saw the evidence of a rich history, but also many abandoned houses lacking maintenance.
It was in 2012 street artist Pøbel completed this major art project in Vardø. It was a part of the development strategy to restore Vardø. International street artists were invited to decorate some of the abandoned houses. The festival’s main aim was to highlight depopulation problems in the Northern part of the country, create engagement among residents and to recreate a city that has suffered from relocation. The festival has proven to be an art project that more than expected has fullfilled this goal.
Many people were engaged in the project. The locals themselves, the municipality, museum, schools etc. It was a street art project, but it was also about Vardø itself and how to recreate a city and local engagement.
The city's population has shown commitment. When the project ended, children in kindergartens, schools and many locals made a special project. They have written down their thoughts and dreams about the future of the city and put in a time capsule that is sealed and not to be opened before 50 years has gone. Those living in the city after 50 years, will then know what the people in 2012 thought about the future and their city.
Some of the artists who participated in transforming the city into a large outdoor art gallery:
Vhils (Portugal), Steve Powers (USA), Horfe (France), Roa (Belgium), Conor Harrington (Ireland), Atle Østrem (Norway), Remed (France), Remember My Name (Denmark), Ken Sortais (France) , Ethos (Brazil), EB Itso (Denmark) and Pøbel (Norway).
The whole of Vardø seemed to stand together in an effort to get the city on its feet and make it a good place to live. The street art project has played an important role to make this happen.
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STREET ART #45 - historical inspired street art in Budapest (Hungary)
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