Though science might take front and centre stage quite often in Svalbard, art certainly plays some interesting roles up here. There are long-standing artists residency programmes (for both Longyearbyen and Ny Alesund) and expedition trips (like The Arctic Circle or Cape Farewell) specifically for artists and art-science collaborations, which have attracted many to these shores, searching for meaning, inspiration, difference, peace, ways to communicate climate change...other things I'm sure. I've found inspiration and ideas from talking with some of them myself. Now art has been ramped up a step in Longyearbyen...
Earlier this month, the new branch of Tromso's Museum of Northern Norway, Kunsthalle [art hall] was opened next door to the Svalbard Museum by Queen Sonja with an exhibition from Joan Jones on the theme of glaciers. This new injection of funding also brings more opportunities for artists residencies and makes quite a statement in terms of being a substantial investment when cultural funding is under pressure. Indeed, one doesn't really need to do the geo-political analysis, the informational leaflet spells it out quite plainly: this is about strengthening Norway's presence in Svalbard; along different lines than previously, but following the pattern of diversification from the (ailing) coal industry.
Still, I didn't start this post with just that in mind. Wandering (and scootering) about this trip, I've felt like I have been able to tune in to the art pieces I have seen inspired by Svalbard far more than during my summer trips. Svalbard ignited a desire to take copius photographs from my first visit, but this time, the shades and tones of light, white, pinks, blues and greys have also got me thinking back to my water-colour dabbling days (which were short and unremarkable sadly) and being awe-striken in entirely new ways. Now the already beautiful and thought-provoking works of local artist Olaf Storo and Kare Tveter seem all the more meaningful. Which leads me to wonder whether art holds more value through personal experience and connection to the subject matter? Probably the answer is obviously yes, or perhaps it is a different type of value or way of valuing...