Welcome to Bodø, 2024 European Cultural Capital

Where culture meets nature

Bodø European Cultural Capital

Photo: Marie Nystad Helgesen / Bodø2024
The 2024 European Cultural Capital Bodø set the scene for its opening with a display of lights around the symbol of the fish, and its otolith or earstone.

Tove Andersson

With a floating stage, orchestral music, magic acts, theater, Sámi joik, dance, song, and fireworks, Bodø, as the 2024 European Capital of Culture, was opened at 67° north with Queen Sonja of Norway present. Bodø, with the surrounding Nordland region, is the first city north of the Arctic Circle to hold this prestigious title.

“It’s quite something: Norway is once again the host country for a European Capital of Culture—and it is happening here in Bodø and in Nordland! It is amazing,” said the Queen in her opening speech in the Stormen Concert Hall in January.

Queen Sonja European Cultural Capital

Photo: David Engmo / Bodø2024
Queen Sonja (center) attended the opening ceremonies for Bodø’s year as a European Cultural Capital in January 2024.

As a European cultural capital, Bodø is the largest cultural project in northern Norway ever, with over 1,000 events to be launched throughout the year. The setting could not have been better. Nordland, which is perhaps the most beautiful county in the country, is Norway in miniature. The county stretches over 500 miles from the south to the north along the west coast of Norway.

Several visitors have said that they experienced the opening as “magical” and that they stood there with tears in their eyes, but the show also received some criticism. The criticism addressed the strong emphasis on Sámi cultural expression.  This strong emphasis on Sámi culture was strongly manifested in the performance of actor, activist and musician Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen, who entered the stage shrouded in a flag with the words “This is Sámi Land” before singing the song “Mu Váibmu” from her new album.

The fact is that Bodø municipality has stated that they have a goal that “Sámi culture should be included naturally and seamlessly in Bodø’s activities in the cultural field.” Bodø is also the first town in Norway that equates the Sámi and Norwegian languages. With that comes obligations. If you send a letter to the mayor of Bodø in one of the Sámi languages, you should expect to receive a reply in the same language. The mayor’s answer in the local paper An.no was: “Our joint response to the criticism of the opening ceremony is therefore that we must work together for more Sami culture—not less.”

The queen was present during a Sámi film screening in Árran360, the world’s largest lavvu, a type of Sámi tent, nearly 33 feet high. The films shown there combine Indigenous stories and innovative film technology. Árran means “hearth” or “fireplace,” a place where stories are told.

The Sámi theme will be celebrated throughout the year with joik, art, Sámi film and crafts, mirroring a growing interest in Sámi art and culture, both in Norway and internationally.

One of the flagship projects is the Bodø City Museum, which has been transformed into a Sámi museum, Bådåddjo Musea, which will open on June 19.

Several exhibitions will take place throughout the year, and include Girjegumpi, a library with nomadic Sámi architecture, and various art and duodji exhibitions. Duodji is Sámi for “craft”, and “Girjegumpi” is a combination of two Northern Sámi words: Gumpi is a movable hut on skis, and girji means book.

The first edition of the Sápmi Triennale will open this autumn, with juried exhibitions with 25 Sámi artists from three countries. The exhibition is organized in collaboration with the Sámi Center for Contemporary Art. Sápmi Triennale is a project of  Bymuseet, the city’s municipal museum (located at Bådåddjo/Buvvda Musea).

The old Nordland Museum from 1903 is being expanded and upgraded. Throughout 2024, the public is invited to take part in exhibitions and activities that highlight Sámi art. “Giving it the right shape” is one of the presentations where over 50 performers of Sámi craft will demonstrate various techniques.

Stormen Concert Hall


Photo: Kasper Holgersen / Bodø2024 Crowds were enchanted by pyrotechnics and good music on stage with a performance by violinist Sámi artist John André Eira.

Already on May 25, a performance took place with dancers of the award-winning ensemble “Kartellet”  that featured the folk tunes of the strings of Arctic Philharmonic. In June, it will be possible to see this performance farther north in Harstad.

In the concert performance “Rækved,” five dancers and a string orchestra thematize how we try to understand each other and interact both playfully and seriously. The choreography combines traditional elements from folk dance from Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark, with elements from rituals and sports games. All the dancers in Kartellet have a strong individual style that make use of their physical knowledge and expertise to create an intimate visual effect.

The performances are an exploration of human physicality and play. The title “Rækved” refers to everything that drifts ashore. In this context, parts of different folk traditions are woven together in a new form of expression.

The cultural center Stormen (The Storm) was opened in 2014. In addition to  a concert hall, it contains a library and theater. Among exhibitions to discover is the Lofoten Fishery, a Viking treasure, and an exhibition about Bodø’s history.

Midsummer Mystery

The Midsummer Mystery is Bodø2024’s big summer opening event, a celebration of landscape, summer, and the sea, with a strong focus on audience participation in Breivika, Bodø. This is the main event in the summer season and will be carried out on the longest day of the year, Jonsok or St. Hans on June 23.

This is a day everyone relates to, with bonfires, music, dancing, and a magical atmosphere into the night. All of Nordland will be there—not to mention all of Norway!

European Cabins of Culture 

This project encompasses the longstanding tradition of Norway’s tourist cabins. These 550 cabins are an important part of the Norwegian tradition of hiking and outdoor life. Built and run by the Norwegian Tourist Association, all are open to the public.

The cabins have now been transformed into cultural huts for people who are out hiking in nature. The Nordland Trekking Trail is 404 miles long and is a collaboration with the tourist bureau (Bodø og Omegns Turistforening), a walk from cabin to cabin starting in August.

European Cabins of Culture will offer a coherent European theme throughout the year: exhibitions, concerts, lectures, discussions, forums.

“Every kind of cultural activity you can imagine will take place in the cabins,” says Helge Grønmo, director of communication and marketing for Bodø2024.

A stroll through Bodø


Photo: Tove Andersson
Café life is an important part of Bodø’s summer scene, with many outdoor venues to enjoy.

If you arrive by the Hurtigruten coastal express and happen to randomly wander around Bodø, you will no doubt notice all the street art there. Several facades are covered in street art to make you smile—and wonder. It makes the streets inviting and the backyard cafes extra interesting.

There is certainly a lot to see in Bodø, a city full of history and tradition; all you need is a visit to the museum to understand this.

Bodø,  by the way, was granted town status in 1816 and is named after the old Bodøgård farm (Old Norse: Boðvi).

Bodø and beyond


Photo: Dan Mariner / Bodø2024
Bodø is surrounded by some of the most magnificent scenery in Norway, here aglow in the midnight sun.

Events and concepts are planned across the entire county throughout 2024, not just in Bodø. All regions in Nordland will participate in the European Capital of Culture and are planning accordingly.

Europe’s only land art biennial will take place an hour north of Bodø. Kjerringøy is home to an abundance of art. The opening weekend will take place July 6–7, and a sculpture will be unveiled on Sept. 14. Kjerringøy has also been used as a location for film versions of Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun’s novels.

A brand-new exhibition has opened at the Hamsun Center on Hamarøy.  A vital goal of the exhibit is to facilitate reflection and provide visitors with a new understanding of Hamsun‚ regardless of who they are.

Norway’s most famous novelist, Hamsun, referred to by some as the “father of modern literature,” irrevocably tarnished his legacy by being an ardent supporter of Nazi Germany. Hamsun, who won the Nobel prize in 1920, continues to be controversial, bringing us right up to the contemporary perspectives of today.

An exclusive selection of professionals and researchers are given space to share their new perceptions of Hamsun.

“This project will shed light on the messy corners of the artist’s life, and the relationship between art and the artist. Humans are not like the immaculate advertising images and social media profiles we are exposed to everywhere. Even the greatest artists are whole people, and quality art conveys all facets of being human,” says program director for Bodø2024, Henrik Sand Dagfinrud.

The literature and culture festival Hamsun Days will be held Aug. 4–10 at Hamarøy.

Nearby, the idyllic traditional trading post at Kjerringøy contains 15 original buildings and is situated in beautiful surroundings.

Combining art and nature? A sea eagle safari combined with a trip to one of the strongest maelstroms in the world, Saltstraumen, is a must. Excursions are available that depart from Bodø city center.

Bodø has excellent bus and express boat connections to other exciting destinations like Salten, Lofoten, and the Helgeland coast.

The new Petter Dass sculpture, a 33-foot-high monument to be unveiled in August is dedicated to Nordland’s most famous pastor and poet Petter Dass (1647-1707), author of the poem “Nordlands trompet.” This is Herøy’s contribution to Bodø as cultural city. It will be best seen from sea, a new attraction in bronze for everyone sailing or cruising past Herøy.

Back in Bodø, International Week will be an entire week celebrating diversity filled with various events aimed at cultivating the international community in Bodø. The week takes place in the run-up to United Nations Day on Oct. 24.

Throughout International Week, there will be cooperation and dialogue between different cultures. This fantastic diversity of cultural expressions will be showcased, with debates, language cafés, food workshops, exhibitions, and dance.

With the product development campaign “Holdbart Håndverk 2023-2024,” Norges Husflidslag, the Norwegian arts and handicrafts association, wants to stimulate the sale of more Norwegian craft products on a broader market. “Holdbart håndverk” means “durable handicrafts” and can be placed into a broader context of creating sustainable products.

Håndverksbiennalen 2024 will take place in collaboration with Norges Husflids­lag Skakke.

Skakke Folk Costumes, opening Oct. 11 at Bådåddjo/Buvvda Musea, is an exhibition about costumes in which costumes are not primarily costumes but symbols and ideas that shape our time, our self-understanding, our relationships, and our history.

Bridal crowns and silver collars from Sápmi will also be displayed.

Nordland by Light, beginning in November and running through December 2024, is Nordland’s first ever light festival, including light installations, light shows, light walks, and more. Locations are Bodø, Værøy, and Alstahaug.

The Queen Sonja Print Award 2024, the world’s most important prize for printmaking, will be held in Bodø, June 5–6,  2024.

Bodø2024 hopes that more than 500,000 visitors will come to Bodø and Nordland during the European Capital of Culture year. The festivities will last for a whole year, and picturesque Lofoten is also a part of the program that will be continuously updated.

For the most up-to-date information, visit bodo2024.no.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Tove Andersson

Tove Andersson is a freelance journalist who writes about travel and culture. She conducts interviews for the street magazine Oslo while writing poetry and fiction. Jeg heter Navnløs (My name is nameless) was published in 2020. Her website is www.frilanskatalogen.no/frilanstove, and she can be reached at tove.andersson@skrift.no.