Norwegian art on an American street

Issaquah wins award for artful connections


Photo courtesy of Issaquah Sister Cities Commission
Robin Kelley, Sister Cities Commission chair (left) and Bergljot Hals, Norwegian artist (right) in front of Hals’s piece, “Journey,” on the corner of 2nd and Sunset in Issaquah, Wash.

Sister Cities Commission
Issaquah, Wash.

Sister Cities International 2018 Innovation Award for Arts and Culture for a city with a population of between 25,000 and 100,000. The awards competition, open to over 500 sister-city programs nationwide, recognizes the accomplishments of outstanding individuals and community sister-city programs that promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation.

An initiative led by Issaquah’s Sister Cities Commission in 2017, the City of Issaquah’s Utility Wrap Program, was expanded to include original artwork from sister-city artists in Chefchaouen, Morocco, and Sunndal, Norway. The dramatic transformation of the utility boxes from function to finesse has changed the cultural landscape of the community, while reinforcing the cultural exchange with each of our treasured sister cities.

“We value the 10-year relationship the City has had with Chefchaouen, Morocco, as well as the newly rekindled relationship with Sunndal, Norway. This cross-cultural project has increased the knowledge and awareness of our sister cities within our community,” said Mary Lou Pauly, mayor of Issaquah. “By wrapping utility boxes with art, we’ve turned the ordinary into extraordinary, beautified an intersection, and created conversation within our community.”

The artist of the Norwegian piece, Bergljot Hals, initially set out to make imprints from the wood of an old barn near her home, hoping to preserve its memory before it was demolished to make way for new development. She laid paper over the barn’s woodwork and hatched the sheets with graphite lead, then studied the imprint’s rings, cracks, and hammer strokes, as persons, creatures, and shapes appeared. She then worked to bring these new patterns forward with a lead pencil, forging the truth of the wood with the fantasy of her imagination and the inspiration of Norwegian folklore.

The utility wrap program has had significant impact to the community as well. These new treasures are enjoyed daily by pedestrians and drivers. Issaquah’s outdoor art collection has increased, and the community landscape has been beautified. Additionally, the art is visited by the regional community as part of the annual Salmon Days Festival, which receives over 150,000 attendees.

“We all stand to learn from these superstar Sister City programs as they impact their communities across a broad range of sectors that include business entrepreneurship, youth leadership, and arts and culture,” said Roger-Mark De Souza, Sister Cities International’s president and CEO. “These individuals and local organizations inspire us to be better citizens as their work exemplifies President Eisenhower’s vision of engaged international citizen diplomats. They create beneficial connections and lasting relationships which will help their communities today and for years to come.”

Founded as a Presidential Initiative by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International serves as the national membership organization for 500 member communities with over 2,000 partnerships in more than 140 countries on six continents. The sister-city network unites citizen diplomats and volunteers who promote the mission of creating peace and understanding through programs and projects focusing on arts and culture, youth and education, business and trade, and community development.

This article originally appeared in the September 21, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.