Reykjavik Arts Festival takes Art Gifts to Iceland

This August Helsinki Festival allowed people to order an Art Gift – a short 5-minute performance of music, dance, circus and poetry – to a friend or loved one. The Art Gifts were ordered using a web application that was developed solely for this purpose. Three hundred Art Gifts were immediately booked and safely delivered all around the city of Helsinki. After the overwhelming positive response to the Art Gifts, Helsinki Festival open sourced the application source code and concept as a gift to festivals and art organizations around the world. 

In early November, Iceland’s biggest arts festival Reykjavik Arts Festival, became the first international art organization to make use of the idea and code, and delivered 140 Art Gifts. The Art Gifts were made possible using the same application developed by Counterpoint and Helsinki Festival. The application shows what time slots are available for an art gift in different areas of the city, and automatically creates an itinerary for the artists so they know when and where to deliver their performances. Now that the code is open sourced, the concept can be easily and affordably produced by anyone anywhere in the world. With little additional development work, any organisation, festival or city can bring art experiences closer to people in a totally new way. Using the open source code the entire Reykjavik Arts Festival production from start to finish took only a few weeks. 

The COVID-19 situation in Iceland is difficult, which made Art Gifts (Listagjöf in Icelandic) an important source of joy for many amid this exceptional autumn. Art Gifts were delivered throughout different districts of Reykjavik by 30 artists from opera singers and circus performers and drag artists to trumpeters. According to the festival’s artistic director Vigdis Jakobsdóttir, the Gifts were fully booked in hours and warmly received despite the rainy weather. The Art Gifts project in Reykjavik received a lot of attention in the Icelandic media and was truly the talk of the town. 

“The project was a touching experience for everyone involved and ignited a sense of hope in people’s minds during these challenging times. The concept is about sharing, and Art Gifts encourage people to connect with their loved ones in a new way while also creating a safe platform for artists to perform,” says Jakobsdóttir.

“From the very beginning we created Art Gifts as an open source project. This is our gift to our colleagues working on arts and events in cities around the world,” says Helsinki Festival Artistic Director, Marko Ahtisaari. “Developing such a concept and application for just one week in one city is a big effort. By sharing the concept and code, we are encouraging our peers everywhere to present Art Gifts with local artists, just as Reykjavik Arts Festival has so beautifully done. We are delighted that Listagjöf was so well received in Iceland!”

The source code for the Art Gift application and additional material for the concept can be found here.

Photo: Gissur Páll