The 2019 Arctic Arts Summit

Revisiting Rovaniemi: Highlights from the second gathering of circumpolar communities to discuss Northern arts and culture.

Circumpolar Collaboration Land Representation Indigenous Sovereignty

Held biennially since 2017, the Arctic Arts Summit (AAS) is a collaborative, three-day forum that brings together representatives of the eight Arctic countries and the Indigenous Nations of the Circumpolar region to discuss arts and culture in the region. After the city of Harstad, Norway hosted the inaugural Summit in 2017, the second iteration of the summit took place in Rovaniemi, Finland June 3–5, 2019 with Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, curators, public servants, scholars and media coming from around the circumpolar North, and indeed the world. The AAS 2019 welcomed over 450 participants from more than 20 countries.

A woman on stage holding a microphone, with a DJ set up in the background
Hildà Länsman and Tuomas Norvio perform at the 2019 Arctic Arts Summit. PHOTO KAISA-REETTA SEPPÄNEN.
A man presenting at a podium, with three individuals sitting on chairs, panel-style, on a stage
Steven Loft presents as part of the Making Visions True panel at the 2019 Arctic Arts Summit. © THE INUIT ART FOUNDATION.

The panels, workshops and sessions held throughout the 2019 Summit ran the gamut in terms of themes, from the challenges and opportunities facing Arctic art, to creative capacity building, to the creation of powerful circumpolar infrastructures. The theme of sustainability guided many of the discussions, interwoven with the AAS’s aim of supporting the arts and culture sectors.

“Culture is a principle of who we are: From cultural heritage to creative industries, it shapes our identity,” said Timo Jokela, Chair of the 2019 Arctic Arts Summit. “We may ask: Is the focus on Arctic culture just the fourth pillar of sustainable development or is it even more than that? Conceptually, culture incorporates social and economic sustainability. Culture is both an enabler and a driver of the social, environmental and economic dimensions of sustainable development.”

Detailed descriptions of these thematic sessions are available in “Abstracts, Reflections and Conclusions,” a comprehensive guide to the Summit prepared by Jokela and Maria Huhmarniemi, AAS 2019 Project Manager.

Several mittens adorned with beadwork and fur lined up on stands in a museum space.
Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Goodbye (detail) (2007). COURTESY ROVANIEMI ART MUSEUM / PHOTO ADAM ERONEN PIPER.

The AAS also serves as an important venue for policy-making: ministry representatives and stakeholders gathered on Policy Day for a keynote speech, reflections from ministries and cultural sectors, and a panel discussion on the role of arts and culture in the Arctic’s sustainable development—both as a whole and during 2019, recognized by the United Nations as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

A dark space with depictions of light being reflected and refracted.
Laura Heuberger, IN SILICO (2017). COURTESY THE ARTIST.

In addition to the Summit’s dialogues and meetings, there was also space for Arctic arts to be seen and experienced in person with exhibitions presented at Rovaniemi Art Museum, Arktikum House, the Faculty of Art and Design galleries at the University of Lapland and Gallery Napa. The performing artists were similarly highlighted as part of the 2019 Artistic Programme with performances from NORDTING/The Northern Assembly, Piste Collective, Solju, Quantum Triangle and Ruska Ensemble.

Four individuals sitting in chairs upon a stage, engaging in a panel discussion.
Panel discussion from Arctic Laboratory 1: Art in the Arctic and Arctic in the Arts featuring Frida Blomgren, David Ek, Tiina Sanila-Aikio, Baldur Pórir Guõmundsson and Francesca Du Brock at the 2019 Arctic Arts Summit. PHOTO KAISA-REETTA SEPPÄNEN.

The chance for Arctic artists to share their art and network—whether through performances or panel discussions—is a valuable outcome of the AAS that contributes not only to the sharing of knowledge, but also to continuing conversations about concepts of Arctic identity.

“By meeting with people around the globe artists help to divulge experiences and understandings of life and land in the Arctic,” stated Svein Aamold, chair of the roundtable Agencies of art and artists in the Arctic.

The 2019 Arctic Arts Summit provided a dynamic and discursive platform for arts and culture across the North, with the aim of fostering culturally sustainable development. 

“The discourses covered at the AAS 2019 are essential not only for cultural sustainability in the Arctic but also for elsewhere,” wrote Jokela and Huhmarniemi in their in-depth analysis of the Summit. “Arctic environments and social-cultural settings can work as laboratories for innovative arts and arenas in which context-sensitive methods for art and design can be developed as well as models for cultural policies and arts funding supporting regional development and creative synergy. This is not only relevant for the Arctic but also for the rest of the world.”