Encounters - coming together across sectors

Icelandic and Finnish people have had a mutual interest in each other’s culture and art throughout the years. On the surface, this interest may be focused on cultural giants in the fields of architecture, design, literature and music, yet it lies deeper than that. One could say there is a shared understanding of each other that forms a special bond between us: we share a similar sense of humor and we are slightly on the fringes.

Literature and reading, among many other things, brings us together. Finland and Iceland are regarded to be some of the most literate nations in the world. Only in Iceland are more books published per capita than in Finland. Both countries have also an extensive network of free libraries. Reading and literature are part of our every-day actions, but also prominent in our national histories. The Icelandic Sagas and the Finnish Kalevala are national epics that have defined the cultural heritages of our respective countries.

Both Iceland and Finland have a thriving design scene. During Helsinki’s tenure as World Design Capital in 2012, the annual Reykjavík Design March Festival was appointed as a special satellite-event of the celebration. Since then, collaboration between Finnish and Icelandic designers and artists has been an annual staple of Helsinki Design Week and Reykjavík Design March Festival. In addition, Design Diplomacy, a concept invented by Helsinki Design Week, enjoys popularity in both countries.

Alvar Aalto’s (1898-1976) Nordic House in Reykjavík (Norræna húsið) is a unique building. Not only because it is Aalto’s only building in Iceland, but also because it has been the centre for Nordic cooperation, shared culture and friendship since its inauguration in 1968. All light fittings and furniture in the building are also Aalto´s own designs.

Icelandic artists have exhibited their work in the largest and most prestigious Finnish museums in recent years, for example in Kiasma, Amos Rex and the Design Museum, including Kjartan Ragnarson, Shoplifter, Egill Sæbjörnsson and Brynjar Sigurðarson. Two Icelandic artists have won the prestigious Ars Fennica award: Kjartan Ragnarson and Hreinn Friðfinnsson.

Finland and Iceland have a rich music tradition and a vibrant contemporary music scene. During its 70-year existence, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra has had three chief conductors from Finland, and currently the role is filled by Eva Ollikainen. Pieces by current Finnish and Icelandic composers are often performed by orchestras in both countries, and popular music artists have their big crowds of fans.  

Interest in film-making is high both in Finland and Iceland, and Finnish and Icelandic directors have been regular guests on film festivals in both countries. We also share an interest in Nordic Noir with series such as Trapped (Ófærð) and Bordertown (Sorjonen). 

Cooperation between Icelandic and Finnish universities has blossomed during the past decades. An example of intensified academic cooperation between our two Arctic countries is the Northern Research Forum (NRF) that implements interplay between science, politics and business, as well as creates lively and intellectually attractive dialogue. Redefining the Arctic as a ‘knowledge-based region’, the NRF was transferred into a global stage when the Our ice dependent world theme connected that to the Antarctic and the Himalaya region, as well as played the springboard for the Arctic Yearbook and the Arctic Assembly.

Many Icelanders and Finns find each other’s language interesting. Icelandic has been a compulsory subject within Nordic studies at the University of Helsinki since 1967. Both languages are taught as subjects in adult educational centers.

Our encounters in the field of culture do not end there, but will keep on flourishing:

  • Helsinki and Reykjavik were two of the nine European Capitals of Culture (ECoC) in the year 2000.
  • The Icelandic-Finnish Cultural Foundation (established in 1975) aims to promote relations and cultural exchange between Finland and Iceland as well as to increase the countries’ mutual awareness and knowledge.
  • The Finnish Icelandic Horse Association and the Icelandic Sheepdog Association are active in Finland.