Stavanger is traditionally known as the oil capital of Norway or the city closest to the Pulpit Rock. But few know that Stavanger is also Norway’s Capital of Street Art and home to the international contemporary street and urban art festival, Nuart, held annually in the city.
Since 2001, the non-profit Nuart Festival is widely considered the world’s leading celebration of Street Art among its peers. Stavanger lies on the northwest coast of the North Sea and is the fourth largest city in Norway, but as all places in the country, it’s rather small and cozy compared to other major cities in Europe. The discovery of oil in the North Sea near Stavanger changed the city enormously, not only economically but also culturally and made it a real hotspot for street art. Some of the world’s most influential artists now have their works in Stavanger.
The festival is hosted in the first week of September each year and aims to gather artists from all over the world to create new street art in the city and, more importantly, to create a discourse about art.
Norway’s Capital of Street Art
One might be struck by the high amount of street art present in and around this small town dominated by old-fashioned wooden architecture. While walking through the streets downtown, it’s impossible not to notice the many murals, paste-ups and stencils. Each year international artists leave their mark on the city’s walls, both indoor and out. The festival has turned out to be one of Europe’s most dynamic and constantly evolving public art events.
In contradiction to the short lifespan of much street art in bigger cities, the artworks in Stavanger are often left untouched. One can still find work on the street dating back to 2006, and an evocative wheat-paste by the Brooklyn-based artist Swoon has even survived the heavy coastal weather of rain, snow and wind since 2009.
One of the biggest festivals of its kind in the world
During the festival, 5 – 8 September this year, you’ll be able to attend workshops, movie screenings, art talks, exhibitions and performances, and, of course, also watch how new street art is in the making. NuArt has become one of the biggest festivals of its kind in the world. NuArt’s consistent activity and effort to reflect the culture, as well as participate in defining it, has not only given Stavanger a global reputation for street art, but has also made the city’s population familiar with the steadily growing art form.
The Festival raises the question, what is art? Or more importantly, what can art be? Today, artists as well as students, gallery goers and public alike find the festival a challenging and dynamic annual event. The city center is walkable and a simple stroll along the heart of town reveals some of the city’s most famous pieces.
Appreciated by the city’s population
However, the festival has not been without controversies, but in general the urban artworks are widely appreciated. A survey made by the urban design company Leva back in 2010, revealed that many people in the eastern part of town, where most of the murals can be found, went so far as to change their walking patterns to pass the murals in their daily routines.
The educational aspect of the festival must also not be neglected. NuArt artists have for many years taught for one or two weeks at the Rogaland School of Art. Artist talks and workshops have been arranged together with the school and several private organizations. The national education program The Cultural Rucksack has visited hundreds of schoolchildren between the ages of 10 to 18.
NuArt continues to pioneer a new breed of art exhibition that is neither institutionalized nor commercial. Without the usual restraints of curatorial and corporate preferences, the event consistently brings out the best in its invited guests.
In The NuArt gallery in town you’ll be able to find changing temporary exhibitions, as well as a shop where you can buy prints of former and existing NuArt street art.
An artist overview
Among the artists that have visited Stavanger and created artwork under the auspices of Nuart are Blu, Vhils, Ron English, Blek le Rat, Aiko, C215, David Choe, Swoon, Logan Hicks, Faith 47, Martha Cooper, M-City, Word to Mother, Herakut, Dotmasters, Ernest Zacharevich, Aakash Nihalani, Evol, Strøk, Hush, Roa, Dolk, Graffiti Research Lab, Karolina Sobecka, Nick Walker, Sten & Lex, Chris Stain, Charles Krafft, Skewville, Brad Downey, Dan Witz, Ben Eine and many more.
The book Eloquent Vandals, published in 2011 by Kontur Forlag, tells the story of how the Nuart festival grew from a small underground festival in 2006 to an internationally acclaimed street art event in 2010. In addition to extensive visual material, the book contains commissioned essays and texts by Carlo McCormick, Tristan Manco, Logan Hicks, Steven Harrington & Jaime Rojo, Leon Cullinane and Martyn Reed.
Norway’s Capital of Street Art, written by Tor Kjolberg / Feature image on top: Fintan Magee Brian Tallman Photography, copyright NuArt