08 December 2010

Stavanger -2 / Sandnes +2

2010: Stavanger takes two steps back, Sandnes two steps forward

During the last weeks the media have been dominated by two cultural issues, the closing down of Sølvberget gallery and the illegalisation of all graffiti. Both are major steps backwards by Stavanger as a cultural town. Both before and after the European Capital of Culture year 2008 Stavanger has by far dominated over Sandnes regarding the art environment. Is this about to change?

Sølvberget gallery is an important part of Sølvberget cultural center in the centre of Stavanger, together with the cinema, library, cafes and childrens' museum. Sølvberget is the very heart of Stavanger. All streets lead to this building and the square in front of it. The gallery has been an important part of the center, with great contemporary art shows both for the public and for schools, all for free. Due to financial problems the center has to cut down on the costs, and the proposal is to close the gallery. This will not kill Sølvberget as a whole, but will damage it severely. Visitors, artists and critics are uniting in the call for saving the gallery. Closing down a successfull art institution will be a large step backwards for Stavanger as a cultural town.

Another blow to the image of Stavanger as a cultural town is the recent proposal of the town government making all graffiti illegal, included the former legal walls at the teenager-playground Geoparken. In a populistic race to sweep everything different and unwanted under the carpet, the possibility to enchance the artistic skills have been removed. To be able to continue making their art, the Stavanger writers will either have to buy their own property (Stavanger is the 9th most expensive town in the world) or go to Sandnes.

It came as a surprise, but after the initiative of local writers a legal graffiti wall was available since spring 2010 in Sandnes. The wall has been a great success, acting both as a showpiece and a training area for writers. Its location by the bus station makes it both visible and convenient. I have been pleased to see how the pieces have constantly changed. High five to the guys proposing the project and the politicians making this brave decision. One step forward for Sandnes.

While Sølvberget gallery will probably be shut down to save money, Sandnes spend money on culture. The visual art and film center Kinokino is flowering with well-renovated and flexible rooms. There have been some great exhibitions and shows this year, with the spectacular Yang Fudong exhibition as a definite highlight. Sandnes has shown what a great venue you can get if you dare to take the costs. Another step forward for Sandnes.

Sandnes is taking up the fight with Stavanger of being the major cultural centre in the region. This would seem like a joke just some few years ago, but now it is getting serious. Some more wrong steps in Stavanger and some more right ones in Sandnes, and the table may be turned.