May 26, 2012

Sweden in Euphoria!

We are the same age The Eurovision Song Contest and I. Born the same year. When I was a child this event was a black and white thing, as it’s medium was television, broadcasted by The European Broadcast Union. It was a quiet, serious and grand event, all in the same. The songs were accompanied by a symphony orchestra, each country brought their own conductor. The contestants were grown up men and women standing up right before the microphone stand dressed like for a black tie dinner. And as I remember it, there was this rule, saying that the songs were to reflect it’s country’s musical tradition. France or England usually won, so it was either a French chanson or a British pop making history.

Every Swedish family gathered in front of the TV set with a bowl of snacks and a soda. And it’s interesting cause tonight, about 50 decades later, Eurovision Song Contest brings out the same pattern. The TV sets and the snack bowls are bigger, the event is an explosive party of colors, fire, smoke, wind, water and creative outfits. But it sure still is a camp fire, not only in Sweden, but in most of Europe.

There is also one more difference. Europe is so much bigger today then 56 years ago. Tonight 26 countries are competing in the final, the semi finals were 42, which is an all time record. ESC was a sleepy thing for a lot of years, but all the eastern countries, which are now a part of Europe, have infused the competition with tons of energy, and France and UK are rarely the winners anymore.

2012 the final of The Eurovision Song Contest is taking place in Baku, Azerbadjan who won 2011, another country we are getting a chance to peep into for a moment. The entries are a mix of pop-folk-house-power ballads-ethnic-rock and cross over. And I am thinking that the original idea of the countries expressing their cultures is actually more alive now the is was during the sleepy years. The Eastern European countries have strong traditional traditions. Although they frequently are working hard to act western, the songs are often transparent from history and pride.

And the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 just took a nerve wrecking turn for my home country. The vote started minutes ago, and leading right now by 14 points is Sweden! Loreen, a Swedish dervish with a wall of long black hair floating with her fluttering outfit in her house-inspired song Euphoria is in top of the 26 countries. And things are progressing, now the lead is by 38 votes!

Is Sweden going to take this?! Winning ESC is huge, and it brings consequences, it’s a bit like getting the Olympics. Azerbadjan had to do quite a bit of cleaning up and build a new super arena in no time. Last time Sweden won this event I was a journalist working for Sveriges television, the national Swedish public service television network. Wow, Loreen is in top with 56 points now! Anyway, last time the show I was working for back then was canceled together with quite a few other shows, because… Wow again, Sweden is 94 points ahead of the game! Anyway, because the money was needed for the ESC broadcasting.

Did I already say nerve wrecking? Four countries left voting. Now Germany, one more 12 points, and it looks like Sweden is winning this! Russia puts in one more 12 points, and yes, the game is over. Irland is the final country voting, 12 points to Sweden, and the Swedish dervish Loreen is winning Eurovision Song Contest 2012 this very minute! See you in Stockholm next year!!!


May 20, 2012

The art of bringing it together

-       It will age like our red cedar.

We are looking at the exteriors of The Umeå Arts Campus, Harold, Trouble 1 and me. It’s the opening day of the new Bildmuseet (Art Museum). The campus is a free flow of buildings and people celebrating this new focus point for arts and culture, sitting right at the Umeå River traveling towards the Botnia Bay.

The Umeå Academy of Fine Arts, The Umeå Institute of Design, The Umeå School of Architecture, HUMlab-X, and now Bildmuseet. It’s all there, brought together. The origin of the campus is two carefully renovated industrial red brick buildings. These older structures are now joined by four boxy buildings designed by Henning Larsen Architects, characterized by the as well boxy and irregularly placed windows. Bildmuseet is rising high above with its six floors of exhibitions space, and the campus has a yellowish look from it’s façade covered with skinny sticks of Siberian larch tree.

-       It will age like our red cedar.

It’s Harold contemplating the exteriors as we admire this new sight in Umeå. And he is right. The Siberian larch will turn from yellow to a silvery grey in a couple of decades. Just as the Red cedar does in the Beautiful Northwest in US.

This is a very special moment for Harold, Trouble 1 and me. Harold is the reason to why my family and me first came to Seattle, as he and my sons' dad worked together and Harold at that time lived in Seattle. Harold and his wife Annie right away adopted my sons as their grandchildren, and from that day they have been their American grandpa and grandma. They became our guides and benefactors in a foreign city and country, and the places they introduced to us are uncountable and unforgettable. Drives to in the middle of nowhere as well as stops at all the must see places.

And the picture I am carrying inside me is two little boys, 4 and 6 years old, holding tight to their art kits, purchased at Seattle Art Museum, SAM, first time Harold and Annie took us there. Two little boys, Trouble 1 and Trouble, 2 safe under the wings of their American grandparents. Always respectfully encouraged in their artful expressions by Harold, being an architect with an eye that appreciated every drawing the little boys proudly stuck under his nose.

And life is such an artwork. Because this spring Harold is teaching as a guest professor at the Umeå Institute of Design. And at the big day of the opening of Bildmuseet Harold, Trouble 1 and me are meeting up in the foyer to share this moment. Trouble 1 and I are so happy and proud introducing Harold to this new art piece of Umeå. It’s pay back time, finally! Well well, what do you know? As Harold has been at the campus for about a month now, and spent the day listening to student presentations at Bildmuseet, he already knows the place! Harold is guiding Trouble 1 and me from top to bottom of this new Umeå landmark and everything is just as it used to be; Harold knowing his way around in the art world and Trouble 1 and me tagging along!

I am looking at the two of them, Harold and the boy, not 6 anymore but 26, and physically it’s now Harold who is under the boy’s wings. The young man is starting up his business as an illustrator and right this day picked up his new laptop designated for work and purchased with art money. I am moved by memories listening to Harold’s questions about his artwork, the nodding “aha” that’s always been paying such great respect to whatever those little boys came up with. I am realizing Harold has such a great deal in the self esteem and confidence my sons have in what they want to do in their lives and with their lives.

And I am so grateful. To the art world that Harold introduced to us in Seattle way back. To Umeå that provides such a creative atmosphere and environment. To Harold who has been and is the most wonderful and significant inspiration to my family. And to life, that brings it all together.

May 5, 2012

The chosen ones

It’s a big thing. It’s a really big thing. Browsing the former names of the title I’m thinking it’s kind of hard to grasp how big. Athens was first, then a line up of iconic places: Florence, Paris, Madrid, Luxembourg, Prague, Liverpool, Istanbul. To name a few. A few of the chosen ones.

 It was the Greek actress Melina Mercouri and her French counterpart Jack Lang who came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values. To start with, one city a year was picked out, it later changed to two and sometimes three. More then 40 cities have been designated this far. Sweden has carried the title once; Stockholm was the European Capital of Culture in 1998. Who would have thought the next Swedish city to make it to the finals and win this desirable title would be… Umeå?!

But that’s the case! Umeå, a city of about 116 000 people on the 63rd latitude is going to be the European Capital of Culture in 2014! A group of persistent politicians, officials and enthusiasts played the game well for a lot of years and Umeå was designated in September 2009. We will hold the title for the year in companion with Riga in Latvia.

So, five years to get ready for the big party. Seems like a pretty long time. But Seattle, you have done this once, right? Arranging the Worlds Fair must be something along the lines of what European cities are going through realizing the expectations being a Capital of Culture. A big thing. A very big thing.

Actually two things. It’s content, and it’s surface. A Capital of Culture has to deliver. Melina Mercouri’s intentions were high. The Commission of the European Union hasn’t lowered the bar, and the international panel of cultural experts in charge of assessing the proposals of cities for the title according to criteria specified by the European Union, is a serious bunch of people. So, when it comes to content expectations are high from the people who believed in us in 2009.

And as for any big party the hosts want their place to look nice when the guests arrive. Umeå is a young city, rebuilt after the great fire in 1888 and remodeled in the sixties and seventies, not the most exciting time for city planning and architecture. To be honest, Umeå isn’t that pretty. It isn’t special. It looks like most Swedish cities with a similar story. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice town. It’s a really good town to be a part of. But you need to be here some time to find out, the surface won’t make you fall in love at first sight.

So, the big party is coming up, the guests will be arriving in about 1,5 years, and we are sweeping the floors, cleaning up the kitchen and building a new front porch. Glasgow, Lisbon, Bologna, Graz, Cork, Essen, Brussels, I guess they all did the same thing, in their own way. As Seattle did at the Worlds Fair 1962. We want to do our best, be our best. We are stretching to live up the expectations, to succeed with the assignment we have been given. It is quite a responsibility being the chosen ones. And it should be.