The birth of the Arctic Arts Festival

The birth of the Arctic Arts Festival 

On the 8th of April 1964 following the initiative of the journalist Jan Kr. Nilssen, a meeting was held at the Grand Hotel in Harstad. A call went out to the Harstad Council, music and choral organisations, travel bureaus and the local military.


Every now and then the idea of a northern Norwegian music festival was raised, particularly after a very successful jazz festival was arranged in Setermoen. Perhaps a gathering in Harstad to discuss a possible festival might raise local interest, and not just a pale comparison of the Bergen Festival but a major cultural event. 

A northern Norwegian music festival was best placed in Harstad, because the town boasted a number of suitable locations for concerts. These included the Community Hall, Harstad Kirke, Trondenes Kirke and several restaurants which could easily be revamped into concert studios. 

Of course there might be some objections to Harstad´s candidacy but regardless of where such an event would take place, some criticism was inevitable. The Arctic Arts Festival would gradually become an established tradition which would take place on an annual basis. From the outset a three day festival was planned. Once established, if public interest demanded it, then a responsible committee, advised by an assistent committee could put forward the idea of a week long festival. 

"In order to discuss the possibilities we welcome music enthusiasts and Harstad-patriots to a meeting at the Grand Hotel, 8th of April at 7pm.

All those in attendance shall remain anonymous and I therefore undersign on behalf of all those who take part".

Jan Kr. Nilsen

All the participants were enthusiastic about the idea of a northern Norwegian festival. The gathering chose an interim board, and the first official meeting was held on the 22nd of June 1964. The festival itself was opened on the 5th of June 1965, and was built around a major northern Norwegian music competition and saga themed event at Laugenvannet. The starting pistol had been fired, launching the region´s largest and most important cultural event.