Aarhus: European capital for culture 2017

Words: Joe Miller, Photos: Matt Marsh

Every year, two European cities receive the prestigious title of ‘European capital of culture’ and in 2017, we welcome Denmark’s second largest city, Aarhus, as the holder of one of these two titles.

Over the next year, fascinated hearts will beat in unison to a fusion of art, music and performance to celebrate a history of intellect and discovery, and catapult us to a future of modernisation and creativity. We celebrate a city of food with all it’s culinary splendours, appetising the mouths of many a traveller and revel in the passion the city presents to us through its film and animation community.

With an economic change the world has seen for many centuries, the city brings forward the ideas of sustainability, diversity and democracy to carry forward through the 21st century. We will be challenged to rethink the way we live and how making a change today will see future generations come to live with purpose and belief in a world where there are no limits to discovery and change. The city and the people itself will examine and display these common values throughout the coming months in order to broaden our minds and ask how we can maintain these morals of which Denmark has incorporated into everyday society throughout its existence.

Over the next year many concepts will be explored such as gender relations, equality for all, rethinking agricultural history, religion and identity.

The European capital of culture title is not designed to give a city the opportunity to just simply make money from tourism and sit back and watch the money roll in, but instead give the city and region the opportunity to educate visitors through interaction and visual art, through performance, through creativity and through our hearts. Get ready for a year of transformation and with open arms, let’s embrace the culture and see what we can discover about our new friend… Aarhus.



Situated on the east coast of the Jutland peninsula, Aarhus becomes the second city in Denmark (Copenhagen 1996 being the first) to receive such a prestigious title. It has a history of being culturally diverse in many ways. From the city’s early days as a fortified Viking settlement to today as the cultural and economic core of its region, Aarhus has grown to be one of Europe’s most desirable destinations for people of all levels of intellect and creativity.

With the largest university in Scandinavia, we see a constant flow of highly educated and imaginative people being inspired by the city’s surroundings and wealth of discovery the city has to offer. Arts and crafts thrive in the city and visitors are welcomed to a region built upon the wool trade, glass production and handicraft.

Built along the bay of Aarhus, the city breeds from the openness of space it looks upon, stretching long into the Baltic sea and reeling in lines of hope and prosperity. A city that boasts a young generation of ideas based upon an historic sense of community and togetherness.

Home to the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus school of Architecture and Jutland Art Academy, the city boasts some of the country’s top academic schools and with a large selection of museums, galleries, restaurants and theatres at hand, it’s easy to see why Aarhus has been appointed ‘European capital for culture’ this coming year. We look ahead to what will be happening in and around the city this year.



Home to the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Moesgaard Museum and Den Gamle By – The Old Town Museum, the city boasts some of Denmark’s finest art galleries and museums. Throughout the exciting months ahead, Aarhus will passionately deliver a whole host of events centred around the arts community through a series of performance, exhibitions and projects.

Having visited the Munch Museum in Oslo, I am drawn immediately to the ‘Jorn and Munch’ exhibition at Museum Jorn, Silkeborg. A dazzling array of colours are sure to illuminate you during this exhibition and although both artists derive from generations unfamiliar to one another, they share the same common value of human conditions in modern society. Their work often highlights the themes of life-death, fear and dreams and such a collaboration is destined to present new ideas towards modernisation. (The exhibit runs from 11th February – 28th May)

For fans of animation comes four amazing, animated documentary films by international directors in September/November. Presented by The VIA University College, contemporary themes will be explored through the language of animation and in a completely experimental way and we will be challenged to observe the undertakings of the documentary film making world in a new dimension.

I look forward to many of the other events on offer to us in the coming months and am particularly interested to see ‘The Keeper Of Small Things’, presented by Emma Sullivan, Berit Madsen and Line Caught Films. A collection of items Tove Tendal-Hansen sees the value in, that perhaps most other people would discard or simply not be concerned with. It makes for an interesting spectacle of sustainability and an insight into the forgotten Denmark with stories and objects of which would be lost or cease to exist if not for Toves’ collection. (venue: ‘O’ Space, Aarhus)



Aarhus makes a loud noise this year, but none of the city’s neighbours will be beating on the wall to ask for the music to be turned down. That’s because many of the artists and entertainers from the region will be playing and performing to the same beat of the city, to demonstrate through sound the history of the many musical genres Aarhus is distinguished upon. Music has been developed here by the young jazz scene population of the 1950’s right through to now in becoming the heart of Denmark’s rock and pop movement.

In this exciting year ahead, we are introduced to some thought provoking performances, with reference to sound and ambience, never before heard or seen. ‘The beginning and the end of the universe’ is presented to us by The Origins2017 ensemble: Aarhus symphony orchestra, Århus sinfonietta, Aarhus sommeropera, Aarhus Jazz Orchestra and Aarhus 2017. Held throughout April, varying concerts will be performed to expose the questions of morality, meaning of life and existence through the medium of sound, visualisation and storytelling.

This year will continue its fine tradition of hosting some of Europe’s most thrilling festivals and capture the hearts of many a music connoisseur. With previous artists such as Radiohead, Lana Del Rey and Arcade Fire, Northside festival (9th-11th June) welcomes over 35,000 people each year and this year will be no exception. Centred around a conscious awareness to sustainability through its environmental approach to organic food and beverage at the festival, Northside sets the standards in regards to focusing on these values, with aspirations of becoming the first garbage free and completely organic festival in Europe.

In another highlight that I came across, School Students will be transformed into local music archaeologists in late June/early July to perform to visitors of the city during the ‘Rethink Folk Music Festival’. A young generation of interested musicians are being awakened to the musical heritage the region has grown accustomed to through its European roots and this collaboration of music from varying European countries, presented by Kultureskolen Skanderborg, is sure to make us open our eyes to new ideas of folk music based on the history of sound that shaped them.



With Aarhus becoming the European region of gastronomy, there is plenty of mouth-watering reasons to visit the city over the next year. A city known for its Nordic cuisine and defined by its use of delicious, fresh and localised products, we will be gracefully spoon fed a concoction of exceptional methods of cooking within many of the cities vibrant trend setting destinations, familiar to natives of the region but now on show for the rest of the world to salivate over…. and enjoy!

The city will present many events this year to excite the taste buds and boast of the culinary delights the region is known for. We are presented with the Aarhus food festival (September 1st-3rd) with its annual event along the magnificent Aarhus bay, inspiring a new generation of food lovers with its gastronomic knowledge of Nordic food cultures.

At the same time of the year and to coincide with the Aarhus food festival, the biggest dinner party in the history of Denmark descends on the city. ‘The people’s feast’ will entertain food lovers of all generations and fill the streets with passionate conversations about the food they have just digested and how they are inspired to recreate these meals in their own kitchen.

In late April (28thth – 30thth), the opportunity to feast on the nature of the region will be presented in the form of the ‘Wild Flavour Festival’. With a world of natural resources at the end of our fork, we will devour food that has been picked from the wilderness, surrounding beaches and parks of the city. The hope is that we can step away from the fast food blanket we have been wrapped in for convenience and discover a new way of thinking with regards to obesity, diet and general health, all of which will have an impact on us for sustainability within the food industry in years to come.
If you find yourself licking your lips in anticipation right now, then make sure you find your way to one of these events and many more throughout the year.


History and Belief

Aarhus will do its very best this year in tantalising the expectations of the many visitors it will receive over the next 12 months. With so many imaginative creations to digest, we are left to examine the history and beliefs that make this deserving city a place to leave a lasting legacy on the region, country and in our souls. An incredible programme of events will give you an insight into the history of the city through workshops, performances and events every week of the year.

Get ready to rethink the Seven Deadly Sins in relation to today’s society through a series of public programme events and large-scale exhibitions presented by Danish and international contemporary artists throughout 2017. With no relation to religion, we will be challenged to rethink the values of western society and with displays being held at seven of the cities museums, it offers an exciting opportunity for tourists and spectators to visit the finest homes for art that Aarhus has to offer (Exhibitions run throughout the whole of 2017 across various venues).

Are you amazed by time travel? If so, from 12th April and throughout the year, ‘The Aarhus Story’, set in the stunning location of Den Gamle By: Aarhus, allows the audience to travel through time to discover the history of the city. The story of the Aarhus Viking past right through to its contemporary feel of today, will keep visitors intrigued through the medium of sound, film and photography and allow people of all generations to be actively involved in understanding the history of Aarhus.


I scour the long list of themes and the programme for the year ahead and instinctively pull out of the pack a localised story that interests me. The beautifully presented ‘When Threads are Tied’ runs between 25th March – 17th December at the Museum Midtjylland. Based on an exhibition at Herningsholm about the Imperial Count, the story tells of Christian Rantzau, a sheep farmer from North East Sunds that developed the production of quality wool in the area. What is seen as the foundation of the early textile industry in the region, visitors will be exposed to the journey of wool through the production stage right through to hosiery techniques used to produce textile products such as gloves and knitted socks… items of which I have become accustomed to since my time in Scandinavia and, perhaps, could not live without.

With so many performances, exhibitions and events relating to ‘History and Belief’ throughout the year, my advice would be to make a visit to one of the city’s magnificent museums and to the surrounding area of the city to really embrace the culture and history that has helped shape the land for centuries gone by.

It’s difficult to choose some of the events on offer this year as I find there are too many for me to narrow down as my favourite, without feeling aggrieved to have left so many out. However, this just suggests to me that that with so much on offer this coming year in Aarhus, you will be spoilt for choice and there is something for everybody. My advice would be to embrace the culture, take in the sights, taste the region and discover for yourself, why making Aarhus the ‘European capital for culture’ in 2017 is the perfect choice for all generations, past and present.

This blog first featured on www.photographybymatthewjames.com