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Discover the NES Artist Residency in Iceland

NES Residency

The NES Residency is a beautiful artist residency located in Iceland. The co-director Vicki O’Shea shared with us NES’ story and what it is like to stay there as an artist.

Photo: Nes Skagastrond winter light photographer – Julie Pasila

How was the NES Residency created?

The residency was founded in March 2008 and the first artists arrived in June of that same year.  The founding director, Hrafnhildur Sigurþórsdóttir, a textile artist, put forth a proposal to the local municipality after the closure of the fish factory on how the space could be utilised.

What inspired you to create the residency?

With the closure of the fishing based industry, the municipality looked for ways to help their small community deal with these changes, and to bring a new enthusiasm in to the town.  The then vacant building of the fish processing plant was an ideal space for artists, large, with an open floor plan and inspiringly situated at the edge of the sea. Art and culture are important elements for a happy society. The municipality felt that an art residency project would provide increased opportunities to the community.

The proposal for the residency would create opportunities for self-expression and enjoyment, the building of social networks, the learning of new skills and the fostering of a creative scene, which in turn, contributes significantly to the overall health of a small regional community.  Cultural centres bring people together!

How would you describe the residency?

The residency is situated in Skagaströnd, a small seaside village in the north of Iceland overlooking the Húnaflói bay.  The landscape never disappoints and has a major impact on the way people respond creatively. The drama of oceanic vistas, the ever-changing light and dance of the aurora in the winter skies all playout under the watchful eye of our protective mountain Spákonufell.

As a remote residency located in a unique, stunning, and challenging environment, NES encourages artists to draw inspiration from place. To take advantage of the solitude (and presence), our surrounding environment provides. The municipality of Skagaströnd has an active fishing harbour, marine biotechnology laboratory, research library in association with the University of Iceland, music school, active choir and a museum about local mythology. 

NES Residency
Nes artist northern lights – Ehrlich Ocampo

How many artists can stay at NES?

We can host up to 16 artists per month in 3 shared artist houses situated in the town.  We can provide extra accommodation at the local guesthouse with large bedrooms and private bathrooms for a higher fee.  The guesthouse has 14 rooms and with advanced notice we will hire the whole building, including a large studio space to cater for specialist art groups, and or university study abroad programs.

Which kind of artists?

NES is a multidisciplinary residency. We accept applicants from all creative fields and career stages. Additionally, we offer a writer-in-residence program, in collaboration with the University of Iceland; likewise, we are able to coordinate access to additional facilities for dancers, composers, musicians, filmmakers and researchers, or anyone who might require additional space to work. NES accepts applicants on the basis of self-definition. Therefore we do not seek to define “who is an artist” when evaluating applications.

Discover Singulart’s articles on artist residencies.

How long is the stay? 

Usually the stay is 1 – 3 months as this covers the majority of general tourist visas. However we have had artists stay up to 6 months, EEA passport holders are able to stay longer. There are extended visa options for those outside the greater EEA. 

NES Residency
Nes open plan studio

Can you describe what a stay at the NES residency looks like in general? What can artists expect?

NES is a process-oriented residency that strives to cultivate an environment where artists can craft their experience as they wish; whether that may be through conceptual development, research, or intervention and experimentation, artists have the utmost freedom while in residence with us. The beauty of a residency with NES, is that we offer a distraction free environment which is conducive to creativity. The small isolated town with a population of less than 450 has few diversions to interfere with creative pursuits. Artists are able to leave their hectic life behind and come here to be inspired by the landscape and work uninterruptedly, fully focusing on their art.  

We ask artists to give an artist’s talk/reading/performance whichever suits their practice. This gives everyone an overview of what each artist is working on and can instigate collaborative activities between artists. It also provides insight for the directors to make introductions between artist and community members to assist the artist in realising their goals. Our monthly open studio event allows the artist to showcase their work/ideas to the local community. This again encourages dialogue and further collaboration. 

What are the outcomes of a stay at NES for artists?

NES Artists are self-directed and so outcomes are individual. Some artists come with very specific goals and for others it is more about experimentation and research. We work with artists on an individual basis to facilitate their needs. We can assist in making introductions to local community, organisations, venues for exhibitions, performance opportunities etc.

How many artists have you received so far?

Since June 2008 more than 1000 artists have passed through our doors from 49 different countries.

NES Residency
Skagaströnd aerial view – photographer Paul Scannell

In general, what does a residency bring to an artist career?

AIR programs give the opportunity for artists to live for a time outside their normal life, to focus on research, reflect and produce art work in a stress free environment. AIR programs allow artists to experience different cultures and network with like-minded people from around the globe, creating and expanding their worldwide artist community. This in itself often opens up careers through the expansion of knowledge and experience.  A residency stimulates, invigorates, transforms and restores passion that day to day life often depletes.

How important is the community aspect found only in residencies for artists’ careers? 

The residency aims to provide an opportunity for international exchange. Between visiting artists themselves, plus engagement with the local community. Connecting artists to locals for their project goals or research, is a main component of NES operations. Artists wish to learn about the folk-lore, landscape, histories of the area, as well as get to know the townsfolk. Locals are open to receiving requests from artists to participate in films, interviews, paintings, photography etc. They enjoy having this connection to an international group of people.

From these experiences, many NES artists form friendships and a camaraderie with locals and fellow artists. Most profoundly, NES residents develop life-long connections, which impact their work and lives in deeply meaningful ways. The number of artists we host each month provides a myriad of opportunities for collaboration and networking.

Are you still open despite the current situation?

The pandemic has affected us as it has many other residencies, many artists have rescheduled their residencies to 2021.  For the first time from April through to the end of June we received no artists through our doors. However to support our past artists we coordinated virtual programs to connect our alumni during this time.   In July one brave young artist from the USA was determined to come to NES for her residency as planned. Although the only artist here, she made many friends in the community and thoroughly enjoyed her time in Skagaströnd. During August and September things were brighter and we had 12 artists stay during these months.

They hailed from Germany, France, UK, USA, Austria, South Korea and Australia. Currently our artists entering Iceland are required to undergo 2 covid tests with a 5-6 day quarantine in between.   These tighter restrictions have definitely seen a lower number of applications for the remainder of this year. Still there are artists eager to arrive and willing to undergo the quarantine to be here. We are very grateful to these artists for making the extra effort.

An advice to young artists wondering whether they should apply to an artist residency? 

At NES we seek to approve applications to artists of various ages, nationalities, emerging and professional, as well as artists with families.  So apply apply apply!