FULL CIRCLE IN DENMARK
FULL CIRCLE – AT BIRK CENTRE PARK – HERNING DENMARK
At the end of my four month trip to Scandinavia I can look back on a journey filled with spectacular and inspiring experiences. In particular I will remember the many occasions on which I’ve been impressed and inspired by the way that culture, community, art and design seem central to public life, especially in Denmark.
In the last few days of my trip I visited Birk Centre Park, ‘The White City’, in Herning, Jutland. As the publicity says, “Birk Centre Park is known internationally as a unique area where art, architecture, landscape, education and business interact in an exciting way. In the 60’s the textile industry in the area developed rapidly, key companies founded a new creative way of thinking by merging their industries with art and education. The architecture of the factories inside and outside made art and culture a natural part of the workers’ everyday life”.
On this campus style site today Modernist buildings, once textile factories, house students of TEKO, Scandinavia’s biggest Design and Business School for Fashion and Lifestyle. The Innovatorium places entrepreneurs alongside business support teams and this contemporary building is part of a larger, stylish business park. Other key elements in this creative mix are HEART – Herning’s museum of contemporary art which is along side The Carl-Henning Pedersen and Else Alfelt’s Museum (founder members of the international COBRA art group in 1948). The University of Herning has more than 3000 students on the site studying business and engineering subjects. Birk Centre Park is full of green spaces, it has a sculpture park and the biggest public art sculpture in Northern Europe – the gigantic Elia, designed by award winning Swedish-Danish artist Ingvar Cronhammer.
The Carl-Henning Pederson and Else Alfelts Museum
Elia – Ingvar Cronhammer
One of the most striking things about the museums and art galleries I’ve visited in Scandinavia has been that they almost all have really impressive education spaces, creative learning is clearly valued and well provided for, a core part of the offer, not an add-on. This is nowhere more true than at Birk. Visitors of all ages are involved in creative projects, young people can join ‘COBRA Junior’ and there is free access for children under 18 years of age. HEART museum runs a creative programme involving 20 local schools, each partner recognising that ‘Art can be a catalyst for learning’.
I watched a group of parents and children with education staff at HEART and was forcefully reminded how powerful this type of work can be when it is well facilitated and well resourced. The group were looking at the work of Svend Wiig Hansen, a heavy weight of the Scandinavian art world (1922-1997). His work is expressive, abstract and challenging “innumerable human bodies driven by the forces of nature”. I have no idea what the teacher was saying to the group but they looked transfixed. They eventually disappeared into the education room and re-emerged later for a public viewing of their art work. I was really struck by its quality – what the group had achieved in a short time was simply stunning.
Svend Wigg Hansen
It took me back as my career began in museum education. I understood then and still do, that art and culture are unique catalysts with the power to deeply engage people of all ages in learning and decision making. In all of my work over the 25 years since – which have taken me far away from museum/gallery education into urban regeneration, community engagement, public art and public realm design – I’ve remained convinced of that ‘truth’, have sought to always apply it in my projects, and have been an advocate for it at every opportunity. In those few moments at HEART, witnessing the skill with which those parents and children were taken through a creative learning process, the quality of what they produced, their absorption and the pleasure they took from the experience, it was a joy to be reminded where and why my own work started.