Menningarnótt or ‘culture night’ is an annual festival held in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavík. Created by the Reykjavík city council in 1996, Culture Night is held every August and focuses on all things cultural, from music and arts to food and traditions. It is estimated that around 100,000 people attend the event each year, which is a staggering number when you consider the total population of the whole of Iceland is only just over 300,000. The day starts with the running of the annual marathon, and slowly the streets fill with people enjoying local delights. There are several outdoor stages with live music playing well into the night, craft and art making on offer, Icelandic food samples, longer opening hours for museums and bars, and an exciting fireworks display to end the evening. In addition to the main music stages there are musicians playing all over the city. When you wander down the main commercial strip in Reykjavík, Laugavegur, you are confronted with a blissful blend of sights, sounds and smells. Things are happening everywhere. As you walk along, just as the sound of one musician fades away, you can already hear another around the corner. And away from the main strip it continues. At Culture Night in 2011 I found a musician friend of mine, Myrra Ros, playing down to the street from the balcony of her townhouse. I then joined her has she proceeded to also play down at the harbour, in a café, and in a book store, all in one afternoon! The talent is great, and if you’re lucky you may even catch some of the stars of the future.
But what is this event actually for, and why is it so popular? Iceland already has a day to celebrate its national day, a hugely popular gay pride event, and a world-famous music festival each year, Iceland Airwaves. What could Menningarnóttin possibly be offering that these other successful events do not?
For me, the answer is city pride. Culture Night is not just a group or organisers running events. It is a whole city involved and embracing their unique culture. Obviously tourism is a factor and many businesses may benefit with increased profits, but the vast majority of the events and activities are free! It feels much more like a festival run for Icelanders by Icelanders. They are proud of their culture, both their heritage and traditions, and their modern way of living and creative lifestyles. This day allows them to ‘show off’ a bit. It encourages a sense of community, of togetherness and prosperity, and highlights the vast diversity of what is happening in the city each year. Icelanders are particularly proud people, and why shouldn't they be? While relatively small in size, Reykjavík is a beautiful modern city rich in cultural diversity, and I think a day to feel good about that is more than appropriate. I think it’s a fantastic initiative by the Reykjavík City Council and one I hope continues long into the future. I'm sure there are other examples of similar events in cities around the world, but I found Menningarnóttin a really unique experience. I’d like to see cities offer more cultural events like this for their people, even if just to be proud. If you know of anything similar going on in your city let us know!