The Dokk1 at Aarhus. Image (C) Dokk1.

European Capitals of Culture 2017 and 2018: Aarhus, Valetta and Leeuwarden-Friesland

Each year Europe selects two capitals of culture. In 2017, Aarhus in Denmark shared the honour with Pafos, Greece, and attracted some top British talent from the fields of film, the visual arts, literature and music. This year, the cities of Valetta in Malta and Leeuwarden-Friesland in the Netherlands take the baton. 

British Council Denmark looks back over the last year and asks: what were the highlights, what did Aarhus 2017 teach us, and what’s coming next? 

Revolutionising the possibilities of film 


2097: We Made Ourselves Over, Live in Aarhus was a special Aarhus 2017 commission developed in collaboration with Hull, UK City of Culture 2017 and brought to Denmark by multi-award winning UK artists’ group Blast Theory. The project combined film, theatre audio and installation to create an unforgettable, immersive experience. Learn more from our profile of Blast Theory.


The Poetry on Film project is a Maltese initiative that merges the visual art of film with the country’s rich literature. A poem is adapted into a film which then premieres at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Film Festival in August. In this year’s edition, two poetry films will be screened: an adaptation of Maria Grech Ganado's poem Relazzjoni, by Nicky Aquilina and Lyanne Mifsud; and a film of Victor Fenech’s work Fuq Għoljiet Dingli by artist and academic, Trevor Borg (University of Leeds). 

Introducing a passion for environmental and gender issues with new music 


The artist and musician Anohni was the Aarhus 2017 Artist-in-Residence. Anohni’s words about her environmental advocacy, and courage to envision a future of positive change for women, made her a huge creative force during the second half of the year. Anohni recorded with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, developed new art in mixed media, presented the exhibition Future Feminism across the city and performed for one night in a unique live concert at Musikhuset Aarhus. 


Protecting and celebrating the environment is important to Malta. Underground cisterns located beneath the Archbishop’s Palace in Valetta will be open during the Valletta Green Festival in April. These caves contain flowing, fresh running water which has been around since before Valletta’s construction. As with previous editions, the infiorata, which constructed from 80,000 potted plants, will also be decorating Pjazza San Ġorg and pays tribute to Malta’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. 

Anyone can be a dancer


In summer 2017 Wayne McGregor and his company of world-class dancers were in Aarhus to create a site-specific participatory dance work titled Lightlens. McGregor and his performers worked with more than two hundred local people of different ages, interests and cultures to create a commissioned work that celebrated the people and the city of Aarhus through dance, sound and costume. 


Frisian Dance Days in Leeuwarden-Friesland from the beginning of the autumn season encourages us all to start dancing, or at least to watch dance. In October, the city becomes the vibrant heart of everything related to dance. Municipal theatre De Harmonie and pop temple Neushoorn form the heart of the first Frisian Dance Days, with extra appearances from the internationally acclaimed dance company Nederlands Dans Theater

Respecting other points of view 


Throughout the year Aarhus 2017 and Clement Kjersgaard presented The Hypotheticals. These debates saw an impressive line-up of seventeen contemporary thinkers (writers, activists, professors, businesspeople and journalists) come together for four exciting discussions about the future of democracy. Guests included the co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Birgitta Jonsdottir, chairman of Iceland's Pirate Party and the founder of the Danish satirical news website RokokoPosten


Held in July, Valetta’s Utopian Nights comprises a series of public events which brings artists and thinkers into one space to discuss important social issues related to exile and conflict. The event will start when Nigerian contemporary artist Jelili Atiku presents a performance on ‘displacement’ around the migration monument situated in front of Castille Place. 

Getting children to read, write and illustrate 


Aarhus 2017 and the city’s library Dokk1 joined forces with the renowned Hay Festival to present the first International Children’s Literature Festival in Denmark. 39 of the best European children’s authors under the age of 40 were invited to write new works based on the theme ‘journey’. The Festival in Aarhus was the first produced by Hay Festival focusing solely on children’s literature and illustration and showcased the best of European children’s literature including great Danish children’s authors such as the much loved Kim Fupz Aakeson and British writers like Katherine Rundell. 


In May the circus is coming to town. ‘Look what I can do’ is the theme of a strange and inventive Circus 2.0 project. Youngsters and children are challenged to work together, are dared to do things they've always dreamed of, and in doing so, discover their talents. In the coming school year, ‘Circus Adje’ travels through Leeuwarden in the context of Leeuwarden-Friesland 2018 to all the fifty primary schools located in the municipality! What’s not to like? 

2097: We Made Ourselves Over blends audio, installation and interactive experiences and allows you to explore your vision of the city and your role in shaping its future. Photo (C) Blast Theory.
2097: We Made Ourselves Over blends audio, installation and interactive experiences and allows you to explore your vision of the city and your role in shaping its future. Photo (C) Blast Theory.
Anohni, Johanna Constantine and Kembra Pfahler. Photo by Brian Rasmussen. Image courtesy the artist.
Anohni, Johanna Constantine and Kembra Pfahler. Photo by Brian Rasmussen.

About Aarhus European Capital of Culture 2017

Throughout 2017, the Danish city of Aarhus and the 18 other municipalities in the Central Denmark Region will celebrate a year as European Capital of Culture. This is one of the most prestigious and prominent cultural events in Europe. Every year, two EU countries are appointed as host countries for the European Capital of Culture. Pafos in Cyprus is also a European Capital of Culture 2017.

In 1996, Copenhagen became the first Danish city to host the European Capital of Culture, and it will be many years before a Danish city can boast the title again. Aarhus 2017 is based on strong mutual cooperation across the entire region. The central theme of the year, "Let’s Rethink", explores the history of DNA throughout the year, asking important questions about what is kept and what is let go as we move into the future.

Many cultural partnerships and collaborations will evolve from the celebrations, which touch on every aspect of Danish culture, from contemporary architecture to pageants of the country’s Viking past. Danish and other European masterpieces will be reworked, new icons will be invented and prototypes and experiments can all be expected from this exciting, creative year of culture.

Featured British artists at Aarhus

Below you will find profiles of a selection of featured British artists who form part of the year-long European Capital of Culture events and activities.


Wayne McGregor was born in Stockport in 1970 and studied dance at the University of Leeds and the José Limón School in New York. In 1992 he founded Random Dance (now Company Wayne McGregor) and in 2006 he became Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet. His works for the The Royal Ballet include Multiverse, Woolf Works, Raven Girl, Carbon Life, Infra and Chroma.

McGregor’s interest in cross-discipline collaboration has produced critically acclaimed work that brings together dance, film, music, visual art, technology and science. McGregor is regularly commissioned by and has works in the repertories of the most important ballet companies around the world, including Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. He has directed movement for theatre, film and music videos, including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Grammy-nominated Lotus Flower for Radiohead.

Wayne McGregor has won numerous prizes for his work, including two Olivier Awards, and was awarded a CBE for Services to Dance in 2011. Speaking to The Stage about his creative process, he referred to his creations not as a series of individual works, but as a continuous process, stating that each piece was a ‘key frame’ in something larger.


Nathan Coley is one of Scotland’s best-known artists. For the duration of 2017 Coley has devised ten temporary illuminated text works known as ‘fairy light attractions’ that will be shown at a number of key locations across Jutland. The artworks will be mounted on scaffolding and consist of the kind of small, flashing crystal lights we know from the theme parks. The title, THE SAME FOR EVERYONE, brings attention to one of the most treasured of Danish values, namely 'equality for all'.

Find out more about Nathan Coley's work on the Aarhus 2017 website.


I wanted to visit places that in one way or another identified themselves with communities. The works need a response from their audience. (Nathan Coley)


Nathan Coley, born in 1967 in Glasgow, Scotland, is a contemporary artist, who in 2007 was nominated for the prestigious Turner Prize. He studied art at the Glasgow School of Art between 1985 and 1989 and works and lives in Glasgow. His works have been exhibited at numerous prestigious international exhibitions and museums: The 19th Sydney Biennale 2014; The Theatre of the World, Museo Tamayo, Mexico; The 13th Istanbul Biennale 2013; Bergen Kunsthal, Bergen, Norway; Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh; GENERATION, Royal Academy of Art, Edinburgh and Westfälischer Kunstverein, Munster, Germany.

Nathan Coley official website


Anohni is the Aarhus 2017 Artist-in-Residence. During her residency, Anohni will record with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, develop new work in mixed media, present several exhibitions as a visual artist and collaborator in venues across the city, and perform for one night only in a unique live concert at the Musikhuset Aarhus on the 18th November 2017. 

I deeply hope that Scandinavian countries will continue to uphold their models of socialism as prototypes for the rest of the world. We can’t afford for anxiety to erode Denmark’s noble conviction that socialist values are core human values. (Anohni)

Find out more information about Anohni's work on the official Aarhus 2017 website.


Born in England and living in NYC, Anohni first gained international prominence upon winning the UK’s Mercury prize in 2005 for her album 'I Am a Bird Now' with her band Antony and the Johnsons. Anohni's unique voice led to performances with symphonies around the world, collaborations with artists including Lou Reed, Charles Atlas, Marina Abramovic and Bjork, and exhibitions in select museums and at Sikkema Jenkins gallery in NYC. In 216 Anohni was nominated for an Oscar for her contribution to the song 'Manta Ray', an address to the world’s dying coral reefs. Her latest album HOPELESSNESS is a collaboration with Hudson Mohawke and OPN, and uses dance music to explore themes of ecocide, drone warfare and global virulence.

Anohni official website


Presented by Blast Theory,  2097: We Made Ourselves Over is an Aarhus 2017 commission in collaboration with Hull, UK City of Culture 2017. The ground breaking theatrical group will use the year to create a work that expands experience through use of technology, social media platforms and audience interaction. The audience will be taken on an unexpected journey in the imaginatively crafted spaces of an unknown city in the year 2097 - a blended place merging Aarhus and the UK City of Culture, Hull.

We’ll be working with communities across both Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and Aarhus European Capital of Culture 2017 to create a vision of possible futures, culminating in a series of public happenings. (Blast Theory)


Blast Theory, based in Brighton, UK, is renowned internationally as one of the most adventurous artists’ groups using interactive media, creating groundbreaking new forms of performance and interactive art that mixes audiences across the internet, live performance and digital broadcasting. Led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj, the group’s work explores the social and political aspects of technology. Drawing on popular culture and games, the work often blurs the boundaries between the real and the fictional.

Blast Theory official website 


Pride, the opposite of humility, is the worst sin among the Seven Deadly Sins, but how would it be portrayed today? The British artist, Rebecca Louise Law, uses real flowers in an exhibition at Skovgaard Museum, Viborg, to investigate. A floral installation reminds us that pride comes before a fall as decaying flowers comment on the passing of time, the definition of beauty, and on the ephemeral and momentary. Her work provokes thoughts about a world increasingly virtual and polluted, with few places left untouched by humans. 

Find out more about the work of Rebecca Louise Law on the official Aarhus 2017 website.

 Absolutely nothing is wasted. It all goes into my archive. (Rebecca Louise Law)


Rebecca Louise Law is an Installation Artist based in East London, specialising in artworks made with natural materials, namely flora. Notable commissions include ‘The Flower Garden Display’d’, (The Garden Museum, London), ‘The Grecian Garden’ (Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens), ‘Outside In’ (Times Square, New York) and ‘The Beauty of Decay’ (Chandran Gallery, San Francisco). Law’s work has also been exhibited by Bo. Lee Gallery, Broadway Studio & Gallery and at sites such as the Royal Academy and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Visit the official Rebecca Louise Law website


Ella Marchment

Ella Marchment is Artistic Director of Helios Collective and Director of Productions at Constella OperaBallet. She is currently part of the Steering Committee for Operatic Mass Actions in Aarhus, Denmark. Having worked on over one hundred opera and theatre productions throughout Europe and produced many events that span opera, ballet, musicals, comedy, club nights and installations, her directing credits are numerous. They include the International Opera Awards at The London Coliseum, Alexander Goehr’s Tryptich at Mariinsky II, an opera–ballet production of Stravinsky’s Renard, and an acclaimed international tour of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs For A Mad King, which was described by Opera Now as one of the best productions worldwide in 2014.

Ella's opera-play, Hathaway was shown at the Copenhagen Opera Festival, and An Evening With Lucian Freud, starring Cressida Bonas, was a sell-out in the West End. Ella is also co-founder of Theatre N16, a company that promotes new plays and opera adaptations. In 2016, she travelled to Denmark having been awarded the Artists International Development Fund by the British Council and Arts Council.

Ella is committed to solving problems regarding opera’s accessibility and is determined to create professional development opportunities for young artists. She particularly enjoys presenting opera with a twist. In 2015 she wrote and directed a play–opera adaptation of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and also set up a series of Opera Club Nights in London. Her ability to think outside the box was recognised in 2015 with Ella becoming the first director to receive an International Opera Awards Foundation bursary. Building on this success, in 2016, International Opera Awards Foundation bursary was awarded to Helios Collective.  

Current and future engagements include directing Operatic Mass Actions at The International Living Theatre Festival in Aarhus,  Mad King Suibhne at Bury Court Opera, and a piece exploring the music of Austen's life at Grange Park Festival in September 2017. 


External links