Inside the Heart Park: The Gallery Reykjavik Once Had

The year was 2008, Iceland was plunged into bankruptcy by its major banks (sound familiar?) creating the largest economic depression in its history.  Major businesses pulled away from the island nation, and the thoughts of entering the Eurozone quickly faded to black.  It was a dark time for the country, and citizens began to wonder if the economy would ever rise.

However, there was one glimmer of hope and free expression that arose from the darkness of this crisis.  Enter the Heart Park, or as the locals call it the Hjartatorg in Reykjavik.  Before the crisis it was a vacant lot set to be constructed into some type of a cookie-cutter hotel.  Following the economic recession, the project was quickly abandoned and the residents of Reykjavik were left with and empty lot… or a blank canvas.

dsc_0223The first time I got the chance to view it was while on a walk throughout Reykjavik a mural of a giant bald eagle caught my eye. Thinking it strange I proceeded to see if there was more art like this. I thought this area extremely particular because it was seven days since I first arrived to Iceland and I must have walked past it over twenty times. Surely this small city couldn’t have too much to hide from outsiders, but I couldn’t be more wrong.

Artists quickly realized that this was their chance to express themselves, working tirelessly to create giant murals to color an otherwise grim city backdrop. People flocked to the park in the summer, and it soon became filled with families, bands, skaters, and artists all breathing a new life into this once desolate lot. The Heart Park was blossoming into a beautiful hip-hop butterfly.  What started out as a vacant lot soon turned into a major outlet for street art. The lot itself became a work of art, a beautiful fusion of Nordic tradition and the street art of “1980’s New York City.”

The Heart Park was tucked away in a small little corner of the city. The only two entrances into the park were through narrow alleyways that quietly hid the area. Of course, there were other community parks scattered throughout Reykjavik, but none like this one. It was its own entity separate from the rest of the city. When stepping foot into this area, it gave off the sensation of being transported to another world. The area was encased by the surrounding buildings, devoid of the harshness of the Icelandic wind. Scattered about were a couple of picnic benches and a makeshift skate park, though this is not what drew onlookers to the park. It was the murals that spanned from the smallest corner of a building, to works of art that filled entirety of wall spaces. Mixes of different colors were splashed throughout the park, leaving no brick and no wall of concrete unpainted.

Though with the help of the Tourism industry, in 2011 the Icelandic economy started rising people from all over the world flocked to Iceland to view its natural beauty.  The influx of travelers from all over the globe meant every lot and empty space was now prime real estate.  While a truly amazing turn of events for Iceland as a nation, but it was almost a bittersweet ending for those who frequented the Heart Park.

Sadly in 2013, to create more room for a new hotel project, the park was closed down and the murals painted over. The hours painstakingly put into creating true masterpieces, and the devotion to make art was almost instantaneously washed away by a couple of paint rollers. A true symbol of social injustice, as these masterpieces of art faced gentrification at the hands of hotel contractors.

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One cannot help to think of the same occurrence that happened in SoHo New York in 1970’s an otherwise desolate and run down area of New York City. Soon starving artists filled the streets of lower Manhattan, creating an artistic urban landscape. Since popularity was rising in this section of the city among trendsetters, more high-end apartments were built, spaces that artists could not afford. Ultimately the artists had to relocate to other parts of the city, and the area of SOHO lost what made it unique. Gentrification happens so often in major metropolitan areas throughout the world, it makes the cities look generally the same as others by loosing of what makes them individual.

Artists of the Heart Park in Reykjavik worked tirelessly to create such a creative space of artwork. It was their sheer determination to make a section of the city artistically beautiful and they succeeded. The memory of the Heart Park will live on, through pictures and personal experiences.  The shinning ray of light will always be remembered of how people could come together and create breathtaking artwork, amidst the Icelandic depression.

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