The idea of creating a 380 square meter big street art gallery in the middle of the great north woods of Ljusdal, Hälsingland might seem totally crazy at first glance. And who knows, maybe it is? But bear with me, and I will try to explain just how this idea became a reality.
First, let me rewind the tape back to January 2008. I had just moved back to my hometown Ljusdal after many years in Stockholm. Since I was 18, I had been making my living down there as an artist, illustrator, film maker and musician. But as I grew older and became a dad, I felt more and more that I longed back to my roots and a more rural environment. Many years earlier, I had started my artistic journey as a self-proclaimed 15 year old graffiti artist here in Ljusdal. I’m pretty sure I made the first ever throw-up in Ljusdal down on the abandoned brewery wall. I soon moved to airbrush, and then digital illustration. So by being a part of Norra Station - northern Sweden’s first street art gallery feels like closing the circle in a way.
One thing that immediately struck me as I returned to Ljusdal was how little had changed while I had been away. Politicians, local media and people in general still talked about the same kind of small town problems that all smaller inland towns of northern Sweden struggles with: Making young people stay here or older to return, making companies establish themselves here, getting more tourists and so on. Problems often followed with the same old ideas for solutions that never worked in the first place. They said we have to get better in promoting our nature, wildlife, fishing & hunting e.t.c. I started thinking. All northern small towns have lots of forests, water and wild animals. And they all promote themselves in the same way. We have to be unique in order to survive. World unique.
So I came up with the idea of transforming the whole town into one giant art exhibition. Or what the hell, let’s transform it into THE WORLD'S BIGGEST ART EXHIBITION, while we’re at it. I started telling people about this idea. I said it in interviews in the local media, on the radio, and in the chronicles I was writing. The reaction I got was mostly the same: People laughed and seemed to believe I was either playing around, or was insane. Or, they thought it sounded great, but believed it to be too unlikely to ever happen. But then something did, in fact, happen.
The first real breakthrough for my idea came in February 2017. I had known all along that this would be a very slow process. People would have to digest it. Get used to a new way of thinking. So for many years, I was just dropping my grandiose vision as much as I could, and hoping that eventually the people in power would be ready to take it somewhat seriously. I strongly believe in visualization. So far, I had only TALKED about it. But in February 2017, I was contacted by Fredrik Björkman, the editor in chief of Helga, the weekend magazine that comes with all magazines of the Hälsingland county. He wanted to “do something big about your idea of transforming Ljusdal to the world’s biggest art exhibition”. This was the chance I had been waiting for.
I got the front page, the centerfold and two extra pages. The interview was accompanied with my large colorful sketches of how a future Ljusdal could look like. And some film clips for HelaHälsingland’s webpage. As soon as it got published (on my birthday!) the paint really hit the fan so to speak. People started contacting me from everywhere. They wanted me to come and paint their towns as well. I told them I can’t do this alone, I just want it to happen, and I will start with my hometown. They were talking about it on national television. Some were positive, some made fun of it. Just as it should be with any idea that is new. Just a week later, I had closed a deal with the local trash company that meant it would be legal for anyone to make art on their boring green trash cans. The ball was set in motion.
A couple of months prior to the article in Helga, I was at a party where I met Johanna Öhman. Although I had known who she was since I was a kid (our parents had common friends) I didn’t know her. All I knew was that she was running Seglet, Ljusdals biggest real estate company, together with her sister Julia. The hostess asked Johanna if she had heard about my idea about the transformation of Ljusdal. Which she had not. So I told her. Her jaw dropped to the table in front of her and she immediately said “We need to be in on this. This is exactly the kind of progressive ideas that me and my sister is looking for. We need to improve our hometown in so many ways. So what can we do to help you? Do you need walls? We own half of the buildings in central Ljusdal, so let’s go. Let’s do this!” Soon thereafter we set up a meeting. On the meeting was also Carina Janars, head of Ljusdal I Centrum, an organization that works for city development. She talked about Artscape, northern europe’s biggest street art festival. She thought we should get in touch with them.
To be totally honest, I was the one that was really skeptical towards Artscape to begin with. I thought it would be a risk to involve them in the process of all this. I felt like “why can’t we do this by ourselves, instead of bringing a world known organization and let them just come in and dump their greatness upon us?” I can be very stubborn at times. But since Carina Janars had contacted them and told them about my (by this time our) vision, I thought at least we could fly down to Malmoe and see what kind of tips and inputs they could give us. After all, they had been doing these kind of large street art projects in both Malmoe, Gothenburg and that same summer of 2017 they were about to do the world’s largest street art festival ever. Doing large scale murals, installations and workshops in 10 towns in Värmland. So of course I was curious. And after having met them and having them explain their vision, I realized that an Artscape festival in Ljusdal could really provide the kind of big boost for the whole project, that I had so long wanted. So we invited them to Ljusdal. And after a few days of meetings and showing them around, they presented an idea for Ljusdal. And we all loved it. It wasn’t at all what we had in mind, it was better. Their idea is to squeeze the festival area instead of spreading it out. Turning the area right behind Norra Station into a world unique street art happening. It will be fantastic - and on a scale that the world hasn’t yet seen.
In September 2017, Johanna and Julia Öhman calls me up on speaker phone. They are both bubbling with excitement as they tell me to meet them right away at Norra Stationsgatan 49, right across the train station and the timber central. So I get in the car and drive the five minutes
to get there. As soon as I enter the building they hand me a key.
-Here you go! Start a street art gallery. If we want to become the world’s biggest art exhibition, we need a place where we can exhibit all the artist’s work, don’t you think?
Just like that. I thought they were joking. They were not.
- I’m just an artist! I don’t know anything about running a gallery, I have only had my artworks in them.
-Then find someone who does, they said. So I did.
Two days later, me and Maria Norén were out shopping materials for an upcoming street art workshop that we held together. Besides being an artist herself, she also runs two galleries: Galleri Obstinat in Stockholm, and Kulturkossan in Järvsö, Ljusdal. I told her I wanted to show her something. We parked the car behind the building and told her to follow me. We went inside and sat down on the stairs with a view towards the street, the railway station and the timber terminal.
-I’m gonna start a street art gallery here, and I want you to…”
She interrupted me.
-I wanna be a part of it!
The four of us (me, Maria, Julia and Johanna) spent the following last months of 2017 planning, dreaming, reconstructing, painting and contacting some of the world’s greatest street artists, asking if they wanted to come and exhibit their art. We immediately got really positive feedback from most of them. It made us feel that we were on the right track. The opening exhibition and grand opening will take place on Saturday, the 9th of June in the summer of 2018. The artists will be Wilddrawing from Athens, Greece, Leon Keer from London, Vickanart from Stockholm and Teg from Bergen, Norway.
You are all so very welcome!
Charlie Granberg, Maria Norén, Johanna Öhman and Julia Öhman
Biography written by Charlie Granbe