ÖREBRO, Sweden — Festivals and biennials are typically the purview of curators and organizers, backed by endowed institutions. But in the Swedish city of Örebro, a new paradigm has been building momentum: since 2008, the Swedish city roughly two hours outside Stockholm has celebrated OpenART, a biennial art festival conceived, organized, and conceptually driven by artists. “I’m just an artist,” says co-founder and organizer Lars Jonsson. “I don’t want to be alone, so I do this for my friends.”
The festival began as a collaboration between Mats Nilsson — then the head of a city-run art gallery looking to radically alter the perception of public art in Örebro — and Jonsson, an artist who was just returning from years in Germany to rekindle his relationship with his homeland. OpenART has built over the last seven years to become the largest public art biennial in Scandinavia. As Nilsson has largely stepped back from organizing this year’s OpenART, I caught a moment with Jonsson in the hectic few days before the festival’s opening on June 14, which kicks off a summer of installations, events, and tour activities which will engage the work of 72 international artists all over Örebro through early September.