Souvenir Shops Hampering Harpa? Skip to content

Souvenir Shops Hampering Harpa?

There is disquiet among those who put on artistic and cultural events at Harpa Concert and Conference Center in Reykjavík. The reason is the selection of retail outlets they share the building with.

Some feel the retail outlets on the ground floor of Harpa are biased too much towards cheap tourist souvenirs and not enough towards art and music—the building’s raison d’être. Fréttablaðið sources claim the disquiet is not least among the managers and staff of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, though they were very quiet when asked for public comment.

“I really look forward to discussing the matter with the new CEO of Harpa who is starting to get stuck in to things, though doesn’t formally take over until the start of May. It will be very exciting to discuss this matter. We do a lot in this building, which is a totally amazing work of art and so wonderful to see the position it has achieved in Icelandic life,” director of the Iceland Symphony Arna Einarsdóttir told the newspaper, without being drawn further.

There are three souvenir shops inside Harpa: Epal, Upplifun and another run by the transportation and tour company Sterna. One of the owners commented that this is the first he had heard about any complaints at all.

The director of the Icelandic Opera, Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdóttir, says she celebrates tourists’ interest in Harpa, but is nevertheless worried. “My opinion is that a building like Harpa should attract guests first and foremost because of events taking place.” She adds that it is important that people’s interest in the building should mostly stem from their interest in its purpose: concerts, conferences and cultural events. She believes, therefore, that retail outlets in the building should reflect Harpa’s purpose.

Greipur Gíslason, who worked at Harpa for three years, is mostly concerned about the aesthetic. He believes the souvenir outlets give off the wrong impression—adding that managers could easily put rules in place for how outlets have to look and what they can do to complement the aesthetic of the building overall.

One reason for the allegedly-low standards set for tenants is probably the building’s difficult financial situation. Managers were forced to pay full price on property tax against their will and 2015 figures showed a loss of ISK 443 million (EUR 3.8/USD 4.1 million). 2016 figures are not yet available.

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