ICORN Secretariat: You have worked at The City of Copenhagen for quite a while. How did you decide to become the ICORN coordinator in the city?
Jonas Kongstad Østergård: I was actually chosen for the role. Maybe because I have been working with event management for new internationals in Copenhagen, introducing them to all aspects of relocating to a new place. Maybe because I have previously been a cultural host for refugees. I had not heard of ICORN before. Copenhagen has been a member since 2010 and our present artist is the city’s third, though my first.
ICORN Secretariat: What was it like adapting to the role of ICORN coordinator?
Jonas Kongstad Østergård: I was very excited about being given this task, but also a little bit overwhelmed by the complexity. I started reading the handbook, talked to prior city coordinators in Copenhagen, listing and creating a network of key persons. Luckily, I share the coordinator role with my manager, Mette Bech Petersen, which is a big help. The biggest challenge, as I see it, is balancing being professional and at the same time personal, as the role requires both.
ICORN Secretariat: From your experience, what are the most important qualities and skills an ICORN coordinator should have?
Jonas Kongstad Østergård: You can prepare a lot before the ICORN artist arrive and make a solid framework, but it all comes down to being able to listen to the actual needs and wishes of the artist and try to respond to his og her state of mind. As a coordinator, I have ambitions for the artist while our politicians have expectations. These, however, can be very different from the needs of the artist.
ICORN Secretariat: One of the main tasks of an ICORN coordinator is to ensure that ICORN residents have professional networks in their City of Refuge. Could you tell us more about how this works in Copenhagen and in Denmark, more widely?
Jonas Kongstad Østergård: In the beginning I mapped all possible organisations, key persons and cultural institutions related to our artist’s artistic field and reached out to some of them after identifying our artist’s goal and ambitions. But the thing is that all this changes during the stay, and the artist might not have a clear direction in the beginning. So as ICORN coordinator, you must be open to new opportunities and continue suggesting them and just listen to the artist. Lots of trial and error!
It is no secret that Denmark doesn’t have many ICORN cities, which means that the network within the country is limited. We have a close network with Hillerød and Danish PEN, where the artist also participates in some meetings. I also wanted our artist to meet other ICORN artists in a similar situation, as my conception of being in refuge in another country can be limited. So, we reached out to the Swedish network to attend relevant meetings and workshops there.
ICORN Secretariat: Copenhagen will be hosting the ICORN General Assembly in 2024. What does this mean for the city as an ICORN City of Refuge and to you as an ICORN coordinator?
Jonas Kongstad Østergård: It is a big honour for the city to host the next General Assembly and of course we want it to be both unique and memorable. Since Denmark has only two ICORN cities, the General Assembly is a much-appreciated chance to create awareness of the ICORN membership among Danish cities, hopefully encouraging other cities to get involved in the future. It is of course also a chance for Copenhagen to show that we are committed to fight for freedom of expression. For me as a coordinator, it is a big and exciting challenge and I have already extended my network by reaching out to festivals, cultural institutions, and venues. Planning this event will be fun. I can’t wait to welcome you all to Copenhagen on 29-31 May 2024!