[IQP] The Culture Houses and the Community Integration of Kópavogur

Kyle Robert Harding
Kevin David Mercier
Benjamin P Steeves
Jordyn A Van Minos

Abstract: The Culture Houses of Kópavogur are an association focused on community building through weekly cultural events, including Culture Wednesdays and Family Saturdays. Our project involved surveying event attendees to understand demographics and guests’ experiences. We also interviewed community leaders to assess external perceptions of the Culture Houses. Our data led to recommendations that include enhancing the current events with new topics for underrepresented groups with a deeper consideration of language barriers. Other ideas involve improving promotional strategies and collaborating with community organizations. Our recommendations should help the Culture Houses enhance their vision of being a safe, diverse, and culturally stimulating resource for the community.

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Executive Summary


Starting in the 1990s, Iceland has witnessed a large increase in immigration, fueled by job opportunities and asylum circumstances. Immigrants in Iceland, recently called New Icelanders, have had a unique role in the building of Icelandic culture. The cultural diversity immigrants have brought to Iceland has both positively and negatively impacted the lives of all community members. As Iceland becomes more open to tourists and New Icelanders, the country is compelled to acknowledge different cultural backgrounds.

The Culture Houses of Kópavogur serve as a collaborative community resource that host and exemplify history, music, visual arts, performing arts, and sciences. This organization is comprised of five individual buildings including the Gerðarsafn Art Museum, the Kópavogur Public Library, the Natural History Museum of Kópavogur, the Salurinn Concert Hall, and the Kópavogur Archives. The Culture Houses look to unify the Kópavogur community by providing weekly events for the public that engage participants in diverse cultural activities. These activities develop a mutual understanding of different cultures and help the Culture Houses enhance their image as a safe, diverse, and culturally stimulating resource. Our project focuses on the analysis of these weekly events and an assessment of the Culture Houses’ relationship with local organizations and the residents of Kópavogur.


We developed four objectives to understand the role of Culture Houses in the community. We designed a flowchart to represent our goals and objectives.


The age of the attendees varied at both Culture Wednesday and Family Saturday events. Culture Wednesdays generally attracted older individuals, with 79% of survey participants between the ages of 50 and 80 years old. Family Saturdays more frequently saw 30 to 50 yearold adults/parents (63%), and grandparents/elderly participants (31%). The attendance for Culture Wednesdays varied each event, where events at Gerðarsafn Art Museum had 15 to 20 attendees and events at Salurinn Concert Hall had 40-50 attendees. At Family Saturday events the attendance on average was 30-50 attendees, including parents and their children. Four Saturday events and three Wednesday events that we attended were held in the Icelandic language.

When measuring past attendance at Family Saturdays, around 67%, or two thirds of the survey participants, had been to an event in the past three months. This also implies that one third of the current attendees at events are either new or attend events only once every year (Family Saturday Past Attendance).

Our research on the nationalities of the 53 attending the Family Saturday and Culture Wednesday events revealed that 49 of the guests were Icelandic. When looking at the participants who were of Icelandic nationality, about 84% percent of them spoke English as a second language. In addition to basic demographics, we researched the use of different social media networks. From surveys on Family Saturdays, 73% of the participants reported they used Facebook every day making it the most commonly used social media platform. Instagram was the second most commonly used platform at 58%. Our surveys also showed that a majority of participants (16) at Culture House events lived in the town of Kópavogur but there were 9 participants from outside the town.

Attendees learned about weekly events primarily through Facebook and brochures and attended Family Saturdays for the family-oriented and child friendly atmosphere. Meanwhile, guests attended Culture Wednesdays to learn about and appreciate different cultures. The specific motives for attending events are based on our interview and survey data (Guests’ Motives). Attendees were pleased with the mix of activities and themes at the events and found them interesting, enjoyable, and educational. One guest referred to the Family Saturday events as “family fun, something for the whole family” (interview response, August 31, 2019). However, we often observed that families did not interact with other families. To this point, one guest described being “more focused on [their] family than meeting new people” (interview response, August 31, 2019). All participants who were asked about the atmosphere found it to be open-minded and many enjoyed how the events were not too busy. Guests suggested that events should offer more active participation, language help sessions, interpreters, and more book readings. Some respondents also stated that childcare would increase their interest in attending events.

To understand how the community felt about the Culture Houses, we interviewed local organization leaders about their thoughts on the Culture Houses. A visual art gallery, Midpunkt, felt that individuals tend to associate themselves with those who have similar cultural backgrounds. We then visited Pastor Sigurður Arnarson of Kópavogskirkja, a church near the Culture Houses, who stated that the church served the whole community; he realized that Iceland was opening up to different cultures and expressed a need for a communal mutual understanding. Later on, we met with teachers of a local Kindergarten school, Marbakki, to discuss cultural diversity in the classroom. The teachers described how they have held multicultural weeks where they spent their class time learning about cultural diversity through art projects. We then spoke with choir directors from another local school, Kársnesskóli, who noted how local Icelandic residents are embracing the New Icelanders and believe that singing songs can help teach these groups new languages. The choir directors also explained that some families do not try to integrate into Icelandic communities if their family is only staying for a few years. Similarly, at a local music school, Skólahljómsveit Kópavogs, a band director noted that many New Icelandic students were applying, and that the school prides themselves on their no bullying policy.


One of the major trends involving the Culture House events is the noticeable absence of individuals from two age groups, young adults 18-30 years old and middle-aged 50-60 year-olds. The absence of these individuals could be attributed to the events not being tailored towards their schedules and interests. While the events are well designed to accommodate for a culturally rich learning environment, hosting a majority of the events in the Icelandic language is not welcoming to all of the diverse groups in Kópavogur. Family Saturdays and Culture Wednesdays are less accessible to New Icelandic and other non-Icelandic speaking residents when they are promoted and held strictly in the Icelandic language. At both Wednesday and Saturday events, guests often only interacted with those they attended and had minimal interactions with other guests. Due to this limited interaction, the attendees are less likely to meet new people, which lessens community involvement. On Family Saturdays, if children were to participate with other children in cultural activities, they could build relationships and consequently promote interactions between their parents. This would potentially lead to those families attending future events together.

A different trend, developed from our observations of the Culture Houses and interactions with community leaders, exposed the under-utilization of the Salurinn Concert Hall as a public space. We understand that Salurinn needs to maintain its professional atmosphere, however there are still many hours where it appears to not be in use. By offering the space to the community groups, Salurinn would be better able to reach out to the local citizens. These groups have the potential of drawing in more diverse crowds from their own organizations which would enhance the demographics of the Culture Houses’ events.


We have identified five areas of improvement for the Culture Houses to maintain their image as a ‘second home’ for the community of Kópavogur.

The data collected from surveys and interviews showed how Facebook and Instagram were the most popular social media platforms among the attendees. Therefore, the Culture Houses should advertise their Facebook and Instagram pages on posters in the buildings’ foyers so people can use these pages to learn about events. Additionally, these pages should include event specific Facebook groups to provide room for discussion and promote future events.

Based on similar information regarding the social media usage of the attendees in the previous recommendations, the Culture Houses should create Facebook polls for attendees to vote on possible cultural topics for upcoming events. The Culture Houses should also post a permanent survey on their website to provide general feedback from attendees regarding the current events.

By building more relationships with local organizations, such as Midpunkt and Kópavogskirkja, the Culture Houses would diversify their attendance and help integrate the community. To help promote the Culture Houses’ weekly events to the students’ families, the Culture Houses should provide informational cards to Marbakki Kindergarten to be sent home with the students. Furthermore, a partnership with local music groups and Salurinn Concert Hall would enhance the image of the Culture Houses as a community space. Additionally, the Culture Houses should sponsor a future project group, or work with an outside organization to set up a virtual reality exhibit. These exhibits would allow the archived artwork to be permanently displayed and help create interest among different groups.

The Culture Houses should develop events that promote interactions between different participants because attendees admitted to only associating with the friends or family they attended with. Providing paired family events could help encourage new interactions between different families and increase community relationships. Also, establishing more events in the English language would help accommodate for all community members, foreign and native, because our research showed a majority of residents speak English as a first or second language. New and native Icelanders could share more interactions at these events without a language barrier.

Events should be created for both 18-30 year-olds and 50-60 year-olds, which are two underrepresented groups at the Culture Houses. In order to attract these groups, events should be held at different times for with new alternative topics. Additionally, events such as language learning classes should be created for New Icelanders, to help them become more involved at the Culture Houses. By learning the Icelandic language, New Icelanders could experience new opportunities that were previously hindered by language barriers. During more mature events, the Culture Houses should implement a childcare service so parents can be completely engaged in activities they are interested in.

The Culture Houses of Kópavogur are in the process of analyzing their role in the community. The organization currently provides weekly cultural events that often do not reach key groups in the community. Based on our research, we formulated recommendations to help enhance the Culture Houses’ image as a safe, diverse, and culturally stimulating resource for all residents of Kópavogur.