Shipping company Eimskip places a high value on culture and art; it’s paid off

In 2013, Iceland’s oldest shipping company, Eimskip, moved the company’s North American port of call from Norfolk, Virginia, to Portland, Maine.

“Eimskip’s move to Portland was driven by the state’s commitment to investing in intermodal infrastructure and the cultural similarities between Maine and Iceland,” states Larus Isfeld, managing director at Eimskip USA Inc. and Eimskip Logistics Inc.

Culture is not rhetoric for Eimskip.  This key player in worldwide reefer logistics has placed a high value on culture since it was founded in 1914.  “When identifying where we operate,” says Isfeld, “we look to smaller communities where there are cultural similarities and where we can make connections and be involved.”

Eimskip makes great effort to integrate itself into all aspects of the communities in which it operates, and strives to foster connections across its operational reach.  One of the ways the company has traditionally done this is through art.

For many years, Eimskip operated mixed passenger and cargo vessels and would allow artists to pay their way with their work.  Over the years, Eimskip amassed a large collection of art.

When asked about this initiative, Isfeld describes the value the company places on artists and their work:  “Artists make life more interesting.  They also relay certain messages in a much better way than an ad.”

Interestingly, the move to Maine has reignited Eimskip’s investment in artists.

In September 2015, Maine artist Justin Levesque traveled from Portland to Reykjavik aboard Eimskip’s MV Selfoss.  His multimedia project ICELANDX207 documented the nine-day journey and captured both stories and profiles of crew members.

Currently aboard the Selfoss are Jonathan Laurence and his business partner, Anneli Skaar. Laurence, a multi-artist and Maine native, is the creative director for the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) in Rockland, Maine. Skaar is a Norwegian-American artist, graphic designer, and writer. Laurence and Skaar are also co-founders of TIMBER + ICE, which serves as a creative liaison for organizations that wish to create cultural content to enhance their involvement in the emerging, and quickly evolving, relationship between Maine and the North Atlantic countries.

In keeping with tradition, both Laurence and Skaar will create a piece of art during their passage and donate it to the Eimskip collection. Going forward, TIMBER + ICE will continue to work with Eimskip as cultural liaisons.   (You can follow their passage on the Selfoss via TIMBER + ICE’s Instagram and  Facebook page.)

Further, TIMBER + ICE plans to create an art installation in Portland to coincide with the U.S. State Department’s Arctic Assembly being held October 4-6, 2016. About 250 delegates are expected to attend the meeting, including scientists, business leaders, and senior government officials from eight Arctic nations. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the heads of state of Arctic nations may also attend.

The installation will utilize shipping containers as exhibition space, and will connect Icelandic and Maine artists in order to highlight, spotlight, and educate — through creative means — the opportunities and challenges related to Arctic issues.

In just three years, Eimskip’s relocation to Portland has fostered a meaningful connection between the two communities — and enriched both with its investment in local artists and their art. It’s exactly what Iceland’s oldest shipping company is all about.

“We believe that businesses can connect; people need to connect,” says Isfeld. “This building of trust and understanding of values is what enables successful relationships.”


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