Paul Nartop

Where are you from and what do you do?

Originally, I’m from the Southern Part of Denmark almost in the border with Germany, from a little town called, Sønderborg, but I moved to Aarhus many years ago - 31 years ago to be specific -, so I feel very much Aarhusian.

Paul Nartop

I have lived in the same neighborhood almost for the same amount of years - in Frederiksbjerg - so in many ways I’m very local.

I do several things, over the last couple of years I have been working with Rethink Activism which is a huge project. We took the initiative to create it, but the project involved a lot of people in the city. The main idea of the festival was to create what we called, social poetry, it is a new narrative about what it means to be a citizen and how we can participate in shaping our society, creating our society and eventually, creating not a new but a renewed idea of democracy.

The Rethink Activism festival came about when Aarhus became the European Capital of Culture, we asked ourselves, what if we create a city within the city? What if we framed it as a place where we give attention to the everyday activism that is happening everywhere? We started a dialogue about all the people that are participating and volunteering on all of these initiatives. What does it mean for us? How can we change our view on each other as citizens? How can we change our view on democracy?

At the Rethink festival, we talked about every day activism, because we want to somehow turn our consciousness towards politics, we are also participants in a political process every day in our lives. When I say politics is politics with a small “p”, because is not associated to parties, it is very much associated to creating change but based on our everyday lives.

I also work at Sager der Samler, a community that basically we have built as an experiment over the last five years, to find ways of supporting initiatives that citizens take, specially we support people who come from more marginalised backgrounds, I think that's where the most interesting change comes from. When I say support people that take these initiatives, I really mean to form a community of support, it is not so much about me and my colleagues, it is about all of us, how can we all work together doing that.

Overall, I spent most of my time doing that and most of my passion.

Apart from that I also work as an organizational consultant and I do some courses together with Kaos Pilot, on creative leadership, which is basically taking some of the same principles for leadership and translating them to an organizational context, supporting organizations, creating cultures that are better at learning and that are more capable to giving out power to people on the organization.

Do you plan to keep the Rethink Activism Festival ongoing?

We are in the process of evaluating, first we must see what it is that we have accomplished with this little movement. The people that are part of it, what do they think?

I’m quite certain that there would be a continuation, there is momentum and I think there is something that we can build upon on. I think some kind of platform will come out of it. Maybe we will organise some events inspired from the ones we organised at the festival, maybe we will organize another festival because the idea of creating a city within the city, I really like it! Especially if we do that in smaller places that don’t have the same momentum as Aarhus. We will keep on with the story telling part, but I must say I don’t know exactly how, yet (smiles).

What do you love about Aarhus?

I love the fact that I know a lot of people here and my kids grew up in Aarhus.

I love that I’m close to the sea. That’s what brought me here in the first place. When I moved here I was very much into sailing, I still am, but on a different level - I was young and I was very much into competition, but when I moved here, there was a special community of talented and fun people.

I went to the Olympics in 1988. Back then it was kind of an adventure, if you wanted to go, you had to create your own projects. We would travel to many places in Europe in vans. It was like being an adventurer and it was empowering, this whole environment of people daring to do new things, that special community of people and being close to the sea was what brought me to Aarhus.

What kept me in Aarhus? I found a family very early (smiles). Also, Aarhus is a very easy place to live in, it has a rich cultural life and always had a good share of activism, specially in the 80’s, and now is back again.

On the other hand, Aarhus is quite compact, it is easy to get comfortable, you can meet people that you know all the time and nature is very close. I go to the forest every time that I have the chance, it is a huge privilege, it is like paradise and I don’t know many cities that have all that.

Where do you see room for improvement in Aarhus?

Aarhus is riding on a wave and it has a lot of confidence, it is nice to live on a place that has the surplus.

I think there is a lot of successful companies and huge projects - we have just been part of one of them as part of the European capital of culture- next year Aarhus is going to be the European Capital of Volunteerism. That is great, but I would love to see all these projects not being so much about wanting to show to the rest of the world how great Aarhus is and how good we are. I find it quite boring.

I would much rather see us using these events to ask relevant questions, to be more curious and to invite people to be more curious with us. There is a tendency to show how innovative and amazing we are, and that is not very interesting. Great things are happening but great things are happening everywhere. We probably live in one of the most privileged cities in the world. It is safe, we don’t have major financial problems, there is a lot of young people, a lot of talent, people is engaged so, why don’t we use this time and privileged situation to invite people to be more curious with us?

What was the happiest moment of your life?

The moment that I can think of right now happened many years ago. I’m some sort of an adventurer, when I was 19 together with my brother, I went on a trip on a small sailing boat. We sailed to the Caribbean all the way from Denmark, we were just two kids along with two of our friends. We borrowed my parents' boat, we convinced them somehow that we were equipped and capable to do this trip by ourselves. I remember being nearby the Canary Islands during that trip. It was dark and there were millions of stars. It was like floating in some sort of undefined universe that only existed on my dreams, it was truly beautiful.

If you had all the power in the world, all the means in the world, all the resources in the world, what would you do?

If I had all that, I would really work on creating these platforms and mechanisms to allow people to create initiatives, spreading power not from the top down but horizontally.

I would like to improve how to organise politics and business life. It would be fascinating to experiment with that.

The interesting thing is that we already have a lot of those elements here in Aarhus. I believe that if you really want to work on these kind of transformations, it must be done when there is a moment of peace, so you can build on a broader level. It is not our mission to invent solutions for everyone, but I think it is important through your own reality to create these examples of how it is possible to work together and create this change that allow us to solve all these important issues collectively, there are obvious things we must fix, climate change, immigration, marginalization, why should we not start to consider this now?