March 21, 2014
Although a New Yorker at heart, Mark Steiner is now proud to call Oslo home. But why would “”someone possibly choose to abandon the city that never sleeps for Norway’s capital, a tranquil fishing village by comparison?”.
Rumor has it that I’m an American living in Norway, but I prefer to think of myself as a New Yorker living in Oslo. Although I regard myself as first and foremost a musical artist, I have also been called (usually with good reason) many other things: gallerist, cultural facilitator, booker, band host, promoter, filmmaker, carpenter, handyman and even (according to a certain journalist from Tromsø) an outright scoundrel.
When people first discover that I left New York City and moved to Oslo, they often seem a bit taken aback. How could someone possibly choose to abandon the city that never sleeps for Norway’s capital, a tranquil fishing village by comparison? My immediate response is usually quite brief: My mother is Norwegian, I have family in Oslo, I speak the language fluently, and my Norwegian ex-wife and I fled across the Atlantic shortly after our wedding in Central Park just before the towers fell on 9/11. Now then, why I have chosen to stay in Oslo for these past twelve years, however, is an altogether different story.
Like many emigrants to Norway, I first moved to Oslo in tow with a native. And like many immigrants in Norway, the honeymoon didn’t exactly last for long. When my marriage failed, there was a sense of expectation amongst my family and my friends that I would simply cut my losses and head back across the “Big Pond” to Manhattan. However, my instinct told me to stay put in Oslo, to stick around in Norway and see which hidden doors of opportunity might eventually open. Whether or not fate played a part, or it was simply due to my own free will, that decision was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to me.
The first revelation I had in Oslo was the fact that despite its small size, there was indeed plenty going on. The live music scene was brewing from both within and from afar. It’s no secret that Norwegian culture has been reaping the rewards of the national oil fund alongside the bolstering economy this past decade. As local acts began staking their claims to bring their music into the studio and abroad, so too did the venues, luring international bands and artists with more than just adequate payment guarantees. And again, because of its small size, an artist need only apply themselves to develop a reputation (not to be confused with success), or seize the opportunities abound to meet others who share a passion for music and the arts.
However, size has its limitations, and so it was that I came upon my second great revelation in Oslo. As the local interest in my music seemed to quickly plateau, I felt a need to push further and suddenly discovered that I was on the doorstep to the rest of Europe, a whole new world of possibilities. Through use of online social networking, first MySpace, then inevitably Facebook, I began meeting like-minded individuals and bands across Europe and around the world. By 2006, I started putting these new international “friends” to use, throwing caution to the wind and arranging gigs with their help. Since that time, I have toured Europe numerous times with various guest musicians along the way in places like Brussels, Berlin, Zürich, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Reykjavik and Athens. As a performer, I’ve even traveled as far as Australia and Hong Kong. Had I moved back Stateside in 2003, I highly doubt that any of this would have happened.
I have discovered that to travel is a perfect excuse to perform my songs, and that to play music is the perfect excuse to see the world and meet new people. Living in Oslo provides a convenience, which suits my lifestyle on many different levels. Not only have I discovered friends – indeed, true friends who are like family – all over the world, but thanks to them, I also feel quite at home in many of these other cities and faraway places.
I now run a non-profit gallery space together with my Scottish girlfriend in the heart of Grünerløkka, the “Soho” district of Oslo, where I have also have built up my own music-recording studio. Our weekends are usually spent at my family cabin in the woods just beyond the edge of the city, where we can recharge our batteries before heading back to town for a new round of work and creative endeavors.
Galleri Schaeffers Gate 5 is meant to be more than just an art gallery. We are providing an intimate cultural hub for a growing international community of artists, photographers, filmmakers, and performers alike. We encourage the idea of art without barriers, and some have described Schaeffers Gate 5 as having a “Berlin-like feel,” which I take as a tremendous compliment, an indication that the space is on the right path.
Always a New Yorker at heart, I believe in the power of diversity, and the tremendously beneficial impact of art, music and culture on the world, which surrounds us. As a musician, a cultural facilitator, a lover of the arts, and a resident of Oslo, my goal is to bring all of these concepts home and make them flourish amongst Norwegians and internationals alike. At the end of the day, I indeed feel lucky to say that I chose to make Oslo my home.