Since stepping down as president Vigdís has been very active in cultural affairs. She has worked diligently to raise the profile of languages, research and culture both at home and abroad and been tireless in highlighting the importance of languages and their acquisition for positive relations between peoples and for the opportunities and success of companies and individuals in a globalised environment. She has also stressed the importance of languages and multiculturalism for the culture heritage of mankind. She has supported a wide variety of projects, contributed to countless books, and given innumerable talks at conferences, exhibitions and other events in all corners of the world.
Vigdís has always stressed the need for people to cultivate their own mother tongues and, equally importantly, learn foreign languages and get to know the cultures of other people, seeing languages as the bond between nations and individuals and the means of broadening people’s horizons. Language learning encourages tolerance and peaceful co-existence and thus helps to promote democracy. “Languages are the key to the world,” she has said.
Since 1999 Vigdís has served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Languages and is the first and so far only spokesman for languages on the global stage. The role of the Goodwill Ambassador is to draw people’s attention to the importance of languages for cultural diversity and to provide support for languages that are under threat of extinction.
World Theatre Ambassador
Vigdís was appointed a World Theatre Ambassador at the World Congress of the International Theatre Institute (ITI) in Madrid, Spain, in 2008. The ITI is dedicated to creating platforms for international exchange and engagement in the education of the performing arts and operates under the banner of UNESCO. It was formerly based within the UNESCO headquarters in Paris but was transferred to Shanghai at the end of 2015.
Vigdís is an honorary member of the Nordic Actors’ Council (Nordisk Skuespillerråd) and was awarded its “Mask of Honour” at a ceremony in Copenhagen in 1996.
In 2006 Vigdís was awarded the “Gríma” (mask) of the Icelandic Performing Arts Association (Leiklistarsamband Íslands) in honour of her outstanding lifetime contribution to culture and the arts.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute of Foreign Languages
In 2001 the University of Iceland announced plans for a new institute of foreign languages and received Vigdís’s consent to use her name in its title. The aim of the Institute is to promote research and teaching in foreign languages and to highlight the importance of language learning and cultural literacy in all areas of life. By the choice of name the university wished to honour Vigdís’s contribution to the fields of language and culture in Iceland and commemorate her pioneering work on behalf of languages in the international arena as the world’s first UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Languages.
Through the dedicated efforts of the Institute and Vigdís’s own inestimable contribution this area of research has gone from strength to strength at the University of Iceland. The Institute and its future plans have been widely publicised both within Iceland and abroad, often with Vigdís’s active participation. Collaborative projects have been set up with institutes of learning outside Iceland and support has been canvassed for research and development projects from foreign cultural and research funds.
The VFI has seen a lively and vigorous expansion of its activities. In addition to research and the publication of academic literature the Institute has hosted a large number of international conferences, seminars and lecture series. For further information on the Institute’s directors, staff and activities, see here.
Vigdís and the directors of the Institute have worked ceaselessly on setting up an international language centre in Iceland as a part of the Institute. The function of the centre will be to build up a flourishing research community in the area of languages and culture and direct a spotlight on the importance of languages for successful international communication and an appreciation of the world’s cultures. The centre will have the further aim of allowing guests and members of the public to learn about languages and culture in a living and creative environment with the aid of computer technology. In spring 2013 an agreement was signed between the Icelandic government and UNESCO for the international language centre to operate under the banner of UNESCO. The centre will be known as the Vigdís International Centre for Multilingualism and Intercultural Understanding (Vigdísarstofnun – miðstöð tungumála og menningar).
Shortly after the establishment of the VFI a campaign was launched to raise funds for a new building to house its future operations. Much progress has been made and a large number of companies, both domestic and foreign, organisations and funds have given generous support, along with contributions from the Icelandic state and the City of Reykjavík. The largest single contribution to the project is a grant of ISK 210 million from the Danish charitable fund the A. P. Møller Foundation (A. P. Møller og Hustru Chastine McKinney Møllers Fond Til Almene Formaal).
Work on the new building got under way in autumn 2014 and is scheduled from completion late in 2016.
A VFI support fund (Styrktarsjóður Stofnunar Vigdísar Finnbogadóttur) was set up in 2003 with the aim of putting the work of the VFI on a sound financial footing and furthering its growth and development.
Nordatlantens Brygge, Copenhagen
On the quayside at Christianshavn in Copenhagen stands a 7000 square metre warehouse built in the years 1766-67, known in Danish as Nordatlantens brygge and in Icelandic as Norðurbryggja. For two centuries it acted as a bustling mercantile entrepôt for the Faroes, Finnmark in the north of Norway, Iceland and Greenland. Valuable cargoes of dried fish, salted herring, whale oil and furs were unloaded and stored before being transported out to markets farther south in Europe. It was where people disembarked after the long passage across the North Atlantic.
When this historic building came up for sale on the open market in 1997 a group of conservationists turned to Vigdís Finnbogadóttir for support and a committee was set up under her leadership to save the building. Working together this group managed to get the government authorities in Denmark, the Faroes, Greenland and Iceland on board to acquire Nordatlantens Brygge, the shared history of their countries and their connections with this building being of greater value than the sale price of the plot. In addition to the contributions from the governments of these countries, the purchase was made possible by a handsome award from the Danish charitable foundation, the A. P. Møller Foundation (A. P. Møller og Hustru Chastine McKinney Møllers Fond Til Almene Formaal).
The ‘North Atlantic House’ stands by the sea front at one of the most beautiful sites in the city and now houses a flourishing cultural and exhibition centre, as well as the Icelandic embassy and the offices of the permanent representations of Greenland and the Faroes and the renowned restaurant Noma.
tað borgarinnar við sundið. Sendiráð Íslands og skrifstofur heimastjórna Færeyinga og Grænlendinga eru einnig til húsa á Norðurbryggju.