Former Slaughterhouse Freezer Gets New Life as Black Box Theatre in East Iceland

A former slaughterhouse in East Iceland that has been converted to a cultural centre will be getting a further makeover this winter, and expanding as a performing arts space as well, RÚV reports. The Fljótsdalshérað Cultural Center, also known as Sláturhúsið (‘The Slaughterhouse’), in Egilsstaðir will soon begin converting what used to be an industrial freezer into a black box theatre with seats for 150 people. The conversion will be partially funded by the Icelandic government.

The former co-op slaughterhouse has two larger freezers, one of which has a very high ceiling and is ideal for a black box theatre. “By its nature, a black box theatre is a very simple space,” explained centre director Ragnhildur Ástvaldsdóttir. “Often we’re talking about a square–black walls and a flat stage. Such that it’s possible to face chairs in all directions. [The freezer] will be well-suited for performances like the ones the National Theater puts on in [its own black box theatre], Kassinn, or that the Reykjavík City Theater stages on its smaller stage.”

The theatre space is just under 250 sq m [2,691 sq ft] and other improvements will be made throughout the facility. The expectation is that the theatre will be able to accommodate 150 guests. The centre hopes to collaborate with other theatres in Iceland, as well as smaller performance troupes in the future. “We’ll be able to invite them to come here and put on performances and to practice as well,” says Ragnhildur.

Moment of (Radio) Silence for Self-Employed Musicians

The country’s biggest radio stations took a collective moment of silence during the morning commute on Friday to raise awareness about the contributions that self-employed musicians make to Icelandic society, Vísir reports.

Self-employed musicians have been hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic. Gathering ban restrictions have necessitated the cancellation of numerous events and concerts, meaning that self-employed artists can’t depend on live shows for income. Unemployment for these artists has, predictably, been high and there are few, if any, state resources they can turn to for relief.

Radio stations Bylgjan, FM957, X977, Rás 1, Rás 2, K100, and Suðurland FM paused their regularly scheduled programming at 8:45am on Friday in a demonstration coordinated by the Association of Self-Employed Musicians (FSST). FSST was founded in August primarily to address the challenges currently faced by self-employed musicians; its inaugural board includes chairman Helgi Björnsson, Selma Björnsdóttir, Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð (DRN), Guðmundur Óskar Guðmundsson, and Bubbi Morthens. Páll Óskar Hjálmtýsson and Sigríður Thorlacius serve as alternate board members.

The association welcomed the broad participation in the moment of silence, issuing a statement that said self-employed Icelandic musicians “will continue to stand with their nation, lighten its mood, and do their part.”

“Musicians who make their living from live performances have suffered terrible financial losses and the future is uncertain where events and other gatherings are concerned,” continued the FSST statement. “Self-employed musicians in the Icelandic music industry work in variable and seasonal markets, pay taxes and other fees, but by the very nature of their work, fall outside of the mutual insurance safety net when crises like this occur. As such, self-employed musicians have not been able to take advantage of the government’s temporary resources or any of the economic relief measures that have been introduced.”

The association is calling for relief measures to mitigate the economic losses suffered by its members. “FSST members do not work in a vacuum,” it noted, pointing out that these artists have symbiotic relationships with “music venues and cultural houses, both public and private, equipment rentals, stagehands, lighting and sound technicians, hairdressers and makeup artists, photographers, designers, advertisers, and countless others. Self-employed musicians are an important link in the value chain in many areas of society. The profession is in a grievous situation, our members are fighting the banks and can’t wait any longer.”

Without immediate aid, says the FSST, the Icelandic music industry could be facing “serious and maybe irreversible consequences,” running the risk that a significant number of its musicians will leave the profession and that it will be harder to convince new artists to enter the industry in the future.

Family of Six to be Deported Next Week

A six-person family, including four children aged two to twelve, will be deported from Iceland on Wednesday of next week, RÚV reports. The family hails from Egypt and has been living in Iceland for two years, having applied for asylum in August 2018. Despite public outcry over the family’s situation, however, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says that the government will not be making any policy changes to benefit a single family.

The Directorate of Immigration rejected the asylum application submitted by spouses Dooa and Ibrahim on behalf of themselves and their children Rewida, Abdalla, Hamza, and Mustafa in July of last year. The decision was appealed, but that appeal has now also been denied, some 15 months later. This time period is particularly significant; last year, new regulations issued by the Ministry of Justice mandated that visas be granted on humanitarian grounds any time court proceedings regarding asylum applications dragged on for longer than 16 months.

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says that processing times have been shortened for humanitarian cases, particularly when children are involved. For reasons that were not explained by the minister, the time that the family waited to have their initial application reviewed prior to the appeal is not being figured into the overall wait time. A lawyer for the Red Cross has since called this selective time-keeping “unacceptable” and said that the current law needs to be changed. “It should much rather be the time from when the application is submitted to when they receive a written decision…” said lawyer Guðríður Lára Þrastardóttir.

During the time that they’ve lived in Iceland, the family has put down roots. The children have attended school and kindergarten, learned Icelandic, and made friends. Nevertheless, Áslaug remarked, “we’re not making changes to regulations to save individual families who go to the media.”

Women-Led Social Media Campaign for Constitutional Reform Asks #Hvar?

A new social media campaign is calling on the government to make good on its commitment to revise the nation’s constitution, a process set in motion almost eight years ago. Fréttablaðið reports that the campaign was initiated by the Women’s Association for a New Constitution, using the hashtags #hvar (#where) and #HvarErNýjaStjórnarskráin (#WhereIsTheNewConstitution). Young women on TikTok and Instagram have been particularly active in the campaign, with some videos receiving upwards of 10,000 views.

Iceland attempted to draft the world’s first “crowdsourced constitution” in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, enlisting citizens—not politicians—to revise the constitution to better reflect the values and rights the nation wanted to emphasize moving forward. The process was intended to be democratic, modern (suggestions were solicited on social media, for instance, and a right to the internet was written into the amendments), and also meant to reflect an unprecedented level of transparency. The constitutional proposals were approved by a two-thirds majority of voters in a referendum that was held in October 2012, but, in a dispiriting turn of events, failed to receive the necessary parliamentary approval they needed to move forward that following spring.

Eight years later, participants in the #hvar campaign are posting tongue-in-cheek photos of themselves searching for the new constitution. Is it at the bottom of a laundry basket of dirty socks? Perhaps under a pile of fresh veg, under a rug, hidden in a Where’s Wally? book, or at the bottom of Tjörnin pond?

At time of writing, the Women’s Association for a New Constitution’s petition demanding that Alþingi pass the constitutional amendments into law had 19,192 signatures.