The Number of Self-Employed Workers in the Cultural Sector Decreases by 19%

Iceland Airwaves 2018

The number of self-employed workers in the cultural sector in Iceland decreased by 19% in the year of 2020, a report by Statistic Iceland confirms. The number had been growing since 2017, but started falling sharply after the pandemic hit in the beginning of last year.

In Iceland, self-employed workers are more common in culture and arts than in any other sector. Currently, 23.6% of those who work in culture are self-employed. In comparison, the rate of independent workers in other sectors in Iceland has been around 10% for the past five years.

Erling Jóhannesson, the president of the Federation of Icelandic Artists states in an interview with Fréttablaðið, that artists and others who work in culture have found themselves in a precarious situation since the pandemic hit, as these individuals commonly work as freelancers who do not have permanent jobs. “This group of people faced various bureaucratic hurdles and have not been offered proper solutions”.

He adds that member societies of the federation are unhappy about the new government’s fiscal policy, in which the government has cut the additional financial support to independent theatre groups which was introduced at the dawn of the pandemic.

“We are still trying to make people aware that the situation is not over yet. We are still just trying to keep afloat. The main issue is to reclaim the additional support funds in order to be able to create something; write music, create art,” Erling says.

In 2020, 12,700 individuals aged 16 to 74 worked within the cultural sector, or around 6.7% of the entire workforce. The number includes permanent employees.

The report demonstrates that the decrease in workers does not apply to permanent employees working in the cultural sector. On the contrary, there has been a slight increase in the number of those with permanent job posts in the cultural sector between 2019 and 2020, or 3.7%.

Nordic Clinker Boat Traditions Added to the Unesco Intangible Heritage List

The creation and usage of Nordic clinker boats has been inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The inscription is shared by five Nordic countries: Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

Nordic clinker boats have been built by the people in the region for nearly two millennia. The boats are quite small, between five to ten metres [16–33 ft] long and are made from wood. Although the craft of making a clinker boat varies slightly from region to region, the boats are built using the same basic techniques, which is explained as following on UNESCO’s website: “Thin planks are fastened to a backbone of the keel and stems, and the overlapping planks are fastened together with metal rivets, treenails or rope. The shell of the boat is strengthened with frames.”

Traditionally, clinker boats were mainly used for fishing and transport. Building a clinker boat required great skill and mastering the craft was a lengthy endeavour. Aspiring craftsmen would commonly start training with a master as young men, sometimes practicing for up to a decade until fully acquiring the skill.

The nomination was a result of a joint effort by various Nordic cultural institutions, associations and individuals, which commenced more than five years ago, RÚV reports. Over 200 associations signed the nomination, which was endorsed by all five governments.

Sigurbjörg Árnadóttir, chair of The Icelandic Lighthouse Association, says that the organisation had been preparing the nomination for quite some time.

“Reaching this milestone is simply wonderful, we are so delighted,” she says.

Sigurbjörg says the idea came into being after a series of annual festivals celebrating Nordic coastal culture. The festivals took place in various locations, such as Norway, the Faroe Islands and the Icelandic coastal town Siglufjörður. “During the festivals we shared our knowledge and expertise with other people and quickly realised that the building of Nordic clinker boats is a shared Nordic tradition that has been sustained for millennia,” she says.

Sigurbjörg admits that throughout the process, she was optimistic that UNESCO would accept the tradition to their list of intangible heritage. “We prepared the application very well and got many associates on board with us”.

Although the usage of Nordic clinker boats has changed throughout the years, UNESCO reports that the tradition is still of great significance. Today, the boats are mostly used for ceremonial purposes, such as festivities and sporting events.



Blood Harvesting in Mares Four Times More Frequent Than a Decade Ago

The practice of extracting blood from pregnant mares has quadrupled in frequency during the last decade, RÚV reports. The increased frequency is a result of a growing demand for a hormone called ECG (also known as Pregnant Mare Serum Gonadotropin, or PMSG), which can be found in large quantities in the blood serum of pregnant mares. The hormone is used in the animal pharmaceutical industry, mainly as a fertility booster for other farm animals.

In November, the Animal Welfare Foundation and Tierschutzbund Zurich released a documentary that revealed the harsh treatment of pregnant mares in Iceland during the procedure, which included beatings of the animals. A wave of criticism followed the release of the footage. At present, 4,500 individuals have signed a petition to halt blood harvesting in mares in Iceland. In February, the leader of Flokkur fólksins (the People’s Party) proposed a nationwide ban on blood harvesting. She has asserted that the bill will be one of the party’s top priorities during this electoral term

ÍSTEKA, the company that produces pharmaceuticals from the blood serum of Icelandic mares said in a public statement that the company was alarmed by the practices exposed in the documentary and condemned the maltreatment of the mares in question. According to the statement, the company began an internal supplier review to investigate the allegations immediately after the footage was released. The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST) also asserted that supervising blood-collecting procedures was a priority, and had been so since a regulation regarding the practice came into effect in 2014. However, the documentary has made clear that the authority’s inspections have not succeeded in sufficiently protecting the animals from cruel treatment.

Accessing the executives of Ísteka has been a struggle for journalists, RÚV reports. The news agency has not succeeded in lining up an interview with the CEO so far, but the company has instead responded to their enquiries via e-mail. Ísteka has disclosed that a little less than 5,400 mares are used for the purposes of the blood harvesting industry in the country. The company owns 300 of them. The company makes an annual profit of 1,9 billion ISK [$14.5 million, €12.9 million] and employs 40 people. During high season, around 200 people are involved in the practice.