Popular Town Festivals Coming to an End

Mýrarboltinn mud football

Town festivals in Iceland have long been popular summer attractions that receive visitors from all across the country and abroad. However, many notable ones have come to an end in recent years, Vísir reports. The “mud football” tournament Mýrarboltinn in Ísafjörður no longer takes place, the Great Fish Day in Dalvík is not celebrated anymore, Mærudagar in Húsavík has been scaled back, and the heavy metal festival Eistnaflug in Neskaupsstaður is in hibernation. Recently it was announced that LungA Art Festival in Seyðisfjörður will be hosting its final edition this summer.

Stressful for organisers

The festivals tend to focus on music, arts, food or other cultural activities, and most of them take place in the summer, with the music festival Aldrei fór ég suður in Ísafjörður kicking off the season around Eastertime.

According to Þórhildur Tinna Sigurðardóttir, an organiser at LungA, the reason for the festival coming to an end is limited funding and a heavy workload for the people involved. “There is a lot of volunteer work and struggle,” Þórhildur Tinna said. “The format is such that most of the work falls on one week in the summer. It takes its toll and isn’t emotionally sustainable. Not to mention the financial side.”

25th and last LungA

Þórhildur Tinna called for more public funding for town and arts festivals across the country and argued that the financing has gone down in real terms. “If this is to be sustainable for small festivals, town festivals, arts festivals and music festivals, these grant systems need to be revised,” she said, adding that it’s appropriate that the 25th edition of LungA this summer will be its last. “We’re ending the festival with the hopes of something new being created in its place by the younger generations.”

Icelandic Government to Stop Funding Icelandic Opera Company

Scene from the Icelandic Opera's 2017 staging of Tosca

The Icelandic government is planning to establish a national opera company to start operations in 2025 and will consequently stop funding the Icelandic Opera. The company’s director has described the decision as a cultural disaster and says that without public funding, the Icelandic Opera will have to cease operations. Iceland’s Minister of Culture says the decision has been a long time coming.

The Icelandic Opera was established in the late 1970s and is the only professional opera company in Iceland. It has produced over 85 operas since its foundation and since 2011 its home venue has been Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall. The Icelandic Opera is a not-for-profit company but it receives public funding as well as corporate sponsorship. Last year public funding to the Icelandic Opera amounted to ISK 216 million [$1.64 million, €1.5 million].

Decision a long time coming

The Ministry of Culture and Trade has established three working groups to do the groundwork for establishing a national opera company in Iceland and has informed the Icelandic Opera that it will cease its funding contributions to the company after 2024. Minister of Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir stated that the decision to stop funding the company should not come as a surprise, as the government has long talked of reviewing the current arrangement and founding a national opera company. Lilja stated that the Icelandic Opera would receive a total of ISK 334 million [$2.53 million, €2.3 million] in funding this year and next year in order to be able to fulfil its obligations.

Cultural appropriation and wage disputes

The Icelandic Opera made headlines earlier this year when its staging of Madama Butterfly was accused of reinforcing racist stereotypes. In 2020, Icelandic opera singer Þóra Einarsdóttir sued the company, claiming they underpaid her and several other singers for their work in a 2019 production. In 2020, Iceland’s government also appointed a committee to begin researching the possibility of founding a national opera.

Tjarnarbíó Theatre Will Not Have to Close This Fall

Tjarnarbíó theatre Reykjavík

Reykjavík’s leading independent theatre space Tjarnarbíó will remain open this fall thanks to the promise of additional funding from the Icelandic state and the City of Reykjavík. Tjarnarbíó Director Sara Marti Guðmundsdóttir announced last month that existing funding would not suffice to keep the theatre open and that it would close for good this September. Sara stated that authorities have promised to ensure the theatre can remain open, but have not told its staff exactly what form their support will take.

“We haven’t been told exactly how they’re going to carry it out but we have been promised that it won’t come to us having to close this fall as we assumed we would,” Sara told Vísir. The theatre was set to close this fall despite hosting a record number of theatre companies and performers and record ticket sales. The grant funding the theatre was receiving was not enough to remunerate its four full-time employees and carry out much-needed maintenance of facilities. “Because the building is so old, we keep having to spend money on things for which we shouldn’t be paying. The building and the scene itself have been neglected for an awfully long time, which is why we’ve reached this point now,” Sara stated last month.

Read More: Tjarnarbíó to Shut up Shop Without Increased Funding

Sara added that the state, city, and theatre staff will now carry out a needs assessment for the operation of independent performing arts in Iceland. She added that she is relieved at the outcome. “It was very difficult to not know before the summer vacation whether we were going to have jobs again in September. I’m extremely relieved to know, both for the sake of the staff and also the independent theatre scene as a whole.”

True Detective Series Will Be Largest-Ever Foreign Investment in Icelandic Culture

The upcoming series of HBO Max television show True Detective will be filmed in Iceland over a 9-month period for a budget of around ISK 9 billion [$64.8 million; €63.9 million]. The project entails the largest-ever foreign investment in culture in Iceland’s history. Minister of Culture Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir says the project is proof that government initiatives are helping put Iceland’s film industry on the map.

Fourth season set in Alaska

While it will be filmed in Iceland, the fourth season of True Detective is in fact set in Alaska, where the story follows detectives Liz Danvers (played by Jodie Foster) and Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) as they investigate the disappearance of six men from a research station. True Detective has received praise from critics and audiences – and won five Emmy Awards.

Film rebate raised from 25% to 35%

Iceland’s government recently raised the repayment for production costs for films and TV series shot in the country from 25% to 35%. Iceland’s Culture Minister Lilja Alfreðsdóttir presented this and other initiatives to members of the film and music industry on a recent trip to Los Angeles.

“I feel a lot of support here in Los Angeles with the initiatives we have been implementing in the last year or so to promote creative industries in Iceland,” Lilja stated. “The True Detective project is the largest foreign investment in the field of culture in Iceland’s history. With a clear vision and multifaceted actions, we are succeeding in making our country a highly respected partner in the world of cinema. International film companies are ready to invest in bigger, longer-term projects than they did. It is a huge victory for Icelandic culture and economy and confirmation that what the government is doing matters.”

Draft of Iceland’s First Comprehensive Music Policy Published

Iceland Airwaves Gyða Valtýsdóttir

A draft of Iceland’s first comprehensive policy on music has been published on Samráðsgátt, a site for public feedback on proposed legislation. The proposed bill is the first of its kind, and it will be open for comment until August 31.

The legislation is the result of a 2021 working group which identified both the central importance of music to the Icelandic economy and also the lack of a comprehensive government policy for music funding and education. The working group was composed of individuals within the Icelandic music industry, staff at the University of Iceland, and also representatives from the Ministry of Education and Children’s Affairs. Key among the recommendations of the working group were the need to establish a Music Center and to merge several existing funds, which were shown to overlap in several responsibilities.

The new policy identifies music as not just one among many of Iceland’s exports, but instead as a cornerstone of Icelandic education, tourism, and commerce. Given its central importance, the new legislation hopes to shape music policy in Iceland through 2030 in a way that has already been done in other cultural fields. In addition to the new, streamlined structure for funding, the new bill hopes to increase total funding for music in Iceland.

The new bill will consist of two separate action plans, one valid through 2026, and the other until 2030. As of now, only the action plan for the years 2023 – 2026 has been published.

Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Tourism, said in a statement: “This is a major turning point, and with the policy and the law on music, we are working to promote music throughout the country and, for the first time, define a comprehensive framework for the issue of music that has been lacking for a long time. With this, we want to create the conditions for music to grow and prosper for a long time to come.”

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%.

Record Year Ahead for Icelandic Film and Television

Ráðherrann The Minister Ólafur Darri

A record number of Icelandic films and television series are scheduled for release in 2021, Icelandic film and TV media outlet Klapptré reports. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more demand for new content and increased government investment in the arts, says Laufey Guðjónsdóttir, Director of the Icelandic Film Centre.

A staggering 13 Icelandic films and eight TV series are set to premiere this year, and if they do, it will be a record release year for the country of 368,000. The large amount of new content is partly accounted for by films scheduled to release in 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic. However, Laufey told RÚV additional government funding in response to COVID-19, and the successful management of the local pandemic, have also helped keep production rolling.

Upcoming TV shows include the much-anticipated Katla as well as the third season of beloved show Trapped. One of the local films set to come out this year is Skjálfti, based on the well-received book Grand Mal by Auður Jónsdóttir. It bears to mention, however, that many of the Icelandic films and shows set to be released this year do not have a confirmed release date as of yet.

New Fund to Support Live Music Venues in Reykjavík

Húrra concert Reykjavík

Supporting small music venues is the goal of a new fund under the auspices of the City of Reykjavík. A press release on the city website states that the fund will supply grants for improving facilities, equipment, and accessibility at small and medium-sized venues and cultural centres that organise live music events. Recent years have seen the closure of many small music venues across Reykjavík, including Café Rosenberg, NASA, and Húrra to name a few.

“[The fund] contributes to the continuation of amenities for live music in the city which in turn supports the music scene and enhances daily life,” the press release reads. The fund is part of the Tónlistarborgin Reykjavík (Reykjavík Music City) project, a three-year developmental project intended to further strengthen Iceland’s capital as a centre of music by creating more supportive infrastructure for the music scene.

The application period for the fund opens on July 15 and the deadline is August 30. Application forms can be found on the city’s website.