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%.

Iceland’s Culture Industry Needs More Support

Iceland Airwaves 2018

The 2008 banking collapse and the coronavirus pandemic have impacted Iceland’s culture industry more negatively than other industries. There are 25% fewer people working in culture in Iceland today than there were in 2008. The data are from a report published by the Icelandic Confederation of University Graduates (BHM) today. BHM emphasised the importance of a government policy that increases support for the arts in order to avoid permanent damage from the pandemic.

Decrease in salary payments and employees

According to the report, there has been a sharp decline in wage payments and the number of people working in the creative industries in Iceland in recent years. There are 25% fewer people working in the culture industry now than in 2008, while the total decline in wage payments amounts to 40%. The creative industries began to decline significantly after 2013, and the contraction increased significantly after 2017.

While COVID-19 is an obvious factor, the development in Iceland’s culture industry precedes the pandemic. In the last four years, total salary payments in the media industry have decreased by around 45%; in the film industry by 41%; and in the music sector by 26%. While the development began earlier, the economic shock of the pandemic made the situation go from bad to worse, the report states.

Artists’ salaries among lowest on the market

BHM points out that most artists have a university degree under their belt. Despite their education, however, artists’ salaries were considerably lower than the average salaries of others working full time in 2020. Artists’ salaries have fallen far behind the general wage trend and now compare to the lowest salaries on the Icelandic job market. While the wage index has risen by 96% in recent years, artists’ salaries have risen by 49%.

Low wages could explain contraction in individual sectors, such as in the publishing industry. While in 2011, 5.2 books were published in Iceland per 1,000 inhabitants, that number fell to 3.4 in 2019. BHM says Iceland’s government can look to the Nordic countries as an example of how to increase support for the arts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Otherwise,” the report states, “there is a risk that cultural industries will suffer permanent damage from the pandemic.”