Tjarnarbíó Theatre to “Shut Up Shop” Without Increased Funding

Tjarnarbíó theatre

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Sara Martí Guðmundsdóttir, Director of the Tjarnarbíó theatre in downtown Reykjavík, stated that despite a record-breaking year of sales, current grants would not suffice for the continued operation of the theatre. Without increased support from the City of Reykjavík or the state, Tjarnarbíó would have to close for good this September.

Theatre to close September 1

Over the past year, organisers, staff, and actors of Tjarnarbíó have tried to draw attention to the poor state of the theatre, Vísir notes. The building has long been too small and run-down; the equipment outdated; and, despite vigorous operations, the theatre has not received sufficient funds to continue to operate.

Yesterday morning, Sara Martí Guðmundsdóttir, Director of Tjarnarbíó, sent an email to all parties involved in next year’s performances to inform them that the theatre would close in September.

“It’s just very sad. Considering how little we need; it’s ridiculous that we have to close. We’re shutting up shop. Simple as that,” Sara Martí told Vísir. “Tjarnarbío will have to close in September if no help is received. After September 1, I can’t afford to pay our staff a salary, and then a whole acting year goes to waste,” she added.

Shutting up shop despite record sales

Sara told Vísir that demand for venues in the performing arts scene had long since outpaced supply, adding that almost no other theatre aside from Tjarnarbíó had attended to the needs of independent troupes. Furthermore, expenses had gone up while the operating subsidy that the theatre receives had remained the same.

“Salaries have increased. The cost of supplies has increased. Everything has gone up. Although we’ve just had a record year – with a record number of viewers – this is the reality that we’re facing.”

“Our scene has long since become too big,” Sara Martí continued. “There are a lot of performing artists who need space. We’re not only referring to theatre troupes but also dance troupes, stand-up comics, and sketch shows. There are a plethora of people who need a stage, and we’re the only theatre attending to their demands. So if the state and the city want a performing arts scene, they need to do something.”

Sara revealed that Tjarnarbíó had been in contact with the City of Reykjavík. “And the last thing we heard was: ‘We can’t help; we can’t come up with the measly ISK 7 million ($51,000 / €47,000) to help you for the rest of the year. Let alone everything else you need to run the business properly.’ And we haven’t heard a thing from the government, even though we’ve sent a memo to them recently.”

“Years of neglect”

As noted by Vísir, Tjarnarbíó has served as one of the few refuges for independent theatre troupes in Iceland; only a small number of grantees from the Performing Arts Fund are accommodated by the big theatres, so Tjarnarbíó has been their home turf.

When asked how the theatre had managed to operate thus far, Sara Martí responded that Tjarnarbíó had managed with the operating grant received from the City of Reykjavík, which amounted to ca. ISK 22 million ($160,000 / €148,000).

“But it’s not enough to remunerate the theatre’s four full-time employees. 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. Either someone does something or we have to shut up shop. Because we’ve certainly done everything in our power,” Sara Martí remarked.

She continued by saying that the theatre had accommodated an unprecedented number of troupes during the winter season. With activities from 9 am to 4 pm and evening performances, the theatre operated at full capacity. “I’ve not had a night off throughout the year,” Sara observed.

Numerous troupes left “homeless”

Sara concluded by saying that the closure of the Tjarnarbíó theatre would not only mean the loss of the venue but would also leave numerous troupes “homeless.” Furthermore, the closure would result in the wastage of tens of millions of króna that had already been invested in the performing arts economy.

According to Sara, this would have significant implications, affecting the livelihoods of around 300 performing artists and hundreds of others involved in the industry. She entreated the Minister of Culture, the Mayor of Reykjavík, and the head of the Department of Culture to intervene.

ISK 130 Million in Grants to Strengthen Rural Settlements

Útivera Ganga Náttúra Gengið frá Aðalvík að Hesteyri og til baka

The Minister of Infrastructure has allocated a total of ISK 130 million ($910,000 / €848,000) in grants to twelve projects in rural Iceland in accordance with the regional development plan. Emphasis is placed on strengthening areas suffering from chronic population decline, unemployment, and a lack of economic diversity.

12 projects organised by seven regional associations

Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson, Minister of Infrastructure, has allocated grants in the amount of ISK 130 million ($910,000 / €848,000) to 12 projects organised by seven regional associations. The grants are intended to strengthen the country’s rural settlements and are allocated to specific projects in key areas in accordance with the regional development plan for the years 2022-2036. A total of 32 applications for grants, totalling over ISK 857 million ($6 million / €5.6 million), were received for the year 2023.

The aim of the grants is to connect individual plans within different regions of Iceland with the government’s regional development plan while also affording locals greater responsibility in the allocation of funds. Emphasis is placed on strengthening areas with chronic population decline, unemployment, and a lack of economic diversity.

Projects that receive funding must benefit individual regions, localities within the region, or the region as a whole. Population development, the composition of the economy, the level of employment, and average income were among the factors that were used as a basis for evaluating applications. A three-member selection committee reviewed the applications and made recommendations to the minister.

Value creation in sheep farming, Straumhvörf

The projects that received the highest funding are “value creation in sheep breeding areas,” which received the highest single grant from the Ministry of Infrastructure’s fund. The project incentivises innovation and value creation in sparsely populated areas that are heavily reliant on sheep farming. The funding – ISK 21.6 million ($151,000 / €141,000) – will go to the Federation of Municipalities in West Iceland, the Association of Local Authorities in the Westfjords (i.e. Fjórðungssamband Vestfirðinga), and the Federation of Municipalities in Northwest Iceland.

The second highest grant went to the Straumhvörf project, which is a collaboration between the Federation of Municipalities in East, Northwest, and West Iceland; Visit North and East Iceland (i.e. áfangastofa norður- og austurlands); Austurbrú; and the Marketing Office of North Iceland (i.e. Markaðsstofu Norðurlands). Straumhvörf is a project seeking to implement a design and product workshop for a new tourist circuit around East and North Iceland in connection with direct international flights to Egilsstaðir and Akureyri. The Federation of Municipalities in East Iceland will receive a grant of ISK 15.6 million ($110,000 / €102,000).

Hrísey Island Receives Development Grant of ISK Ten Million 

Hrísey Island has received a regional development grant of ISK ten million, RÚV reports. The Áfram Hrísey (‘Onwards, Hrísey’) grant is intended to increase available housing and draw new residents to the island.

The island of Hrísey is located 35 km [22 mi] north of Akureyri and although small (approx. 7.67 km2 or 2.96 mi2), is known for its rich bird life. Forty species of birds make their home on Hrísey, with ptarmigans being particularly prolific. It is also home to the largest breeding colony of Arctic terns in Europe.

By comparison, however, only 200 people live on the island, and this is something that the grant seeks to address. “Right now, our most pressing issue is housing,” says resident Ásrún Ýr Gestsdóttir, who has been hired as the grant’s project manager. “We have people who want to move here, but we don’t have housing for them. We have a lot of houses, but almost half of them are empty for most of the month or the year.”

The grant will make it possible to accelerate the process of building new housing and drawing more people to the island full-time. “Up until now, almost everything has been done by volunteers here…we’ve just been doing it whenever possible, sending news to the media while eating dinner. Right now, there’s only one person submitting something for us and contacting the planning department in Akureyri and the town council and people we need to call.”

“We hope that when this project ends in spring 2024, we’ll have seen some progress,” says Ásrún Ýr. “That there will have been some construction and that more people will have moved here with either a permanent presence in our remote work center or even gotten started with something new, new employment opportunities.”

Minister of Food Allocates ISK 584.6 Million from Food Fund

Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, has allocated ISK 584.6 million ($4.2 million /€4.1 million) from the Food Fund (Matvælasjóður). Fifty-eights projects, from 211 applications in total, received grants.

Among the projects that received grants:

– The development of delicacies from lamb and sheep riblets
– A marketing initiative for the export of Icelandic whiskey
– A project to maximise the productivity of home food growing systems for local vegetable production
– Potable supplements made from Icelandic algae
– A system of supervision and certification for Icelandic salt-fish products
– Protein manufacturing from Icelandic grass
– The development of flavouring products from algae for oriental food
– Foal jerky and raw sausages

“The creativity and daring that Icelandic food manufacturers possess is a reason for rejoicing and goes to show that Iceland is on the right course as a food manufacturer. It’s also great to see that the gender ratio is almost even,” Svandís stated.

Four separate funds

The Food Fund awards subsidies in four categories: Bára, Kelda, Afurð, and Fjársjóður.

Bára supports projects at the idea stage. Eligible grantees include companies that have been founded over the past five years, along with entrepreneurs that want to develop ideas, raw materials, or processes related to Icelandic food manufacture.

Kelda supports projects that aim to acquire knowledge in support of the fund’s aims of innovation, sustainability, value creation, and the competitiveness of Iceland as a food manufacturer.

Afurð supports projects that are beyond the idea phase but are not yet ready to go to market. Subsidies aim to afford grantees opportunities to develop products from raw materials created during the manufacturing process and that are conducive to the creation of value.

Fjársjóður supports projects that aim to support Iceland’s marketing infrastructure and that support marketing campaigns for products connected to Icelandic food manufacture.

As noted on the government’s website, the aim of the Food Fund is to support innovation in the field of food production and processing,whether agricultural or marine-product related. The fund emphasises innovation, sustainability, value-creation, and the competitiveness of Icelandic food products.

Millions Allocated in Local Publishing and International Translation Grants

iceland books

The Icelandic Literature Center has announced its 2022 publishing grants as well as its biannual translation grants.

Every year, the Icelandic Literature Center allocates publishing grants to local publishers to support the publication of new works in Icelandic. These grants are awarded with the intention of supporting works that have particular cultural and epistemological value.

This year, the Center funded 54 works, for a total of ISK 28 million [$208,986; €200,856] in funding. A total of 72 applications were received, requesting ISK 75 million [$559,743; €537,806] in grant funding. The topics of this year’s grantees range significantly, from an 18th century murder case, architecture, the history of communism in Iceland, the kings of Iceland, contemporary LGBTQIA+ art and more.

Growing Interest in Icelandic Literature Abroad

The Icelandic Literature Center also allocates funding to foreign publishers to support the translation of Icelandic literature into other languages. Allocations for these grants are made twice a year, in February and September. In February, the Center allocated 54 grants for translations into 22 languages. Translated works included contemporary novels, poetry, children’s books, biographies, and medieval sagas.

See Also: Impostor Poets Make Impressive International Debut

“It is notable that Icelandic books are now travelling abroad almost as soon as they are published in Iceland,” the announcement on the Center’s website reads. “For example, Fríða Ísberg’s debut novel, Merking, which will be published in English and German this year, and Úti by Ragnar Jónason will be out in English next fall.”

The largest grants were given to The San Francisco Ballet, for their forthcoming publication of Þorvaldur Kristinsson’s biography of Helgi Tómasson, and for a German-language translation of Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s Fjarvera þín er myrkur. The latter will also be published in Danish and Dutch soon.

Fans of Icelandic crime fiction also have much to look forward to in the near future, with English translations forthcoming of authors Eva Björg Ægisdóttir, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Sólveig Pálsdóttir, and Ragnar Jónasson.

See all of February’s translation grants here.


Icelandic Government Raises Artist Salaries

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir is one of the people nominated for Person of the Year.

Iceland’s government raised its artist grants known as “artist salaries” to ISK 428,000 [$3,330, €2,908] per month this January, Fréttablaðið reports. The salaries were ISK 409,580 [$3,187, €2,782] per month last year. Minister of Tourism, Trade, and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir has decided to increase funding of artists salaries by a further ISK 100 million [$779,000, €679,000] this year and says the government is also considering restructuring the artist salary grant system.

Fewer months than in 2020 and 2021

“This is not a high figure in my opinion and we aim for it to rise in stages throughout this term because I consider it important for our artists and this system has worked very well,” Lilja stated. “I would say that the entire government agrees with increasing support to this system.” In fact, the 2022 artist salary recipients, who were recently announced, will receive ISK 490,920 per month [$3,825, €3,335]. The government has, however, decreased the number of months granted to artists as compared to 2020 and 2021. An additional 600 months in artist salaries were granted in 2020 and an additional 550 in 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The artist salaries for 2022 have however decreased back to 1,600 months in total, the same number granted between 2009 and 2019. 

Special grant for young artists is a possibility

Lilja says the government is considering restructuring the artist salary system, including by having a special category for young artists. Culture and Trade were brought together under a single ministry this term under Lilja’s leadership, and she says that presents certain benefits. “Everything that is connected to culture and art is now in one place. The reimbursement system for literature, the reimbursements for film, recording, so now we have for example the Icelandic Film Centre and the big reimbursement system in one place which creates new opporunities.” Last term, the government abolished sales tax on Icelandic books and increased contributions to writers grants. This term, Lilja says the focus will be on the music and film industries.

Lilja says that the government chose to work toward raising artist salaries rather than increasing them in number to “send a message to the entire industry.” She says there is still a ways to go, as salaries in comparable professions average around ISK 550,000 [$4,285, €3,736] per month.