In May 2003, the City of Reykjavík, Icelandair and STEF, the Icelandic Copyright Bureau, agreed to create a fund to establish a three-year experimental program called the Reykjavík Air Bridge. The goal of the fund was to create opportunities for Icelandic musicians to travel abroad to play and introduce their music.
According to the original agreement, the city of Reykjavík and STEF would each provide a yearly sum of three million ISK for purchasing airline tickets. Icelandair agreed to supply tickets to any of their destinations at cut-rate prices – estimated at 6 million ISK yearly – in addition to relinquishing claims to freight over-weight on equipment usually following musicians.
According to Svanhildur Konráðsdóttir, director of culture and tourism for Reykjavík City, they had two goals. “First off, the city wanted to support young and aspiring artists in some way. But, we also felt this was a good way to market the city as young, exciting and vibrant. It was creative marketing, a way to ‘brand’ Reykjavík as an unusual and artistic city.”
The program has been largely successful. Since the fund was established three years ago, it has granted over one thousand trips for over 250 projects in 17 different countries. “I think this is a structure that benefits everyone involved,” says Konráðsdóttir. “We ask each recipient to supply us with a report when they get back, where they played, the attendance and any press clipping available. We have seen some very positive things.”
According to the fund’s rules, musicians are not eligible for support for meetings with publishers or going to recording studios. The fund is solely intended for musicians looking to go abroad to play their own music. “We would probably not support an ABBA cover band, but as long as bands are playing progressive Icelandic music, we want to support them. We have supported everything from solo artists to school choirs,” says Konráðsdóttir.
“But there are no requirements made regarding the bands recognition or popularity one way or the other. We have supported bands that are relatively unknown. We have also supported bands that are making, or have made, a name for themselves. Sigurrós is a band that we have supported in the past. If Björk was to apply, we would probably support her.”
At the beginning of this year, the initial three year experimental agreement expired. Following the success of the program, all parties agreed to extend the contract for another three years, and the Association of Icelandic Record Producers agreed to join the fund as well, donating one million each year.
As the cooperation with the music industry has proved to be so successful, the city of Reykjavík and Icelandair have decided to extend the program to reach other artforms by establishing three more funds. The Bragi Fund was established in cooperation with the Icelandic Writers Association, to support writers; the Muggur Fund, in association with the Association of Icelandic Visual artists, to support young visual artists exhibiting abroad, and the Talía Fund, in association with the associations of Icelandic actors, directors and playwrights, to support young actors, directors and playwrights, as well as larger theatre groups. Like Reykjavík Air Bridge, the contracts for the newly founded funds run for three years.
Konráðsdóttir says that she has gotten very positive feedback from the artistic community. “The artists are very pleased with the program. ‘We could not have done this without Reykjavík Air Bridge’ is a comment we often get.”
But despite the positive results, Konráðsdóttir is not willing to make any guarantees as to whether the program will be extended further in three years time. “It is too early to tell. A program like this has its lifecycle. This depends on so many parties, the City Council, the artist, and, of course, Icelandair. But we have had a very good experience with this program. It works well for everyone involved.”