Don’t Do the Math - The Reykjavik Grapevine

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Don’t Do the Math

Don’t Do the Math


Published October 2, 2005

In our feature article, Julika Huether presents the faults of the country’s universities—among them an extremely high student to full-time faculty ratio. Her feature is not an exposé and not meant to be a scathing critique, though. As she points out, the eight universities in Iceland are facing a simple problem of math: with only 300,000 people in the country, it is extremely difficult to fund and staff a research university; eight is flat out ridiculous.

The education feature goes well with Þórdís Elva Þorvaldsdóttir Bachmann’s article on independent theatre in Iceland and Sindri Eldon’s review of an all-ages non-profit concert held at the Cave immediately after Iceland Airwaves. Independent theatre and the local music scene are directly apposed to mathematical possibilities—just as there is no way eight universities could succeed in Iceland, there is no way that a vibrant independent theatre scene, with decent wages for actors, could be formed in such a small country that doesn’t even have one independent stage for the actors to use. And regarding the music scene, given the sheer amount of money and international coverage during Airwaves, it is an interesting twist on numbers that local musicians put their best feet forward for a locals-only, all-ages show at The Cave instead of for the international journalists amassed in downtown Reykjavík.

All of this is to say that this issue hints at something I’ve learned a great deal about recently: numbers and percentages alone don’t have all that much bearing on reality.

My most immediate reference point is a recent daily paper that the Grapevine put out to celebrate Iceland Airwaves. When my publisher, Hilmar, asked me what budget it would take to put out the Airwaves magazine, I told him that the only budget I would require would be plane tickets and hotel rooms.

We could never have afforded anything near the calibre of writers we used for that issue, but we got them because we didn’t talk numbers: we talked possibilities, freedom, and philosophy. And the notion of a free paper made up of major music writers from around the world covering a festival that had never been adequately covered before took a number of writers’ fancy, and we ended up with our special issues. During a brief retreat after the festival, the journalists and I discussed salaries: it turned out that the salary of one visiting journalist for a year was roughly equal to the total salaries at this magazine for the year.

Asked if the Grapevine would travel to America to put out something like what we just did for a major festival in the States, I couldn’t begin to calculate a budget.

After two years in Iceland, I knew that the surest way, locally, to put out a one-event great magazine was to take away all the money; just as Sindri Eldon knew that the surest way to find a great concert was to get as far away from the media as possible. The conflict that you probably notice is that paying journalists nothing and trying to discover new bands all the time is not a good idea in the long term. In the long term, we must find ways to appropriately fund magazines, and we must find ways to give artists coverage commensurate with their contribution, and there is no doubt that the government, taxpayers, and local businesses must begin contributing more to the universities of Iceland. But the odd Icelandic truth is that, in the near future, despite all logic, a few of the universities Ms. Huether discusses in this issue will most likely attract worldwide attention. People here tend to succeed despite the numbers. We should probably just stop making such a habit of it.

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