Tell me a little about this new fund.
The Aurora Foundation is a charity fund that was set up by Ólafur Ólafsson and his wife Ingibjörg Kristjánsdóttir one year ago. It focuses on supporting charity work and cultural projects, and Kraumur is a fund that was set up as part of the Aurora Foundation, to support musicians. The idea was to establish a fund that would directly support young musicians financially. We started this work at the end of last year, trying to figure out how and where the money would be put to the best use, and how we could make sure it would benefit the artists. Our goal is to support exciting projects and exciting artists who are currently doing interesting things.
The funding system for musicians and artists in Iceland has been criticised for supporting too many acts and donating too little money to each act. But that is not the way Kraumur is run. Mugison for example received four million ISK to go on tour.
Yes, we decided to do this differently. I’m not even sure if ‘fund’ is the right word for this, it is more of an operation centre because we intend to partake in the projects and work with the artists on their projects. Of course, it will be up to the artists what comes out of it. We will carefully select projects to sponsor, not just projects that apply, but also artists that we see and think are doing good things and would like to sponsor. We are not just going to wait for the artists to apply; we will also seek them out. It would be a lot easier for us to sponsor 30 or 40 acts with a small amount; the need is such among musicians that we could easily do that, and it would change a lot for many musicians. But we would rather carefully select ambitious projects and fund them properly, and trust the artists to take it to the next level. Mugison for example has a new album out and he has very ambitious plans to go on tour through Europe, the US and Canada and this financial support allows him to take his whole band and pay them a salary, which enables him to do the tour. Instead of supporting ten bands to buy plane tickets to Amsterdam or Copenhagen to play one show or one festival, we want to support this tour properly. I would like to stress that there are other very good funds that support musicians, and we don’t want to follow in their footsteps. We want to find where there is a need for more support to take things to the next level. Take Celestine for example, a hardcore band that would probably be happy to receive 100,000, but we choose to support them with 500,000 to record a new album, which is the same amount that we give to Ólöf Arnalds and Dikta. (Amiina got a little more than this.) Our goal is primarily to support established artists who need funding to take the next step, rather than to reach out to young and promising artists who are just starting out.
The list of artists the fund supports is quite varied, from classical pianist Víkingur Heiðar to hardcore bands like Celestine.
Yes, we would rather support quality than link the fund to a certain type of music.
But why music? Why not something else?
I’m probably not the right person to ask that question; it was not my decision really. I was just brought in to manage the fund. But there is a lot of need for financial support for musicians. There is a very lively scene here but it is a small market and so it’s very difficult for musicians to finance their art by selling records or playing live.
This makes you one of the most influential players, the king really, in the Icelandic music industry, doesn’t it? You manage this fund and you manage the Iceland Airwaves music festival. Does this affect your relationship with musicians?
I don’t know. That is a very fair question, but it would probably be better for someone else to answer whether I am becoming too influential. In this case I think these two responsibilities fit very nicely together. I am not alone in making these decisions; not with Kraumur and nor with Iceland Airwaves. Of course there is always a lot of speculation and talk over who is going to play where and when during the Iceland Airwaves festival, but I think that is positive. People care and it shows that the festival is important. By the same token, I think it is normal that people disagree on which artists Kraumur should sponsor. We are selecting a few projects to support substantially, and I realise that our selection is always going to be debateable. I think that’s natural. But I am certain that I am the right person to manage both projects. I have both my feet on the ground and I think I have proven that. And I have not felt any animosity from musicians…
How do you select the projects to fund? And how many applications for funding did you receive?
We’ve received a great number of both formal and more informal applications and enquiries. The formal ones number well over 100. The criteria is simply quality. We want to support ambitious, quality projects that are realistic and we want to support artists who have established themselves as such.
There was one project that was supported that surprised me a bit. ‘Rokkað hringinn’ with Rás 2 (a project organised by Rás 2 radio station of the state-owned National Broadcasting Service where three bands tour the country and play in various locations). I question whether it is right for a private sponsorship fund like this one to support a project that is set up by a public company such as the National Broadcasting Service.
I think we have to make a clear distinction here. We are not supporting the company; we are directly supporting the artists who are taking part in the project. This is part of an effort to try to support artists who want to tour Iceland. It has been easier for musicians to get funding to tour abroad than to tour Iceland. We want to make it possible for musicians to play outside Reykjavík. Rás 2 has organised this project, but we are supporting the artists financially so they can take a week off work to be a part of this project. This is not money that is intended to finance the tour, or the PR aspect, this is intended for artists exclusively.
But shouldn’t this be the responsibility of the radio station?
It is not really for me to answer that question, but there is not a lot of money involved in that project on behalf of Rás 2. The artists are not receiving much, so we decided to support them. This is a good and ambitious project that matches our goals.