From Iceland — Majority Polled Oppose State Artist Stipends

Majority Polled Oppose State Artist Stipends

Published March 18, 2010

The majority of Icelanders are against any sort of state stipends or grants for artists, a poll by MMR that was published yesterday reveals.
As any nation that wants to pretend it’s somewhat cultured, Icelanders have been subsidizing artists’, writers’ and musicians’ work over the last century. The state run Listamannalaun (“Artists’ salary”) system requires artists to submit applications detailing their credentials and artistic plans (be they novel, painting or album) that are then reviewed by a board which determines their worth. Those found worthy of a stipend then are allocated state salaries for either 3, 6, 12 or 24 months to work on their respective projects. The cost of system runs to around 350 million ISK per year.
These artist stipends have been a heated topic lately, as they will whenever a nation finds itself undergoing economic hardship. Support for the conventional artist salary system seems to be at an all time low now, as according to the results of a survey conducted on the matter by MMR, 61% of Icelanders polled are against the system. The largest percentage – 32.7% – is highly opposed. At the same time, 28.8% said they moderately support the stipend system and only 9.8% said they strongly support it.
Oddný G. Harðardóttir, chairperson of the Education and Cultural Committee, told Vísir that the idea behind the stipend system was that Icelandic society needs art as a part of quality of life, but not many artists are able to sustain a living wage through their crafts. Therefore, the state pays a salary to those artists whose work a board of their peers deems a valuable contribution to society.
Harðardóttir believes this is a result of a misunderstanding about the very idea of Listamannalaun. She points out that any artist applying for government support has to account for their work, and that payments are temporary in nature – there are no subscribers.
What do you readers out there think? Should funding for the arts be the first thing to go whenever hardship hits? Even if it was pretty “moderate” to begin with? Your thoughts in the comments, please.

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