Conservative MP Ásbjörn Óttarsson expressed confusion over the proposed budget in parliament yesterday, asking why the government needs to provide funding for artists. He asked, perhaps rhetorically, why artists don’t get jobs “like regular people”.
The remarks sparked a virtual maelstrom on the internet, as artists asked the same of Ásbjörn. Many pointed out, for example, that it was brought to light in January of this year that Ásbjörn had paid himself millions from a company that he owns, despite reporting losses, which is a violation of Icelandic business law. Ásbjörn admitted breaking the law on the news television show Kastljósið, but said that he did so unwillingly. Conservative chairman Bjarni Benediktsson gave his full support to Ásbjörn, saying that he had admitted his mistakes, and this was good enough for him.
Others were quick to point out that supporting the arts is actually good for the economy. A study conducted in the US in 2005, for example, showed that the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year, in the form of full-time jobs, household income, and tax revenues generated at a local, state and national level.
Others were a bit more tongue and cheek: on Facebook, playwrite Guðmundur Kr. Oddsson wrote a satirical open letter to Ásbjörn, saying that he realized he wasted his life in the arts, and asked the MP if he could get him a real job.
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