Iceland overflows with creativity, but despite Björk, Sigur Ros and sagas, it is cod and cash that the country has run on.

Now, the tides are changing: From computer games to comics, dance, music and design, the creative industry came together in May 2011 to form the union of creative industries SSG.

We sat down with newly appointed spokesperson Ása Richardsdóttir to find out what is on the drawing board.



What brought the creative industries together?


Samtök Skapandi Greina (SSG) grows out of an informal co-operation which started in 2009. The head of cultural affairs of the ministry of foreign affairs, Audur Edda Jökulsdóttir, found out that the art centres for different art forms didn’t really know each other nor each others’ work and decided to call them together.

The meeting was a huge success. In December 2009, a group of people from the creative industries met and stayed out of town for two days to create the first strategy for the creative industries in Iceland. There were definite clear priorities common for the whole group, no matter what direction you came from.

There and then, we decided to create an informal forum of the creative industries with the leaders of the information centers and umbrella organizations of each art form. The first priority was to research the economic impact of creative industries.


That research report was published in May. What were the results?


The creative industries are one of the biggest industries in Iceland and had not crashed in the financial crisis. It has figures behind it that no one had imagined—the turnover was 189 billion krónas ( ISK/EUR/USD) in 2009.


That is certainly impressive, with such a healthy industry is an association needed?


We feel it is extremely important that the creative industries have a united voice. Now, the sector is going to unite around a more formalized structure. The founding partners are the same as initially—information centres of all art forms, Icelandic gaming industry and the Association of the Performing Arts—our backbone is the broad spectrum of the creative industries in Iceland.


In Iceland, there is a strong tradition in policy making and important decision making, where representatives of the labor market gather around the table. Now, we expect to be called to that table.


We just had a new labour agreement regarding salaries made, for example. Part of that agreement is government pitching in millions to stimulate employment. Traditionally the majority goes towards stimulating conventional sectors. The creative industries have high demand for labor force, which means that it is a sector that can easily stimulate high employment, as opposed to building aluminum smelters or dams in which there is a high concentration of labor while it’s been built but once it is ready, the need drops considerably. We want to be a negotiating partner in defining the economic future of this country.


In crash of 2008, Iceland discovered whole sectors were built on sand. Is it the creative industry’s turn now?


People in the arts were part of the crasy period leading up to 2008 and the arts “benefited” from investment and philanthropy from, for example, the banking sector.  However, artistic creation is the same, before and after.


What is positive is that after the emotional shock which hit the nation in October 2008, there has been a very strong trend in the society to look inwards. Whether it is attendance to theatre and concerts, book or online sales of creative material,   there’s been huge boost in public participation in the creative field,  people are looking for answers and for a deeper experience.


Iceland is known for its vibrant creative scene. Why is it only organized itself now?


The arts have been organised for decades, for example the Federation of Icelandic artists was formed 83 years ago, in 1928.  Now we are taking the step of organising around the creative sector as a major industry.


One of the reasons why creativity is so apparent here is that there are so few of us, so every single one of us matters and most of us have many hats and responsbilities.


We don’t have long pipelines, it is easy to get an idea and put it into action. Creativity is inherent in the human race, no matter which country you are speaking about. The question is do you create conditions that allow it to grow, do you allow it to bloom?


How will all the creative personalities fit around the same table?


We have the same common goal.

As long as you don’t lose sight of that and are able to think a little bit outside your own comfort zone…


What is your own creative background?


I started singing and acting early on, but I am not an artist.


My career started at the Icelandic television at age of  twenty, then, by coincidence, I moved into the performing arts where I’ve been since. I founded one of Reykjavík’s independent theatres in 1994, been active in various European collaborations,  and I was the executive director of the Iceland Dance Company for 8 years.


Now, I am a freelancer working on various projects, as well as teaching, consulting and working on policy issues. Through my educational background [BA in international relations, diploma in European cultural management, MBA in business and administration] and my work experience I have been able to join my two passions—the arts and international collaboration.


What direction do you plan to take SSG?


The growth of the creative industries in Iceland will reach a ceiling soon if we only concentrate on this little island of 320 000 people. The growth of the creative sector in Iceland will first and foremost happen abroad, from where the generated income will come. And, Iceland truly needs new sources of export income.


What would you recommend to experience the best of Iceland’s creative industries this summer?


I would recommend you spend at least 3 days in the city, most evenings there is something going on.  However, I would also recommend you go experience the creative sources all over the country, in combination with the nature.  Keep your eyes open for artistic creation, it is happening in even the smallest little villages on the coast of the island, in the harbors, in factories—and taste all the local delicacies, being produced my imaginative farmers, often in collaboration with designers and other artists. Great food, spectacular nature, creative spirit – a  pretty good combination!


This QA has been previously published in Iceland Review.

For more information on the Creative Industries, see the report here.