The Republic of Iceland occupies an area of 103,000 km2 in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. The population is 270,292 (mid-1996), settled mostly in urban areas (91 per cent), but more than a half of the country is still uninhabited. 96 per cent of the population belong to the Evangelican Lutheran church.

The population derives for the most part from Irish migrants and Scandinavian immigrants and for this reason Icelandic culture has strong traditional Scandinavian and Celtic elements.

The native tongue of the population is Icelandic, a Germanic language, but commercial correspondence is conducted in English. Two distinctive features of Icelandic culture are an emphasis on old Icelandic literature (Edda) and linguistic purism.


There is no specific legislation regulating cultural policy and the administration of cultural affairs. This subject is dealt with partly by laws and regulations governing the work of the Ministerial Departments and partly by various other laws impacting on different cultural sectors.

The main emphasis has been on the preservation of the Icelandic language and cultural heritage, freedom of expression through the arts, decentralized cultural initiatives, cultural democracy and pluralism, and active participation in Nordic and other international cultural cooperation.


2.1 Public and semi-public bodies

Among its diverse functions, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture deals with the arts, libraries, museums and art galleries, national broadcasting, copyright, etc. Its Department of Museums and the Arts is the central administrative unit for arts institutions and museums, for legal aspects of their operation and for aspects concerning wages, rights, copyrights, and entertainment taxes.

The local authorities are administratively and financially responsible for many cultural activities, especially public libraries, amateur theatre, music education, etc. The Union of Local Authorities is in charge of the joint cultural activities of the local authorities.

2.2 Facilities and institutions

The Association of Icelandic Artists brings together professional organizations of Icelandic artists, supports artists in the country and abroad, manages their interests, and promotes cooperation among individuals and organizations.

The Icelandic Theatre Board is an advisory body to governmental and local authorities on matters of theatre policy and planning.

The Icelandic Writers Fund manages the public lending rights scheme and awards grants to writers.

The National Museum of Iceland looks after the national cultural heritage and other cultural and historical values, undertakes research and publishing on cultural heritage, registers and protects archeological treasures, historic buildings and monuments and collects valuable ethnological documents.

The Nordic House is a centre for Icelandic and Scandinavian art exhibitions, lectures, concerts and films.

The Translation Fund promotes translation of foreign literature into the Icelandic language.


3.1 Financing of cultural activities

The influence of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture makes itself felt primarily through its financial contribution, which is provided for and itemised in the budget each year. There are three main areas of activity:

  • Cultural institutions financed from the national government budget funds: Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (radio and television), National Theatre, National Gallery, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Drama Academy of Iceland, Icelandic School of Dance, Icelandic Ballet Company, National Library of Iceland, Icelandic Film Fund, and Icelandic School of Arts and Crafts.
  • Public support for a variety of cultural activities, whether or not provided for by law: support for artists, Writers' Salary Fund, Icelandic Film Fund and Film Archives, grants for a variety of artistic endeavours by both professionals and amateur artists, grants to theatre groups, choirs, bands, professional theatres, various galleries, puppet theatre, ReykjavÝk Arts Festival, visual art exhibitions, concerts of different kinds, literature promotion fund, translation fund, etc.
  • Relations with other nations: On the one hand, Iceland participates in various exchange schemes based on international commitments (e.g., as a result of membership in UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the Nordic Council, and the Nordic Cultural Cooperation Agreement). On the other hand, the Ministry regularly contributes financially to projects in different countries by individuals and groups, visual art exhibitions, artists' travel, concerts, theatrical performances, etc.

At the local level, funds are allocated by the respective culture commissions. According to the budget of 1995, the national culture budget (arts and culture heritage) amounted to 1.78 billion Icelandic Crowns (IKR), which is approximately 1.58 per cent of the total state budget. At local levels the culture budget of the districts and communities amounted to 1.12 billion IKR, which is 4.28 per cent of tax income. The municipal authorities of ReykjavÝk spend about 5 per cent of their total budget on cultural matters.

The distribution of funding for cultural activities from the national governmental budget is effected mostly through the Ministry and its funds, or through councils which are directly responsible to, or controlled by, the administrative executive of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.

State funds for the arts and culture are primarily allotted to individual projects: on average, 74 per cent of the state culture budget is distributed to individual projects in many spheres. After including project financing and subsidies to institutions, most of the state funds are spent on cultural heritage, libraries, literature, and the visual arts. Well over half of the culture budget (57.2 per cent) for institutions is allotted to the big state institutions (see above).

Part of the entertainment tax is earmarked for the creation of local cultural centres. These centres receive funding from the Ministry for various projects. Local cultural festivals are provided for by experts from the Ministry.

Specific items in the cultural budget regulate the allocation of funds for the artistic design of public buildings, the preservation of historical, cultural or artistic significance, the translation of foreign books into Icelandic, the promotion of Icelandic literature abroad and the general support of culture.

Since 1991, writers, visual artists, composers and actors have received a guaranteed annual income flowing from various funds. In 1996, about a hundred artists received this income for a one-year-period.

The National Library and a central library service for the visually impaired are financed with funds from the culture budget.

Copyright payments in the amount of about IKR 12 million are annually transfered to the Icelandic Writers' Fund by the Icelandic government.

Since 1994, tax benefits have been granted to sponsors of cultural projects. Private sponsorship does not, however, reach any significant level.

3.2 Legislation

The tasks and financing of the major, national cultural institutions are regulated by separate laws.

The library law passed in 1976 stipulated that each local community had to develop a public library, which would also fulfill the function of a public cultural centre.


4.1 Cultural heritage

The main emphasis in the Icelandic cultural policy has been on the preservation of the Icelandic language and cultural heritage. Therefore, most of the state funds are spent on cultural heritage.

The National Museum of Iceland preserves and presents for public exhibition Icelandic cultural heritage as well as other cultural and historical antiquities, does research and publishing of cultural heritage, registers and protects archaeological treasures and antique buildings and monuments, and collects valuable ethnological documents.

The ┴rni Magn˙sson Institute does housing and preservation of the old Icelandic manuscripts and other archive documents returned to Iceland from Denmark.

As far as it concerns the preservation of nature, the Nature Conservation Council, a governmental coordinating body was set up in accordance with the law on the conservation of nature.

The Building Preservation Fund awards grants for the preservation and restoration of houses of cultural value, according to the decisions of the Building Preservation Committee.

4.2 Cultural education and training


4.3 Performing arts

The Icelandic Theatre Board acts as an advisory board for governmental and local authorities concerning theatre policy and planning. Except the National Theatre of Iceland, there are a few (amateur) theatre companies and professional organizations of actors and ballet dancers.

4.4 Visual and fine arts

The National Gallery of Iceland is the major visual arts exhibition space financed from the state funds for the arts and culture. Other important exhibition spaces are the Photographic Museum, the Einar Jˇnsson Museum, the Asgrimur Jˇnsson Museum and the Municipal Art Gallery Kjarvalstaðir.

4.5 Literature and literary production

The Icelandic Writers' Fund manages the public lending right scheme and awards grants to writers. A committee appointed by the Writers' Fund decides on the distribution and use of the money for the support of writers or relevant institutions. (see Financing of cultural activities)

The Translation Fund promotes translation of foreign literature into Icelandic.

Among the professional organizations, the most outstanding are the Association of Icelandic Authors, the Association of Icelandic Playwrights, the Icelandic Publishers' Association and the Icelandic Fund for Promotion of Icelandic Literature.

4.6 Music

There are around 60 music schools in Iceland, which teach music in general, music history and provide training on various instruments.

The Iceland symphony Orchestra is financed from the state cultural budget. Among professional organizations, there are the Federation of Performing Artists and the Phonographic Industry in Iceland, the Performing Rights Society of Iceland - STEF, and the Society of Icelandic Musicians. There are also composers' associations, the ReykjavÝ k College of Music, the Iceland Music Information Centre, the Icelandic Opera, etc.


5.1 Book publishing


5.2 Press


5.3 Broadcasting and sound recording industry

Regarding the audio-visual media, there exists a cultural fund for broadcasting companies set up in 1986. The fund is financed out of a 10 per cent levy on all advertising revenue.

The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service is divided into two services - Radion and Television. The Television Service broadcasts a large amount of the original televised productions of drama, music, opera, etc. About 40 per cent of the service's own programming is broadcasted approximately 7 hours per day.

The Icelandic Television Corporation - Channel 2 broadcasts mainly foreign programmes. Out of the cultural programmes, it mainly casts performing arts, interviews with artists, profiles, opera of the month, etc. Channel 2 presents more arts news than the National TV.

5.4 Cinema and film industry

The Icelandic Film Fund is to support Icelandic film production with direct grants of money or loans to film-makers.

The principal aim of the Icelandic Film Archive is to collect all Icelandic films, both features and documentaries, in order to ensure their proper storage and preservation for the future.

The National Centre for Educational Media has a film archive division, collecting films for educational purposes.

A constituent part of the ReykjavÝk Arts Festival is the ReykjavÝk Film Festival, Gimli.

As far as it concerns professional organizations involved in this field, there are the Association of Film Distributors in Iceland, the Association of Film Producers, the Icelandic Film Club, the Icelandic Films Ltd. responsible for sales of Icelandic films, and the Union of Icelandic Film-makers.




The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture has the main executive responsibility for Iceland's participation in international cultural exchanges. This is carried out in close cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in consultation with national institutions and organizations within the cultural field.

Iceland is a member of Unesco, the Nordic Council, and the Council of Europe.

It has only three bilateral cultural agreements with other countries - USA (1957), USSR (1961) and France (1982).


8.1 Ministries, authorities and academies

Icelandic National Commission for UNESCO
Ministry of Education and Culture
S÷lvhˇlsgata 4
150 ReykjavÝk
Tel.:5 609500, fax: 5 623068

Ministry of Education, Science and Culture
S÷lvhˇlsgata 4
150 ReykjavÝk
Tel.:5 609500, fax: 5 623068

Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Hverfisgata 115
101 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 609900, fax: 5 622373

Union of Local Authorities
Hßaleitisbraut 11-13
105 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 813711, fax: 5 687866

8.2 Central cultural institutions

Iceland Music Information Centre
SÝðum˙la 34
108 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 683122, fax: 5 683124

Iceland State Broadcasting Service ľ Television
Laugavegur 176
150 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 693900, fax: 5 693988

Iceland State Broadcasting Service ľ Radio
Efstaleiti 1
150 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 693000, fax: 5 693010

Iceland Theatre Board
P.O. Box 709
121 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 26474, fax: 5 627706

National Archives of Iceland
Laugaveg 162
105 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 623393, fax: 5 25720

National Gallery of Iceland
P.O. Box 668
121 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 621000, fax: 5 621312

National Library of Iceland
Safnah˙sinu v/Hverfisg˘tu
101 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 16864, fax: 5 628218

National Museum of Iceland
P.O.Box 1439
121 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 28888, fax: 5 28967

Nordic House
101 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 17030, fax: 5 26476

8.3 Associations

Association of Icelandic Artists
Laugaveg 24
101 ReykjavÝk

Iceland Handicrafts Association
P.O. Box 29
121 ReykjavÝk

Icelandic Writers' Fund
Hafnarstrati 9
101 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 13190, fax: 5 613190

Translation Fund
S÷lvhˇlsgata 4
101 ReykjavÝk
Tel.: 5 609520, fax: 5 623068


Cultural Policy and Cultural Administration in Europe: 42 outlines. Vienna, Ísterreichische Kulturdokumentation, Internationales Archiv fŘr Kulturanalysen, 1996, pp. 87-88.

Dupin, Xavier & Franšois, Rouet. Public Authority Measure Affecting the Cultural Industry in Europe and Canada: Iceland. Paris, Ministere de la Culture et de la Communication, 1990, pp 55-58.

Handbook of Cultural Affaires in Europe. Baden-Baden, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 1995, pp. 327-333.

Rouet, Franšois & Xavier, Dupin. Le soutien public aux industries culturelles. La Documentation Franšaise, Paris, 1991, pp. 109-113.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1997. Mahwah, New Jersey, World Almanac Books, 1997.


* This monograph is based on a selection of data from the Cultural Policies Data Bank and on documents collected by the Documentation Centre for Cultural Development and Cooperation, Culturelink. The original draft, written by Tomislav Car, has been revised by Icelandic National Commission for UNESCO. It has also been revised by Daniela Angelina Jelincic in 1997.