Voices of ASSITEJ World Congress: Ása Richardsdóttir

by Ása Richardsdóttir, Secretary General IETM


Speech for ASSITEJ International Online Event, 29 March 2021, response to the question posed to the panel of speakers:
How can international organisations work together creatively to support artists in times of crisis?

We believe there are three main roles, networks like ours and we as a sector, should play.

Firstly – Create urgency for change

COVID-19 revealed, once and for all, the cracks in our system. Cracks we have known of for a long time, but the resistance to change has been too strong.

According to a recent study by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, [the] cultural and creative sectors are likely to have lost 80 per cent of their turnover in the second quarter of 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the containment measures.

Freelancers are the hardest hit. Millions of artists and other culture workers – across the globe are not eligible for unemployment benefits and have not qualified for or even been thought of, in various relief efforts by governments, – due to the atypical nature of their work.

A unified effort in catching this moment and creating the urgency for change is needed, change in the working conditions of artists, change in the funding schemes artists are forced to adapt to – but which do not fit their artistry.

We find ourselves within a system, and have for a long time, which pushes us towards constant, exhaustive productivity, hypermobility, competition for funding.

In the past year, small, organic, non-hierarchical initiatives have seen the light of day. Additionally, venues, centers, festivals across the globe have been changing their models this year, opened their doors in previously unknown ways, embraced concepts of co-creation, co-direction, shared leadership.

Alternative sustainable methods can become the mainstream – for the well-being of artists and other cultural workers. It is within this moment we can jointly create an urgency for change.

The second role we can take is that of Connecting and Making Change Visible

We can invest our time, effort, and resources in relaying much more, much better the nature of artistic work and create the evidence of the arts. Be more vocal, taking the message again and again and again into all corners of society. We need to connect more outside of the arts, take part and lead our own policy development. We need to see more direct political participation from the arts and more of us should consider entering political arenas.

Thirdly, we, international networks, and organisations, have a role to play in setting agendas and directions. We could, for example, jointly set sail towards an international code of conduct regarding fair practices in the performing arts, regarding artists livelihood, fair remuneration. 

The three ROLES we see us taking, that of Creating urgency for change, Connecting, and making change visible and Setting agendas and direction, are amongst those IETM has – via a yearlong trajectory and brainstorming by the entire network, set sails for.

Throughout 2020, IETM members brainstormed and worked together on a strategy. We call it REWIRING THE NETWORK, a strategy on how our network and our sector can let go of unsustainable methods and habits, catch alternative initiatives, values and experiments and bring these alternatives to the central stage.

This strategy has been made in co-creation, through an open end, non-hierarchical process, and I am very happy to share our findings with you today.

Hope it resonates with you. Thank you.


Ása Richardsdóttir has been IETM’s Secretary General since February 2019. Ása was the director of Ice Hot Reykjavík 2018, the biannual Nordic Dance Platform, project ambassador for the Nordic Culture Fund, and a long-standing member of IETM. Having had a long time passion for the arts Ása has worked in theatre and contemporary dance with a focus on international collaboration. She has held various positions within the performing arts, amongst, been executive director of Iceland Dance Company, president of Performing Arts Iceland and creative producer for various artistic projects. She has led various international networking events, festivals and projects and been a catalyst in bringing international attention to Icelandic performing arts and Nordic dance.

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