Event Report: You Are In Control conference looks into cross-creative challenges in the digital world

By | Published on Tuesday 13 November 2012

You Are In Control

Immediately following the Iceland Airwaves festival, You Are In Control takes place in Reykjavík, Iceland each November. Looking at the digital future of the arts, the conference had its fifth outing earlier this month. In the first of a series of guest columns, Vasilis Panagiotopoulos sat in on this year’s music industry-focussed panels and debates for CMU.

“As a designer, if you want to shape reality, you need to think about how to create a service designed to affect the user or person, and sometimes its real-life consequences”, advises a Senior Technical Producer from Iceland’s CCP Games, Andie Nordgren, during a panel entitled ‘Shaping Reality’. Outside it’s a foggy Monday morning and in Harpa, Reykjavík’s stunning new concert hall, the fifth edition of the You Are In Control conference is well underway…

Starting out in 2008, mainly as a music industry event, YAIC now aspires to cover the entire spectrum of Iceland’s creative sector (music, media, arts, literature, films, design and gaming) by becoming a platform for sharing knowledge across the various creative industries and discussing opportunities in a changing marketplace.

“There are a lot of technology and sector-specific conferences, but only few look at cross-creative activities”, explains YAIC board member Anna Hildur. “But there are always opportunities that you might not see if you’re just thinking within your own sector. And that is what ‘You Are In Control’ is about: encouraging networks outside your sector-specific field”.

This year ‘You Are In Control’ brought together an eclectic mix of international and Icelandic delegates and offered a wide-ranging series of debates, presentations and workshops.

British visual artist Tracey Moberly, a lecturer in Art at Manchester Metropolitan University known for the activist nature of her work, talked about her development as an artist, while Berlin-based software developer Johan Uhle introduced his audience to the Music Hack Day phenomenon, that international series of events where programmers, designers and artists come together to prototype new software, hardware or instruments within 24 hours. And Spanish architect Marcos Zotes talked about his recent work that projected choreography, colours and patterns onto Reykjavík’s main church, Hallgrímskirkja, to make a “dead urban space” active again.

YAIC also focused on fundraising in the creative space, with a fully-fledged investment workshop aimed at learning how to pitch your business idea to a group of investors, followed by presentations from, among others, Duncan McKie, president of FACTOR, Canada’s joint government and private sector fund for recording artists, songwriters, and music businesses.

From a music industry perspective the main event was probably the music publishing session that featured renowned Icelandic neoclassical composer Ólafur Arnalds, Kobalt Music Publishing’s Johan Ekelund, music supervisor Gemma Dempsey, and Gudrun Björk Bjarnadottir, General Manager of STEF, the Icelandic performing rights society. The conversation considered developments in the music publishing sector, in particular discussing the process of collecting royalties and the difficulties of getting music into films.

Finally, a definitive conference highlight was an interview with Icelandic author Andri Snær Magnason by British journalist and music business PR Adam Webb about his best-selling book ‘Dreamland’ and the creative sector in Iceland. Magnason talked about how the themes of the book are relevant now, in the sense of the search for alternatives in Iceland to government plans to sell off land and build aluminium smelters, and how the creative scene became actively politicised around the time of the 2008 economic crash.

Indisputably the creative scene is now one of Iceland’s biggest driving forces. A 2011 report on the economic effect of the creative industries in Iceland estimates their overall turnover amounted to an impressive 189 billion Icelandic crowns (approx £924 million) in 2009. Furthermore the cross-sector co-operation that has intensified over the last three years seems to be yielding significant results.

According to its newly announced investment programme, the Icelandic government plans to inject over 2.7 billion Icelandic króna (approx £13.5 million) in its creative industries over the next three years. “I have to say that after three years of work it’s quite pleasing to see that the current government is now allocating quite a substantial amount of investment to the creative industries, compared to how they were previously funded”, comments Hildur.

During a panel break, CCP’s Nordgren made a poignant observation about the consumption of creativity online: “One of the core problems of most viral campaigns is that the only action they’re asking is for people to become part of their distribution network. For example, the ‘Kony 2012’ film managed to create a very effective distribution network for itself. But it’s a challenge to find calls-to-action that go deeper than just hitting the ‘share’ button”.

Maybe the same holds true for the creative industries and their future: the right call for action is needed. Hildur agreed: “I think the creative industries are facing great challenges: How do we measure growth? How do we make successful societies? How do we avoid dramatic collapses like we saw in Iceland? I think these are questions for the whole society and the world in general. The challenge is to look at the holistic picture of our existence and ask ourselves how we want our societies to be – whether we work within the creative sector or any other industry”.

Vasilis Panagiotopoulos is a freelance writer and publicist based in Copenhagen.