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Memorial to host 2011 cultural conference

By Rebecca Cohoe

If you don't like the political choices in front of you, why not start your own party?

It might sound unlikely, but that's just what a group of Reykjavíkers did in 2009. Disappointed by Iceland's devastating financial collapse, and disillusioned with a political system that seemed to have fallen down on the job, they formed the Best Party.

You'd expect that a party formed to oppose the status quo would take a different approach than the dominant system, but the Best Party took it a step further.
Best Party General Manager Heiða Helgadóttir said, in the wake of the "total disbelief and mistrust" caused by the financial crash, that the party wanted to use humour and satire to point out the absurdity of what was happening. The campaign included a video featuring a cover version of Tina Turner's song, "Simply the Best" and satirized common clichés and jargon traditionally used by Icelandic politicians.

The idea of using satire and humour in politics may be funny, but it's no joke -- this year, the party came first in the Reykjavík municipal election, putting Best Party founder, Jon Gnarr, into the mayor's seat.

Next month, Ms. Helgadóttir will be presenting in St. John's at "North Atlantic Forum, 2011: Culture, Place and Identity at the Heart of Regional Development," an international conference running Oct. 13-15. The conference is an initiative of the North Atlantic Forum (NAF), the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF), the Small Islands Cultural Research Initiative (SICRI) and Memorial University. The conference will examine global trends in regional development, technology and demographics and will feature global best practices in cultural tourism and cultural industries.

While arts and culture are sometimes sidelined when it comes to political discussions, Ms. Helgadóttir sees them as essential to successful governance.
"Politics are lacking in creativity and by bringing more people to the table you take advantage of different directions and different life experiences," she explained. "Artists and people with a creative background can bring a whole other light to matters."

While the Best Party made it clear from the outset that it wouldn't necessarily follow through on all of its campaign promises (their reasoning is that if the other parties aren't held to account by their promises, why should they?) -- including new polar bears at the zoo and building a Disneyland at the Reykjavík airport -- they're taking their responsibility seriously now that the party has been elected.

With a leadership made up of punk musicians, pop stars and writers, an interest and respect for arts and culture is, perhaps, implicit within the party.

"We have integrated these policies where we can," said Ms. Helgadóttir.

For example, the city of Reykjavík is now a member of the ICORN project, an association of global cities that offer a safe haven for writers who face politically motivated threats and persecution.

So, could a Best-type party work outside of Iceland, say in Canada? Ms. Helgadottir is emphatic: "Yes, absolutely! If not, we're in trouble."

Registrations for North Atlantic Forum, 2011: Culture, Place and Identity at the Heart of Regional Development are now open. Other keynote speakers include Zacharias Kunuk, director of Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner); Zita Cobb, Shorefast Foundation; René Cormier, artistic director of Zones Théâtrales, a showcase of professional Francophone theatre; Dr. Brendan O'Keeffe, of Ireland's National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis; and Dr. Elaine Stafford, head of the School of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Tasmania. For more information, please visit