Cultural Policy in Lower Saxony. Function and Effects, Structures and Strategies.

by Gabriele Heinen-Kljajić

Copyright: Mike Fuchs

Gabriele Heinen-Kljajić, Lower Saxon state minister for science and culture, in the permanent representation of Lower Saxony in Berlin.

May I extend a very warm welcome to you at Lower Saxony’s state representation office in Berlin. The Department of Cultural Policy at the University of Hildesheim is evidently a perceived entity not only at national but also international level; otherwise we could hardly have attracted such a large attendance at this congress. We are delighted to be host to the largest conference on politico-cultural research.

What is the function of cultural and educational policy and what effects does it have? That is a question which we also ask ourselves every day at my ministry. Lower Saxony’s cultural heritage is a rich one, even though we are a rather rural state with few major cities. Lower Saxony alone boasts no less than eight professional orchestras, three state theatres, approximately 90 free theatres, 83 socio-cultural centres, 39 art schools, more than 60 art societies and – incredibly – more than 670 museums. Many of those museums are small and run on a voluntary basis. That is to say we offer a great deal of art and culture. But do we offer the right range and the right blend? That is one of the core questions which are at the focus of our politico-cultural considerations.

We live in times of major social change. And we are on the threshold of great transformations. Demographic change, changes in values, immigration, rapid technological progress, globalisation and internationalisation are factors which influence those transformations, which in turn are also relevant to culture and to cultural and educational policies. In spite of, and in the face of this general upheaval, cultural and educational policies remain all too often oriented to old and familiar perspectives, formats and concepts. But what we need now is a self-critical examination of the inherited structures and strategies of the cultural scene.

However, it is precisely the tradition of offering art and culture to the educated classes in this “nation of culture” which is Germany which makes that self-critical examination difficult. And the answer to the question of whether we are offering the right ingredients is sometimes an uncomfortable one. The number of cultural institutions in Lower Saxony has always been very high in comparison to that of other federal states, and it has increased tenfold since the nineteen sixties. And the overall level of education has also risen significantly during the same period. In spite of that, the range of culture offered, at least in respect of culture that is subsidised by the state, is exploited by only a small and socially privileged section of society. Only ten to fifteen per cent of the population are permanent users. That means that there has been no increase in the number of users. The same clients simply exploit the cultural facilities more often.

And what is particularly dramatic is that we have established that it is primarily young people who are under-represented. For example, the classic theatre audience has an average age of fifty years or more. The relevant data also document great social disparity. The lower a person’s educational status, the less likely is that person to visit a publicly financed cultural facility. Unfortunately, a similar low level of participation applies to immigrants, unless they belong to the circle of high-income, academically educated.

The socio-political diagnosis in matters of access to publicly sponsored culture is sobering. The reality is that state cultural facilities are an instrument of exclusion, even though that is not the intention! State-sponsored cultural offers evidently do not attract large proportions of the population. This circumstance is explosive in socio-political terms for the very reason that – as we learned at the latest from Pierre Bourdieu – there is close correlation between aesthetic preferences and political participation.

The search for solutions to this problem is not a simple one. For example, the reduction of the question to that of who can even afford a visit to the theatre is an over-simplification. The lack of broad sections of the population in our state museums and theatres is evidently not because people would not generally be willing to spend money on art and culture. Because when we examine the situation with commercial cultural offers, we immediately see a totally different picture. Public acceptance of the cinema, film festivals or rock and pop concerts has a considerably broader social base. And it is also not a milieu-driven attitude of rejection of the alleged virtues of the cultural customs of the educated classes. Surveys show that even people who claim to never or only very seldom visit state subsidised cultural facilities consider them to be extremely important.

So, what does all this mean for cultural and educational policy in Lower Saxony? What logical conclusions do we draw from all this?

Firstly: by collecting data, we try to obtain an exact picture of the group of people that we reach with our subsidised cultural facilities. Our ministry presented a report on the sponsorship of culture for the first time in November 2011. The objective of that “2010 Culture Report” was to make the sponsorship of culture in the federal state of Lower Saxony understandable and transparent. The second Culture Report, which was published this year, is focused in particular on aspects of cultural participation. Various studies and projects carried out in Lower Saxony have been evaluated for that purpose. The collected data serve as a basis for our Kulturentwicklungskonzept (KEK), or Cultural Development Concept. KEK is a dialogue-oriented process with which Lower Saxony promotes the conceptual further development of structures and offers in conjunction with those who offer art and cultural facilities.

Secondly: In all target agreements with cultural facilities which we as a federal state support, we stipulate audience development as a prime objective. This means that we expect all cultural facilities to open up their doors to a new public. That approach also means a new alignment of cultural offers in terms of content. This is not a matter of commercialising culture at the expense of artistic quality. But orientation to the target group must be put on a significantly broader base. Above all, offers must also be aimed at groups which are still under-represented.

Thirdly: We are trying to strengthen the range of cultural offers in rural regions. Ninety per cent of cultural policy in the Federal Republic of Germany is aimed at cities, and ninety per cent of funds benefit large and established cultural facilities. Cultural policy is an integral part of social policy. It should and must take rural communities into consideration. That applies in particular to the broad expanse of Lower Saxony. For that reason we put our efforts not only into the sponsorship of so-called “high-brow culture”, that is major theatres, museums and festivals in the big cities, but parallel to that we also work on strengthening so-called “mass culture” which is maintained by civil commitment. I don’t know whether this differentiation between “high-brow culture” and “mass culture” is made at all outside German-speaking regions, but it plays an important role here in Germany; both in matters of cultural participation and in terms of how to sponsor culture in rural areas.

At the same time, it is important – precisely in terms of cultural policy – not to lose sight of the fact that people who do not regularly go to the opera do not for that reason lack culture. That is to say that each social milieu deserves to consume and enjoy its own specific culture. After all, the attractiveness of art and culture derives from heterogeneity and not homogeneity; and state sponsorship of culture in no way carries any sovereign interpretation of what is good and what is bad. On the other hand, we do not wish to introduce any radical re-distribution of cultural subsidies. Our great theatres and museums are too near and dear to us (in every sense of the word).

But in spite of that, the question still arises: Why do we subsidise people from a relatively small social group that boasts high academic qualifications and substantial income more through our cultural offers than we do those whose possibilities of participation we describe as clearly lacking? And why are minority cultures excluded from cultural policy? With their music and their fashion, youth cultures influence lifestyles, aesthetic ideas, value concepts and political attitudes. But they are not taken seriously in cultural policy. Why do state museums and theatres receive millions, while socio-cultural facilities and free creative artists have to work with relatively small budgets? If one applies the democratic principles of equality among all citizens as the standard, it is difficult to provide a plausible answer to that question.

And fourthly: In order to achieve a real opening-up of culture for new user groups, those new groups must be placed in a position in which they can take advantage of the new cultural offers. Apart from the dismantling of socio-economic hurdles, it is of prime importance to qualify people at the relevant level of skills to take part in cultural life. Only an aggressive expansion of cultural education in elementary and secondary schools would create the prerequisite for critical acceptance of cultural offers and recognition of culture as the means of coming-to-terms with oneself and with society. It is the prerequisite for making a realistic assessment of the significance of one’s own cultural customs and one’s own artistic tastes, in order to emancipate oneself from definitions of art and culture formulated by the educated classes. Here, too, we are trying to strengthen and expand cultural education by supporting cooperation between cultural facilities and schools. We understand cultural education as the foundation for cultural participation.

Well, now I have explained the needs and cares of a German Ministry of Culture. You have heard how we try with politico-cultural countermeasures to open up a socially broader access to culture. But it does not mean that we wish to close down theatres for the benefit of socio-culture. And we also do not want to limit sponsorship of culture and cultural policy to the maintenance of facilities of high-brow culture and the satisfaction of their regular users. On the contrary, our objective is to link cultural sponsorship to a socio-political goal. Because cultural participation is an important building block for social emancipation and social participation and therefore makes a critical contribution to social transformation; it is not only politically legitimate but also politically necessary that sponsorship of culture be made compatible with overall social responsibility.

I feel sure that, as delegates of the World Congress for Cultural Policy Research, you will engage with many of the matters which I have touched upon. We are at any rate absolutely delighted to be able to be your hosts at this event. I hope that you will enjoy many fruitful debates and wish you an exciting stay in this art and culture metropolis of Berlin. And I also hope that you will return home with good memories of Lower Saxony and the Department of Cultural Policy at the University of Hildesheim.