Which Cultural Policy? How? Where from? Who for?

by Julia Speckmann

Copyright: Mike Fuchs

The participants of the conference at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Three snapshots from the speed dating session in Berlin

An unusual question and answer game formed part of the Berlin programme of the ICCPR2014 conference. Ten prominent figures from Berlin – politicians, representatives of public art and educational institutions and artists from the Freie Szene coalition – answered questions from international conference delegates at an event held at the Lower Saxony Representative Office. They included Cornelia Dümcke, cultural economist and, in her role as project developer and cultural advisor, founder of Culture Concepts; Stefan Fischer-Fels, Director of the GRIPS Theater; Volker Heller, Managing Director of the Stiftung Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin; Nikky Keilholz-Rühle, Head of the Goethe Institute Berlin; Christoph Knoch, spokesman for the Berlin Coalition of Independent Arts; Thomas Köhler, Director of the Berlinische Galerie Museum of Modern Art; Brigitte Lange, Representative in the Berlin House of Representatives, SPD spokeswoman on cultural policy and cultural manager; Alex Moussa Sawadogo, Artistic Director of the AFRIKAMERA Film Festival; Kerstin Schilling, Head of Palace Management at the Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg and Professor Olaf Schwencke, former Member of the German Bundestag and Member of the European Parliament.

Outdated views and funding methods

Alex Moussa Sawadogo, Artistic Director of the AFRIKAMERA Film Festival explained that our view of Africa here in Germany has little to do with the realities on the ground. He explained to small groups of delegates how the film festival in Berlin aims to present African perspectives on important issues such as immigration, illiteracy and the role of women. He went on to talk about the biennial dance festival which he has founded – not with the intention of showcasing traditional African dance, but to bring contemporary choreographers and dancers to the German capital. He also stressed that he is keen to work more extensively with festivals in Africa itself. This was of particular interest to many of the international guests: the delegates from Zimbabwe and South Africa, for example, are interested in offering their students more opportunities abroad, especially in light of the financial situation for cultural activities in their own countries. They wanted to know where the funding would come from and what terms and conditions would need to be met for a project such as TURN, the Federal Cultural Foundation’s Fund for Artistic Cooperation between Germany and African Countries.

Cultural policy frameworks in Europe and Germany

The spotlight was also turned on German and European legislation and structures: Olaf Schwencke described the unification process for the Maastricht Treaty and explained that the approach of the European Parliament was “not programmatic, but pragmatic”.
Meanwhile, Brigitte Lange, SPD spokeswoman on cultural policy, was busy explaining the cultural policy of the House of Representatives and the budgets in place to support that policy to her guests from Japan, Norway, Chile, the USA and Sweden. A number of questions addressed the topic of diversity and whether this was reflected in the programmes of cultural institutions. This is of particular relevance in Berlin, as one third of the inhabitants of the city have a non-German cultural background. There was also discussion about involving volunteers in the work of cultural institutions and the institutional integration of disadvantaged groups.

Berlin’s Freie Szene coalition – a role model?

Another interesting perspective was provided by Christoph Knoch, Spokesman for the Berlin Coalition of Independent Arts. The Coalition’s initiative “Haben und Brauchen” (To Have and To Need) was set up to provide a platform for discussion and action. It fights for appropriate recognition for artistic achievement, including the financial aspect, particularly in view of the capital’s soaring rents and cost of living. A creative artist himself, Knoch is now involved in ongoing discussions with political representatives. He is trying to draw the many different strands of the Berlin arts scene together so that their common problems and needs can be communicated directly to those involved in shaping cultural policy. He stressed the growing importance of the Coalition as part of a cultural network that has helped to establish cultural and artistic communication in many areas of the city for the very first time and which is helping to raise international awareness of the arts in Berlin. Berlin is now facing a major decision. The city not only needs to place higher value on its creative artists but also improve their integration. This was the argument put forward by Jochen Sandig, co-founder of the RADIALSYSTEM V SPACE OF ARTS AND IDEAS, who shared a table with Christoph Knoch during the evening.

Summary of the evening’s events: every table produced lively discussions, motivated by a desire to get to know each other. Excellent exchanges between colleagues were peppered with a certain amount of amazement at just how well funded the cultural landscape in Germany is compared to many countries around the world!