eipcp Policies European Cultural Policies 2015
08 2005

The Future of Cultural Production in the "Cultural Nation" of Germany

Translated by Aileen Derieg

Cornelia Sollfrank

Cornelia Sollfrank


Aileen Derieg (translation)




For several years now, the Federal Republic of Germany has found itself in a serious economic and political crisis. Now, sixteen years after reunification, the dwarf that defined itself by its economic success no longer knows where to draw its self-assurance from. The mood in the economy is depressive, people feel insecure. There are cutbacks everywhere. Improvement is not in sight. The red-green government and its indecisive reform policies are coming to an end. In all probability they will be succeeded by a Christian-Democratic/Liberal government that will press forward along the path in the direction of neoliberalism that was previously only timidly entered into, and continue marching with no heed of losses. In an endeavor to polish the tarnished image of the country and spread a little "brilliance", politicians[1] from the center have started to use the heavily loaded term "cultural nation". This term is falsely applied today to the state construction of the Federal Republic of Germany[2], abruptly incorporating all German-language culture and extrapolating a cultural superiority in the present from a glorious past. Unfortunately, the PISA study 2002[3] stated that in the same country that prides itself on having produced Goethe and Schiller, Bach and Beethoven, Kant and Hegel, the foundations of this alleged nation of education and culture are vanishing.

The invocation of the "cultural nation of Germany" is accompanied by the actual nationalization of cultural policies under the red-green government. The innovations include the introduction of the office of a State Minister of Culture, the Enquete Commission on Culture in Germany and the interstate Federal Culture Foundation. The reasoning for the introduction of interstate cultural policies was based on diverse tasks pertaining to European integration, for which there is to be one point of contact for the European member states, and with the representation of cultural offers[4] in a capital city[5], which the State Senate of Berlin would not be able to establish and maintain by itself. The development in the direction of an overall state representation provoked criticism from, among others, the minister-presidents of the federal states. Whereas according to the German Constitution they were originally, together with the local authorities, solely responsible for supporting culture, they now feared – justifiably, as it turned out – a loss of competencies and attention. In addition, the situation of competition among the various federal states was (and still is) one of the reasons for the diverse and abundant offers of state-subsidized art and culture in Germany. The establishment of a Berlin "capital city culture" automatically degraded the federal states to the status of a province. Instead of Munich or Cologne, now the world is invited to look to the "cultural showcase of the nation"[6] to read the magnitude of the (cultural) nation of Germany. Although the support structures for art and culture are still primarily the responsibility of the federal states, the partially overlapping national and capital city-oriented additional support measures have resulted in a clear shift of cultural events in the direction of Berlin. Not least of all, the good framework conditions, such as low rents, are a reason for the continuing trend for especially younger artists and all the important galleries to follow the "promise of Berlin". A depletion of the "province", especially in terms of high quality young and experimental art formats, is already noticeable and will certainly increase in the long run.

Within Germany, the "alliance for film" to strengthen the German film industry, instituted by the first State Minister for Culture Michael Naumann, and a call from Parliament to public and private radio broadcasters to introduce a quota for "music from Germany" on a voluntary basis, led to debates about a "monoculture" due to worldwide concentrations of power. What some commentators regarded as a harmlessly sentimental kind of German patriotism, was interpreted by others as a trend to rehabilitate nationalist ideas through a purported "Leitkultur" (German cultural identity) and warned against the political organization of cultural resentment. Significantly and with some delay, the art market recognized the potential of the controversial characteristic "German" and reacted with the invention of the label "Young German Art" and "Young German Painting", which has meanwhile even been broken down to individual cities. "Leipziger Painting", for instance, sells in the international art market simply because it is from Leipzig. Unlike the export strategy "Cool Britannia" (e.g. "Young British Art"), there is no major marketing strategy behind "German Art" on the part of the German creative industries, but only a partial imitation of one.

The best example for the new German cultural awareness that predominates in the Berlin Republic is certainly the exhibition of the F. C. Flick Collection[7] at the Hamburg Train Station in Berlin. The liaison between Berlin cultural policies and a collector seeking to place the name Flick on a positive plane with art is not only questionable from the perspective of museum policies in terms of the contracts concluded, but also illustrates for the first time in the Federal Republic the tendency of national policies to adorn themselves with art, with major art, at least with a large collection – the Flick Collection comprises 2500 works. Zurich turned down the collection and the museum (designed by Rem Koolhaas) that F. C. Flick himself wanted to finance[8]. In the Berlin Republic, however, the collector was received with open arms by the mayor, the state minister for culture, and the chancellor. F. C. Flick was not only relieved of his political legacy, but also of the costs for his museum[9]. In addition, the value of the collection is further enhanced and ennobled by the label National Gallery. For the collector it is a successful deal in many respects. The scandalization of the exhibition also had a positive effect on the number of visitors: the first of seven seasons drew 300,000 visitors and is considered a cultural political success. Unlike in Zurich, there was no reaction in Berlin to the loud protests from artists and intellectuals[10].

Another purported success of capital city culture is the recently closed exhibition MoMa in Berlin. The Museum of Modern Art lent 200 of its pictures – allegedly the most important masterpieces in the world – to Berlin. This exhibition in the New National Gallery confirms the currently prevailing insight that the success of culture is largely determined by the size of its marketing budget. The unusually large advertising campaign moved 1.2 million people to visit the exhibition and raked in a profit of six million Euro for the private event organizers' limited liability company – despite a lending fee of 4.5 million Euro. The exhibition was made possible by security collateral from the federal government amounting to 12 million Euro.

Both of these large-scale projects can be read as examples of cultural policies that enter into questionable private-public partnerships on the basis of a misunderstood liberalization. These partnerships usually turn out of be of one-sided benefit to the private partners, whose concept of culture is based on quotas and visitor numbers – in other words quantity – as a criterion of success, and which manage to make large sums of money available, despite empty treasuries, for projects that are politically desired. At the same time, it appears acceptable that as a result of this regrouping less "useful" projects and support measures are eliminated. This cultural policy development applies not only to Berlin as the capital, but can also be observed throughout the entire Federal Republic[11]. If the lines of development described here are continued without interruption, the consequences of the aforementioned regrouping will be that small, less representative projects or those that cannot be otherwise functionalized will completely vanish from the spectrum of financial support.

The work of the Bundeskulturstiftung[12] (Federal Cultural Foundation), instituted in 2002, can be described as counter to the general trend. Its mission is to provide financial support for projects throughout the entire Federal Republic, and the prevailing concept of culture here (still) offers a scope for art and culture that cannot directly be utilized for representative purposes, but is often critical, discursive, processual and experimental. In addition to a thematic program (e.g. "Migration", "Art and City", "Challenge of 11/9", "German Unification", ...), there is also support for large-scale and long-term projects, leading institutions, including documenta 12, transmediale, berlin biennale and the Days of New Music in Donaueschingen, for example, as well as for individual projects. In comparison with its elder sister, the cultural foundation of the federal states, on the one hand, and in comparison with some of the capital city posturing on the other, the Bundeskulturstiftung thus proves to have a clearly more progressive profile. With an annual budget of 38 million Euro in comparison with the cultural foundation of sixteen federal states with a combined total of only eight million Euro, the financial resources of the Bundeskulturstiftung are auspiciously generous[13].

Since there has not yet been any clear political reorientation in the Federal Republic in society as a whole, this cannot be maintained for cultural policies either. Germany finds itself in a transitional phase between the humanist tradition and neoliberal economic and utilization thinking. Culturally conservative, traditional, educated bourgeois politicians operate in parallel and partly in contradiction to the requirements of market-oriented cultural management, which leads to paradoxical scenarios: while the parliamentary enquete commission introduces a call to anchor cultural support in the constitution of the Federal Republic[14], cultural institutions such as museums are being privatized and exposed to the free play of the market at the same time, and leading CDU politicians from Berlin announce that the days of state cultural support are now over once and for all. It seems as though concrete measures are less guided by intentional political specifications than by the personal preferences of the respective politicians responsible for culture. It is evident how insignificant the role of culture is in the minds of many politicians and how little widespread the idea is of functionalizing culture, e.g. for representative or urban development policy purposes, if one looks at current party political election campaigns and city marketing concepts[15], in which culture is either completely forgotten or treated in just a few banal sentences.

A look at the numbers involved in cultural support suggests that Germany can indeed still be called a cultural nation. The cutbacks in the overall budget for culture are no greater than in any other area. It becomes clear, though, which culture is meant, if we look more closely at the distribution: almost 50% of the cultural budget is taken by theaters and opera; museums and churches (monument preservation) take up a similar proportion of between 15-20% respectively; individual financial support for artists is generally just under 1%. Culture thus means primarily the preservation of cultural heritage. In the contemporary concept of culture, individual artist support and independent artistic production play essentially no role at all.

Cultural Production and the Image of the Artist

The number of visual artists in Germany is not only growing, it is undergoing a veritable boom. According to information from the artists social insurance fund (Künstlersozialkasse – KSK)[16], the number has doubled in the past ten years. Since the fees paid to the KSK are based on income, these figures represent the following income situation for artists: 1% of the artists have an income of over 100,000 Euro, 83% indicate an income of under 15,000 Euro, 20% indicate a negative income, over 50% do not derive their income from artistic work. Income rises up to the age of 45, then it sinks again.

An examination of artists' working conditions shows that the Künstlersozialkasse itself plays an important role. Through the KSK artists receive basic social insurance. At a yearly income of 15,000 Euro, the monthly contribution for health and pension insurance amounts to about 115 Euro. However, since the pension that is later paid out depends on the amount paid into the fund – as is the case with all pension insurance plans – the figures indicate that the average pension of artists insured through the KSK will rarely be above the existence minimum. A discussion about the need for and function of the KSK in parliament in spring 2005 was accompanied by a flood of protests from people insured with the KSK, who stressed the importance of this insurance and warned politicians against calling the model into question or even wanting to abolish it.

Direct financial support for artists comprises a concise spectrum of scholarships, awards and project subsidies. State scholarships are awarded at the communal or federal state level (e.g. the working scholarship for visual artists, Hamburg, 12 months, 900 Euro/month); most of these scholarships have an age limit. In addition there is a large number of private persons, companies and foundations that offer various scholarships. The same is true for prizes and awards. A clear trend here is that well endowed prizes generally go to successful artists with a good income. State subsidies for projects cover means for production, subsidies for catalogues and exhibitions, and travel costs.

All this may create the impression of an abundance of offers, but a constantly growing number (over 20,000!) of visual artists compete for dwindling opportunities. There are also cutbacks even in the 1% area of support for artistic production. Although the cutbacks are minimal in absolute values, they cause a maximum amount of damage in terms of current art production. And as the KSK figures show, the current support and market structures already force a large portion of artists to earn their living with non-independent work or commissions. If subsidies are received, they are temporary or project-related and offer no secured existence. Artistic modes of working that do not follow the classic model of author and work, i.e. collective, interventionist and processual practices, are not covered by this grid of support offers in any case. A work or project results that are suitable for exhibition is often a condition. Project subsidies generally do not include fees for artistic work. With all public support, elaborate bureaucratic procedures for the application – and in the case of approval, also for the settling of accounts – lead to more and more self-administration work for artists.

Despite the symbolic value enhancement of cultural and creative work, the production conditions are deteriorating. In western societies artists tend to organize individualistically, i.e. without forming special interest groups, which is due to their idea of working autonomously and self-determined. Cultural producers are only gradually beginning to purposely discuss their understanding of their role and to establish relationships between independent creative work and the cultural economy defined by politics and commerce[17]. Organizing politically and working together with other political movements that fight neoliberalism and offer resistance also means leaving behind the sheltered space of "art" and the conventions associated with it.

No one other than the cultural producers themselves will have to question the role that what they do plays or should play in society, for whom and in whose interest they work and who should pay for it. The market is happy to take in anything that is either complaisant or seeks to accommodate the notion of the romantic bourgeois artist image. An outstanding example of this reactionary tendency is the success of the artist Jonathan Meese[18]. What is treated in the major and important exhibitions is determined by a few galleries operating worldwide. The social consensus to afford the luxury of artists doing things that are only accessible to a small minority is about to be lost due to the influx of models of economic thinking and acting, and formerly pluralist art production is reduced to what can be – for whatever reason – functionalized.

What remains are self-organized microsystems, in which artists learn to develop their own political agency and the power of independent judgment. Examples for these kinds of "places" include the bookshop and publishing company b-books[19] in Berlin with regular discussion events, The Thing Frankfurt[20], a complex network of web site, blog, mailing list, gallery, and events dealing with local cultural policies in Frankfurt as well as art theory, the mailing list [echo] for art, criticism and cultural policies in Hamburg[21], with which several hundred cultural producers have created a platform that is both digital and local for information exchange and discussion, and the art magazine starship[22], successfully published by a collective since 1998. The point is to expand the ability to (passively) read with the ability to (actively) write, which is characteristic of "small media"[23].

In a not too distant future, the Federal Republic of Germany will have abandoned itself completely to neoliberalism. It will have left its humanist tradition behind, but will still praise itself as a "cultural nation" because of a few German pop stars in the art market. At least half of all the museums, theaters and operas will no longer exist. And those that are left will be far removed from being able to be used as "resource centers for transversal communicational practices"[24], but will instead bear a stronger resemblance to leisure centers and theme parks, whose mission is to entertain large segments of the population. Art is everything that is creative and can be sold. The art business is controlled by a network of economically effective cultural managers. Art magazines exclusively serve to promote sales. And there will still always be artists. Forced to earn their living in a precarisized world of work, their situation as cultural producers has further deteriorated. As "professionals of the nation", they have proved insufficient. Nevertheless, they cannot stop fulfilling their self-imposed tasks of fighting over the meaning of art and working on improving the structures.

This text is published under Creative Commons License:
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.5/

[1] Cf. the article "Das hat Humboldt nie gewollt" by the former state minister for culture Nida-Rümelin in Die Zeit, No. 10, 2005.

[2] "Cultural nation" is a term from the 18th century used, in its literal sense, for a people not living in a common state, but with a sense of connection due to genealogy, language, culture and history.

[3] The PISA study was a comparative survey of the significant competencies of 15-year-old adolescents in different countries in the three areas of reading competency, mathematics and natural sciences. In comparison with other countries, Germany is far below the OECD average in this survey. The proportion of weak and weakest readers is unusually high at 20%. The results set off a shock in Germany.

[4] The Capital City Cultural Fund provides subsidies amounting to an annual budget of 10.2 million for Berlin as the federal capital to support significant single measures and events.

[5] The city of Berlin is both a federal state and the capital city of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following reunification, the German Parliament decided in 1991 to replace Bonn as the Federal Capital. Since 1999 Berlin has assumed the function of the seat of the German parliament and the government.

[6] This expression is from the State Minister for Culture Michael Naumann.

[7] The Flick Collection is a collection of contemporary art. The name comes from F. C. Flick, grandson of Friedrich Flick, who was found guilty of war crimes in the Nuremberg Trials. The capital used to build up the collection came from war profits and the brutal exploitation of forced labor. The heir F. C. Flick refuses to take responsibility for the history of his family and his fortune, and has to this day not made any payments to the fund to provide restitution to the – still living – forced laborers in the Flick Company in the Third Reich.

[8] The collector abandoned his plan to provide a home for his collection in Zurich following vehement protests by artists and intellectuals.

[9] Over seven years, exhibiting the F. C. Flick Collection will cost the city about six million Euro – to be financed from the running budget by "rearranging priorities".

[10] One of the protest actions against the Flick Collection: http://www.flickconnection.de/

[11] For example, the Tamm Museum Hamburg: the city invested 30 million Euro in a museum for a maritime private collection and guaranteed the collector an autocratic position by contract.

[13] Another individual project that should be mentioned, although it is not necessarily typical since it also has a representative character, is signandsight (http://www.signandsight.com/), the English-language edition of the online magazine Perlentaucher, which provides daily summaries of the themes and theses of culture supplements from German-language newspapers. With 1.4 million Euro start-up financing, public funding supports German cultural journalism, which has thus itself become a cultural project and is intended to serve German self-presentation to the rest of the world.

[14] "The State protects and supports culture" is the intended new Article 20b.

[15] Hamburg Marketing AG, Die Stadt als Marke, Hamburg Wachsende Stadt

[16] The Künstlersozialkasse (KSK – artists social insurance fund) was created in 1983 and offers social insurance in the form of health insurance and pension insurance for freelance artists and journalists, similar to an employment situation. Up to 50% of the costs for the insurance is covered by the KSK. These subsidies are financed with allocated funds from the Federal Government (20%) and with artists' social insurance contribution (30%). These social insurance contributions must be paid to the KSK by all enterprises that regularly commission freelance artists and journalists (museums, galleries, etc.).

[18] He originally became well known with multi-part trash panoramas and installations arising from his manically innocent creative fury, but he meanwhile supplies the art market with decorative oil paintings and the concomitant genius myth.

[23] Netzkulturen, Inke Arns, Hamburg 2002

[24] Brian Holmes, The Spaces of a Cultural Question, 2004 (http://www.republicart.net/disc/precariat/holmes-osten01_en.htm)