flausen+ national network conference #1:
the future is now
14.-16. Febuary 2017
at the Freies Werkstatt Theater in cologne
Documentation by Dorothea Marcus
Second Day. Wednesday, 15. February 2017
Excerpts from the podium session: ‘Innovation through research: What does this mean for politics, business, artists and theatres?’
Summary: there are currently nearly no instruments of funding tailored to young theatre artists embarking upon their careers. Accordingly, the notion of ‘stage research’ also describes the need to fight to create the freedom necessary for artistic development, for young and older artists alike. In contrast to other countries, to date there is scarcely any funding available for this purpose; for the most part, EU cultural funding does not make it to Germany. And yet because this funding deals in-depth with contemporary currents, it is an outstanding means with which to defend democracy in hazardous times.
Basic problems involved in promoting up-and-coming talent in the German theatre landscape were diagnosed on the podium where Moderator Anne Schneider (Festival ‘Hauptsache Frei’) was joined by representatives of funding institutions, namely Martin Eifler (Commissioner for Music and the Performing Arts with the German Federal Commission for Culture and Media [BKM]), Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schneider (Director of the Department of Cultural Policy at the University of Hildesheim), Jan Deck (laPROF Hessen), Holger Bergmann (Fund for the Performing Arts), Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Wagner (Kunststiftung NRW) and Janina Benduski (German Association of Independent Performing Arts).
Jan Deck spoke of the ‘spirit of feudalism’ pervading in most facilities for theatre training, the lack of curiosity on the part of the ‘masters’ who passed their venerable craft on to the next generation, and Hans-Joachim Wagner lamented the in some cases absurd compendium of compulsory subjects of instruction. Why, for instance, should a young performer still need four hours’ of fencing instruction every week? Important skills for survival – such as application-writing or transitioning into the profession in a competitive market, on the other hand, were not imparted. There are currently no instruments of funding that are tailored to embarking on a career or submitting applications for one’s first projects.
But even older artists needed breaks for purposes of respite, research and reflection, as Holger Bergmann pointed out. It was with this in mind that the Fund for the Performing Arts launched an ‘initial funding’ to promote ‘searching’ by experienced artists as a way to provide them with fresh inspiration in lieu of the typical artist-in-residence programmes. ‘There is too little reflection into how we can use art to trigger something in these complicated times – if only to defend democracy.’ ‘We need to set framework conditions that make this possible.’ And that is precisely why, Janina Benduski added, the fashionable term of ‘research’ really is important. It also describes the very need to fight for the hard to come by freedoms that are so immensely important to artistic development in the independent scene. In view of this, flausen+ represents a long-overdue, totally apt format that urgently needs to be expanded. National and state associations in the independent scene are quite aware of the distance between training and artistic existence and are currently working on this very aspect. Wolfgang Schneider also emphasised that, for young artists in particular, there must be a ‘licence to fail’ of which they often cannot otherwise avail themselves in the madness of applying for project funding.
TRANSPARENCY OF INSTRUMENTS AND INSTITUTIONS
Martin Eifler pointed out that while, strictly speaking, the German federal government had no responsibility for culture, the cultural budget Monika Grütters, German Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, has at her disposal has risen more steeply than that of all of the other federal departments. The German Federal Cultural Foundation, he noted, is also an instrument with a deliberate funding focus on innovation. Yet it is undoubtedly important to arrive at a more in-depth discourse among sponsers, policy-makers, public administrators and artists. In the field of dance, ‘promotion of excellence’ has already been launched by the federal, state and local authorities. But this is a lengthy process.
The latest study of the independent performing arts, dating from December 2016 clearly demonstrated that coordination of funding instruments is not a high-priority goal among administrators in the field of culture, even though, in some cases they are prerequisites, according to Wolfgang Schneider. He asked who was actually responsible for this ‘prohibition of cooperation’ still in effect. Networking is urgently needed, at least among the individual municipalities.
Someone in the audience asked why there was no database with a search function combining all sponsors and funders, including criteria and application deadlines.
Apart from the fact that both state and federal associations have already begun work on databases of this sort (e.g. www.kunstfoerderung.org), funding systems and forms of training are lagging behind the rapidly shifting realities on the ground, replied Janina Benduski. Such a database would need to be updated constantly.
THEATRE AS A DEFENCE OF DEMOCRACY
One must be watchful to ensure that culture does not become a superfluous social service, when using terms like ‘creative economy’ the focus is placed on financial interests, Holger Bergmann noted. There is perhaps no more than a small window remaining in times when democracy is under attack from many sides and culture is being instrumentalised.
An audience member, the new Managing Director of the German Theatre and Orchestra Association, Marc Grandmontagne, warned that cultural policy is becoming heavily marginalised in many of the less densely populated regions of Germany. Grandmontagne saw this development as ‘highly dangerous’. After all, the performing arts are the only art form that has anything to counter the threat of a looming authoritarianism. ‘We have to show why we are relevant’.
Throughout his entire life, said Winfried Wrede, there had been no improvement at all for the small and medium-sized theatres; instead, the situation has only worsened. Currently, he continued, art was practically being almost ‘killed off’, and the days of medium-sized and small theatres were numbered. And yet it is only these institutions that offer the decisive advantage of intervening in the remotest corners of Germany and forming the basis for providing for the future of the theatrical arts. A new start was needed to strengthen them, he urged.
From the audience, Julian Klein added that, in spite of halting approaches, there is no funding at all in Germany for artistic research; the matter is taken far more seriously in the international context. As a result: Most EU cultural funding passes Germany by. Stage research is often confused with cultural education; in this country, the dimensions of stage research have not even been properly grasped. Demands for this kind of research funding must be vehemently made in concert with scientific institutions.