We, active protagonists and institutions in the field of the arts, located in Baden-Württemberg, came together on June 12 2020 to form an open, independent and interdisciplinary alliance for equitable and inclusive conditions in the arts and cultural sector: an alliance which wants to become active on a regional, national and trans-national level to bring about systemic change.
What moves us is the concern for the future of the arts and the conviction that they can only remain independent if the structures and conditions change radically for the arts and the cultural sector as well as for the arts and cultural workers.
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has yet again highlighted the precarious and unequal conditions within the arts and cultural sector, thereby clearly revealing its fragility. It concerns a sector based on (self-) exploitation of a majority of the people working in it, that is, both freelance arts and cultural workers, as well as those employed in institutions. At the same time, social and ethnic origins, skin color, age, gender, functional abilities, or the responsibility for care work still determine access and exclusion. The current conditions do not allow most of those concerned to build up savings or other securities, and in particular limit the scope for action of underprivileged people.
Since the 1980’s, that is to say, since the onset of neoliberalism, publicly funded arts and cultural institutions have been under political pressure to systematically align with economic criteria, and be tailored to the model of private companies. The result has been and still is a massive reduction in permanent positions, the commercialization of further parts of their areas of responsibility, as well as the focus on quantity, especially of visitor numbers. This product and production-oriented logic has not only been proven completely unusable in the stress test of the corona pandemic.
Many independent associations and organizations already work beyond institutional funding, i.e. on the basis of voluntary work and unsecured project funding, without long-term prospects.
Competition, attention and the principle of the strongest also apply in the arts and cultural sector, and are often the only key to »success«. For most artists, along with the lack of secure income, affordable studios, storage or rehearsal spaces have been receding for decades. This, and other imbalances, create questionable competition for resources that are mostly based on non-transparent accessibility. The first to fall by the wayside are differently disadvantaged people.
Due to the structures mentioned, and the pandemic scenario of reinforcement of exclusions and hierarchization (»market cleansing«), this current situation urgently needs to be counteracted. It is important to ensure that »high culture« and socio culture, large stages and independent theatres, museums and artist co-operative galleries, institutions as well as international and local artists are not being played off against each other. The cultural landscape must remain diverse and contradictory.
The numerous aid and emergency programs, which are currently being laid out – especially in Baden-Württemberg – for workers and institutions in the field of the arts, have been and are an encouraging sign that politics are aware of the importance, concerns and needs of the arts and gives rise to hope for a common solidarity, also after having overcome the current crisis.
However, the closure of all arts and cultural institutions, regardless of their existing health and safety measures in the light of the so-called lockdown light has painfully demonstrated that the social importance of the arts is still not recognised by parts of politics which demonstrate that the arts, not just in times of crisis, clearly lag behind economic interests. It is highly problematic and we do not understand why moreover, with the second lockdown, they were denied any educational work.
We are highly concerned that the many aid packages will be followed by budget restructuration which would hit the arts with all severity. This would mean that we would fall even further behind the current inadequate funding policies. This requires new approaches and structures that go beyond the current crisis and give long term security to the independence of the arts and their emancipatory potential.
For the absolutely necessary change in the arts and cultural sector, the existing funding policies and working practices must be fundamentally questioned and re-organized with the participation of the active protagonists from the arts, politics and administration. The financial basis for transparent and fair, diverse and inclusive (working) conditions must be created, instead of continuing to rely on the (self-) exploitation of arts and cultural workers and the structural deficits of public institutions. This means we need funding models which are based on long-term radical equality of institutions and artists which – for example, in their role as applicants – guarantee and allow adequate and binding payment for everyone working in the arts and cultural sector: for artists, as well as freelancing or employed curators, dramaturges, cultural producers, mediators, graphic designers, technical teams, mask, stage and costume designers, restaurators, assistants, interns, authors, translators, cashiers, security and cleaning staff, journalists and many more. This is impossible under the given funding conditions.
The sum that the federal, state and local authorities in Germany spend annually on culture is 11.4 billion euros, which represents merely 1.77% of the federal budget and 0.35% of GDP. This is an extremely low percentage. In the European comparison, in terms of cultural expenditure of the total public budget Germany ranks 15th, together with France, Slovakia, Romania and Finland. In the comparisons within the federal states, Baden-Württemberg ranks 8 in terms of cultural expenditure (states and municipalities) per inhabitant with 114.64 euros, just below the average and far behind Saxony (212.95 euros) in 8th place (all figures: as of 2017).
As the figures above show, a significant increase in public funding for arts and culture in Germany, in general, and in Baden-Württemberg, in particular, is absolutely necessary. Furthermore, there is an urgent need for a transparent and participatory discussion about the existing allocation key, between all parties involved. The promotion of culture must finally be declared a mandatory task of the state. This is the only way to counteract, in a binding and sustainable manner, the precarious working conditions in the cultural sector, in which around 1.3 million people are employed – almost 40% of them as freelancers (as of 2017).
As an extension to existing forums, we want to be competent, critical advisory partners at the side of municipal, federal and national authorities, to help shape solutions, to bring demands and suggestions into budget negotiations and to approach politics. It is only together that we can establish alternative structures, accurately analyze and eliminate the systemic errors, which have arisen and stabilized over decades, in cultural policy and cultural financing.
In addition to the concern of helping to shape the necessary changes of the existing cultural-political structures through our knowledge, experience, criticism and creativity, it is equally important to us to put ourselves to the test, through developing our own working, thinking and decision-making methods concerning an equitable, diverse and inclusive arts and cultural sector. How are the institutions and active protagonists set up in our alliance, how transparent and democratic are their decision-making processes? How critical of discrimination and sensitive are their actual working practices? Last but not least, we also have to ask ourselves what functions and responsibilities public arts and cultural institutions have, in an immigration country, in terms of social imbalances, growing nationalism, right-wing radicalism, digital surveillance and the climate crisis. How do we deal with (self-) censorship and sexualized violence within the arts and cultural sector?
These questions can only be negotiated from multi-perspective points of view and in collective processes. There is as much to unlearn as there is to learn anew. In this sense, how can already existing resources and opportunities be used more cooperatively and in solidarity?
Our alliance is not only concerned with the old and new, pandemic related problems in the arts. It also asserts itself for strong systemic changes which think the arts in solidarity with other areas of society. We are concerned with a cultural, social and political change that does not follow the principle of the strongest, but makes vulnerability its starting point.
This new alliance is open and currently incomplete. We are looking forward to many more participants from different fields and contexts of the arts.