Call to close every other museum raises storm in Germany
Artists respond that proposal would “destroy the base of the public funding of culture”
By Clemens Bomsdorf. Web only
Published online: 19 April 2012
A call by a group of academics and cultural commentators to close every second state-subsidised cultural institution—in particular art museums and theatres—in response to the economic downturn has provoked a robust response from German artists, filmmakers and writers. The proposal, by the consultant and director of the Centre for Cultural Research think tank in Berlin, Dieter Haselbach, the director of the state-funded Swiss arts council, Pro Helvetia, Pius Knüsel, and academics Armin Klein, and Stephan Opitz (also an official at the ministry of culture in the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein), was set out in the recent book Der Kulturinfarkt (Cultural Heart Attack) as well as in an article in the German magazine Der Spiegel. In an open letter under the banner of “Akademie der Künste” (Academy of Arts), artists including Rosemarie Trockel, Klaus Staeck and Harun Farocki, along with the filmmaker Wim Wenders and the author Günter Grass wrote: “[We] protest against this… infringement of a taboo, which destroys the base of the public funding of culture. [It is] an unequalled attempt to discredit the publicly funded support of culture.” The letter also referred to “a late exhalation of neo-liberal thinking”.
“This is not a concrete demand, but just a theoretical [proposal],” says Opitz. “Expenditure for culture has increased without control since the 1970s but many institutions cannot fulfil their task in an acceptable way. They lack money for research, marketing and so on.” He maintains that decreasing the number of institutions could [improve] quality with each remaining institution getting more money. In addition, he argues, cultural institutions should be organised differently and [be given] more detailed targets, not only in regard to visitor numbers, but also guidelines about where visitors should come from and what age groups in particular should be attracted to the museums. “In Scandinavia, institutions are already advanced in this field”, he says. Opitz referred to the letter from the “Akademie der Künste” as reflecting an “uncivilised anger” and said the authors were driven by unrestrained vested interests.
While Opitz and his colleagues have been heavily criticised by prominent politicians, journalists and arts practitioners, they are at least partly backed up by the “Piratenpartei” (Pirate Party), the German anti-establishment political party that is making an increasing impact with voters. “I welcome those ideas [as the start of] a serious discussion. It is necessary to start thinking about how to reform the cultural sector and its finances,” said Christopher Lauer, cultural spokesman for the party’s Berlin branch. In recent months the party has gained seats in two federal parliaments, including Berlin and, according to polls, can expect to gain seats in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state. A Gallup poll puts them at 13 % at national level.
Deutscher Museumsbund, Germany's museums association, perhaps unsurprisingly, rejects the proposal. “They ask old questions, but do not give any useable new answers, just polemic,” says Wiebke Ahrndt, the association’s vice president said. She says that museum closures do not save much as the collection still has to be taken care of.
However, Alexander Bastek, director of Behnhaus Drägerhaus in Lübeck, a local museum with important works by Edvard Munch, Ernst Bärlach and others, is more open to the proposals. “I am not totally opposed to rationalisation. It is important that museums realise their potential. However, closing big museums is a no-go. Institutions with high quality collections cannot just be dismantled,” Bastek says.
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