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Thursday, May 26, 2022

There has been more cooperation

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There is a crisis between the artists of the city and the politics of Berlin. Although the war in Ukraine is currently also determining discussions in the cultural sector, the boycott of the controversial “Kunsthalle Berlin” is still latent. The private and publicly co-financed exhibition project at the former Tempelhof airport was created as part of a much-criticized “public-private partnership”.

In the center: individual politicians, pro-Russian networks and the supervisory board of the state-owned company Tempelhof Projekt GmbH, which will develop the airport areas as a cultural venue, has exclusively members of the administration. Artists and urban development experts outside of politics were missing from the supervisory board, leading to wrong decisions, according to the professional association of visual artists in Berlin (bbk berlin).

A chaos of jurisdictions endangers existing studies

Another state-owned GmbH is now under criticism. This time in relation to state-sponsored workspaces. The artists of the Lichtenberg studio community at Herzbergstraße 127 sent a letter of fire to the Senator for Culture, Klaus Lederer, at the beginning of March.

The rental contracts for their studios expired at the end of March and an extension is not in sight, which is usually just a formality. The Gesellschaft für Stadtentwicklung (GSE), which holds the general lease on behalf of the state, was unable to extend the sublease until recently because the necessary funds were not released by the cultural administration. The “go” just arrived on Friday of last week. Other studio locations in Neukölln and Kreuzberg, whose leases are due to be extended this year, continue to be of concern. What’s happening?

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“There is a chaos of jurisdiction,” says Bernhard Kotowski, managing director of bbk berlin’s Kulturwerk. This was preceded by an innovation that the Senate’s Department for Culture and Europe introduced in February 2021, actually to secure studios and create new workspaces, as set out in the coalition agreement. The state-owned “Kulturraum Berlin GmbH”, which was newly created in 2021, will gradually take over the overall holding of the state-sponsored studios and manage them. Apparently that hasn’t worked so far.

How well do the state-owned GmbHs work?

The workshops of sculptors and painters -there are currently around 1,000- have been managed since 1993 through the “studio rental program”. The bbk berlin studio office is responsible for selecting the artists eligible for funding, the GSE acts as the general tenant of the state-owned and privately owned studios. What works well from the point of view of artists, a structural support for artists organized from their own circles, also has the character of an international model.

Kotowski now criticizes the lack of transparency since the restructuring. It is not clear who is responsible for what, how much money is available and which locations Kulturraum GmbH wants to develop in the future. Existing rental contracts are in jeopardy from the unclear situation. “Apparently, independent non-profit organizations, such as the Gesellschaft für Stadtentwicklung GSE directly and indirectly, the bbk berlin studio office, will be excluded from the studio rental program,” is Kotowski’s impression.

From his point of view, the will of the administration to work together with civil society in the artistic sphere was much greater. “Artists were accepted and respected as partners by administrations and the House of Representatives. That has been lost on a large scale,” says Kotowski.

Entrepreneurial thinking instead of participation

Less civil society, more public administration? According to Kotowski, he does not see this as a desire for more state control, but rather as a consequence of the neoliberal governance of the 1990s. State action is understood from the business point of view, and more and more tasks are assumed by state companies. These function outside of public discussion and can hardly be controlled by parliament.

Eligibility criteria, such as income limits and urgency, are apparently no longer controlled in the context of study assignment. As a result, artists with higher incomes can also maintain subsidized studios. Due to the disease, the cultural administration has not yet responded.

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