Seven Pilllars It Is…

By Elena Philipp

The new support architecture of the Fonds Darstellende Künste. Elena Philipp in a conversation with the program director Steffen Klewar.

Steffen Klewar, if you look back on the pandemic: What experiences did the Fonds Darstellende Künste have as a supporter while providing funds in numerous programs such as #TakeCare or #TakeHeart NEUSTART KULTUR?

We noticed a paradoxical development during the pandemic. On the one hand, there were strong limitations for all of the performing arts – you couldn’t always produce together in a group, you often couldn’t meet up. That was a challenge for art forms in which a physical copresence is usually elementary. On the other hand, there was an unbelievable boost in creativity due to the grant possibilities during those years. Given the funds from the NEUSTART KULTUR programs, it was possible to stabilize the federal landscape in the independent performing arts – and finally to preserve it. There were very few bankruptcies in the various scenes, very few small theaters had to close, even though this seemed possible, if not probable. Artist groups were able to continue working despite the necessary temporary limitations caused by pandemic measures; they evaded them by moving into public or digital spaces. And there was plenty of expert exchange. In the end, this at least meant that there was a boost in professionalism in the nation-wide independent arts.

What are the most important things you see that the Fonds Darstellende Künste learned from the pandemic?

A modern support system looks at the entire artistic process and encounters it with a differentiated support architecture. The things that had already been realized in dialogue and exchange not just within the scene before the pandemic – that a large portion of artistic creation isn’t or at least isn’t sufficiently reflected in the support instruments and that a reform is necessary – were clearly proven in this period. For the first time, funds were available to realize a “holistic” support concept.

Could you give an example?

For example, the research grants have proven themselves; these had long been an issue for artists. The instrument is so successful that we will stabilize it in the future. But also keeping an eye on the various process phases for art production will be important in the future: from initial research to collaborative approaches for art that almost always are created in collective exchange, all the way to the actual process of production in which artists join to rehearse and show their work. In order to sustainably shape artistic production and create accesses to art, there has to be the opportunity to show excellent results multiple times and reach new audiences. And finally, there has to be the opportunity for artists to discuss professional issues, for example, at network meetings.

But also keeping an eye on the various process phases for art production will be important in the future.“

To what extent did the pandemic lead to changes in the Fonds Darstellende Künste’s structure of support?

The pandemic demonstrated the great existing need and also what the Fonds can and would like to deliver in this area. The Fonds Darstellende Künste has more funds available through the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media for the new support programs in 2024 than was previously available in the pre-pandemic years. Thus we can support artists to acquire higher support sums for projects; we can contribute to the improvement of production conditions or also enable larger productions. Especially now, binding minimum wages must and can be respected; this is a long-overdue measure targeting the social protection of participants.

How has the Fonds’ support changed in its interaction with the federal states and municipalities?

Maybe we should start with what remains the same: federal support for the independent performing arts occurs in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity and takes into account the cultural sovereignty of the federal states. Artists who are already receiving support in their respective federal states can generate growth for their productions when the majority of the Fonds’ board of trustees evaluates their submitted projects as federally important while taking their previous artistic work into account, recognizes a cooperation and relevance beyond federal state boundaries or sees a model character in the project for the federal landscape that, for example, leads to new aesthetics or work methods, or innovatively investigates, questions, reflects or clarifies issues with a relevance for society at large by using artistic means.

„We are making better production conditions possible for the participants .“

And what is new or different in relation to supporters on a federal state and municipal level?

To be concrete, the relationship between the sums and the levels of support have changed. Until 2020, we could award a maximum support sum of 20,000 euros as a project grant. To do so, the grant recipients had to bring at least another 20,000 euros with them from federals states and municipalities. Now, in the new program for production grants, the possible application level is 50,000 euros and now only 50 percent co-financing is necessary; in our example, this would be 25,000 euros. This is a significant improvement for artists. Thanks to the increase in means for the Fonds Darstellende Künste, which occurred at a time from which we know that the federal government has been confronted by many budgetary challenges, we can realize this with multiple application deadlines per year. Conclusion: now we are supporting more productions at higher respective levels, and we are making better production conditions possible for the participants. And this offers an incentive for federal states and municipalities to create associated support programs or financially support them, assuming this is in the fundamental interest of the local political players.

How is the future total volume of the Fonds Darstellende Künste’s 10 million euro divided into the individual support programs?

Our strength as a structurally smaller-sized support institution is in the lack of a fixed plan, but instead, being agile in management – always in the context mandated by the political and administrative sphere. This is why we see the support program architecture as the content-related framework, and we are in constant communication with the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media about targeted orientation towards needs, also in the current support year. Far more decisive than the question regarding the total volume of individual programs is thus, for example, to look at support quotas. How many applications are submitted for a program, and how many of them can we fund? We assume that support quotas are possible from 20 to 25 percent, maybe in some cases even slightly higher ones. Our goal is also always to be a reliable partner for the scene with realistic support offers and opportunities, while keeping an eye on the proportionalities. And we do this precisely also under constantly changing general conditions. The last few years have also been years of learning in this regard.

What is the shape of the Fonds Darstellende Künste’s post-pandemic support architecture in detail?

We look at seven pillars in our support: production, innovation, cooperation, sustainability, security in planning, networking, transformation. Those are the seven titles, goals, purposes of the support programs.

Could you describe the details of the seven pillars?

Production support is the core of this support architecture. The focus is on new artistic productions. This includes the entire process of creation: from conception and research up to the performance, in all genres of the performing arts. The Fonds equally supports dance, puppet theater, theater, theater in public space, digital theater, circus, music theater, performance, performative installations, interdisciplinary but also target group-specific projects, such as theater for a young audience.

„Our support is up-to-date. So also sustainable.“

This is where the second pillar connects: What is the sustainability of artistic work? Here it’s also about revivals. When there are remarkable results in productions that we helped make possible, then we want to support them, give them more visibility and make new presentations possible, especially beyond federal state borders – from Baden-Württemberg to Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, from Saxony-Anhalt to North Rhine-Westphalia and Berlin. This is then also a resource-efficient use of subsidies. Our support is up-to-date. So also sustainable.

The next pillar is security in planning. What is supported here?

Since 2010, the largest grant that we have awarded has been the concept grants. They go to groups and ensembles that have been working long-term and successfully throughout Germany and internationally; they need multi-year support to advance from the artistic level that they have already reached. For three years, the groups receive a sum that is comparatively large in relation to the other support programs. In the past, it was limited to 25,000 per year; now it is 50,000 to 80,000 euro that are added to their multi-year support from public funds in the municipalities and federal states. Thus, as a rule, three new productions are created with a national and increasingly international relevance.

And what is the focus of the support emphasis on networking?

That is the network support that we are continuing. It is directed towards structures: venues, festivals and professional associations – and it enables knowledge transfer beyond federal state boundaries, exchange symposiums or expert meetings and qualification programs.

That sounds comprehensive. Sufficient means to support all of these projects is no longer available, right?

The Fonds’ objective was to go into 2024 with 16.5 million euro. We are happy, considering the development of the federal budget after multiple crises, that we didn’t experience a higher reduction of the desired sum. It’s clear that we now will not be able to realize everything that we wanted to at the desired level with the now confirmed 10 million euro. There is still room for improvement. However, we still believe that, for example, room for thought and freedom particularly for artists who have already been initiating and been responsible for remarkable productions will lead to innovation.

Innovation is the fifth of the seven pillars.

Yes, and this is why we will also create research support that is directed towards the target group I just named. It is meant to enable fundamental research, among other things, along with research for new productions. And then, as a pilot, a residency support program in cooperation with the federally active network flausen+ will be realized. Here the goal is a comprehensive collaboration of artists with independent production venues. In the innovation pillar, we will support research for those who are artistically responsible. In the field of cooperation, we will make residencies possible.

And then there is the column of transformation. What is the plan here?

Of course, transformation is not just a very big, but above all an overarching issue that covers all of our programs and also influences the discourse platforms that we have realized. In addition, we also believe that we will be able to realize special programs for special situations, just like it was in the past with our „GLOBAL VILLAGE“ programs for artistic work in rural areas which operated successfully for three years. Or the program „AUTONOM“, which was devoted to the interface between artificial intelligence and the independent arts in the context of the federal government’s AI initiative, as well as the support program „KONFIGURATION“ on the potentials of the digital in puppet and object theater, a category in which digital work only occurred sparingly for a long time. I would also like to direct special attention to „GLOBAL VILLAGE KIDS“. In the context of the „Kultur macht stark“ initiative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, we have been offering support on the interface between cultural education and independent performing arts for one year now. Children and young adults in positions of risk work with artists in either rural or digital spaces – and are strengthened in their experience of agency with the means of art.

Starting from this educational work: How would you describe the role of the independent arts for and in society?

Fundamentally, one has to say: The independent performing arts are not only often a seismograph for societal transformation, but they also repeatedly prove the potential of concretely being the actors for this transformation and assembling the relevant stakeholders. The Fonds Darstellende Künste supports and enables this to a significant degree. And we will continue to work on maintaining and expanding the now established support guidelines step by step.

2024 has just started. Steffen Klewar, how does the Fonds Darstellende Künste look upon this year?

We are currently having heated debates in our society. Looking ahead to the upcoming local, state and European elections in 2024, we can say that the challenges in terms of cohesion, tolerance and acceptance in our pluralistic and diverse society and the appreciation of our free and democratic basic order are not getting any smaller. We need a strong scene in the independent performing arts and one that will continue to take on this responsibility with the means of art – especially now, especially in this era. To do so, there needs to be a continued understanding in (cultural) politics about what an artistic approach means for our successful cooperation in our society. And we need discourse and dialogue platforms covering the diverse perspectives and actors from civil society, art and politics. Understanding is necessary. In the summer of 2024, the Fonds Darstellende Künste will thus initiate nationwide forums on the relationship between freedom, democracy and art in our post-pandemic society that is too strongly influenced by isolation, conspiracy ideologies and fears of displacement.

The interview was conducted by Elena Philipp.