The Work and Funding of the Independent Performing Arts During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lecture at the "Transformations of the theatrical landscape" symposium

Dr. Aron Weigl, EDUCULT Vienna

On behalf of the Bundesverband Freie Darstellende Künste


The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of artistic work in society. The aim of the study is therefore to determine the status quo of the actors, their working methods and the funding system before and during the pandemic, especially in the federal states. On this basis, problem areas are identified and visions for a future funding practice are developed.

For this purpose, expert opinions, budgets and other documents were analyzed and interviews were conducted with representatives of state associations of the independent performing arts and municipalities. In addition, an online survey of 465 members and non-members of the state associations was conducted in the spring of 2021.

Overall, the funding situation for the independent performing arts has improved significantly since 2016. This is primarily due to budget increases, a differentiation of funding instruments and adjustments to funding guidelines. In 14 of Germany’s 16 federal states, there have been increases in funding budgets for the independent scene. The extent of these increases varies considerably from state to state. In addition, the funding instruments were differentiated in 10 of the 16 federal states. It is clear that the work of the state associations played a decisive role in implementing and enabling these improvements.

However, these changes were only able to cushion the challenges that arose during the pandemic to a limited extent. As the survey revealed, the majority of stakeholders assessed their own economic situation as more difficult one year after the start of the pandemic measures. This was mainly a result of the restrictive measures, which led to a sharp drop in the number of events. Almost half of the actors surveyed had to use their savings to deal with the crisis. For many, this meant a reduction in their retirement savings.

The response of the federal states to the crisis varied in scope. However, the support formats were very similar. In many states, there were relaxed implementations of funding regulations. Scholarship programs proved to be a popular instrument for providing the best possible support to a large number of actors. However, there has rarely been a clear distinction between programs for social protection and programs for the arts.

At the federal level, comprehensive funding programs have supported more actors than ever before, especially the #TakeThat program of the Fonds Darstellende Künste, which is differentiated according to target groups. They have greatly contributed to the fact that the independent performing arts were able to survive the crisis until the fall of 2021 and can also stabilize in the future.

Despite this, the situation was critical for individual self-employed artists, who had previously not worked on the basis of applications, but had financed themselves primarily through their own income from events. Compared to development and production-oriented actors, significantly more of them found themselves in an economically difficult situation.

The opinion of the actors on digitalization in the independent performing arts is divided. A large proportion are undecided about how to deal with it in the future. Digitality is seen as useful for the development of a separate genre of digital performative art, less so for the existing artistic forms. In any case, it is a matter of creating a social space, whether digital or analog.

Networking is the order of the day, to learn from each other, to appear more united vis-à-vis cultural administrations and to develop funding instruments based on working methods – not the other way around. The exchange with the administration and politics has increased during the pandemic, which was perceived as very positive and should be continued to build momentum for the future.

The sustainability of the funding system must be improved in order to make the scene more crisis-resistant. This can be achieved through multi-year funding and open-ended fellowship programs. It is crucial for financial security to establish income continuity. To this end, it would make sense to have basic funding that covers personnel costs without being product-oriented and that is interlinked with project and structural funding. This can only be achieved by a holistically conceived cultural policy that builds on development and planning processes and restores the lost appreciation for the independent performing arts.

Dr. Aron Weigl

| EDUCULT, Wien |

Dr. Aron Weigl | EDUCULT, Wien |

Aron Weigl ist Geschäftsführer des Forschungs- und Projektinstituts EDUCULT – Denken und Handeln in Kultur und Bildung, mit Sitz im MuseumsQuartier Wien. In dieser Funktion betreut er Studien, Evaluationen und Konzeptentwicklungen in den Bereichen Kultur, Bildung und Politik vor allem in Österreich, Deutschland und der Schweiz sowie europaweit. Dabei stehen insbesondere Fragestellungen an den Schnittstellen dieser Bereiche im Fokus. Unter anderem entstanden so beispielsweise die Studie zu Förderstrukturen Kultureller Bildung in Bezug zu den freien darstellenden Künsten (Bundesverband Freie Darstellende Künste 2018), die Evaluation des Theaterfestivals „Politik im Freien Theater“ 2018 in München (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 2019) und das Nutzungs- und Betriebskonzept für das neue Kinder- und Jugendtheater in Frankfurt (Kulturamt Frankfurt am Main 2020). Aron Weigl hat an der Universität Hildesheim zum Thema Auswärtige Kulturpolitik promoviert und ist Mitglied des wissenschaftlichen Beirats der Internationalen Konferenz für Kulturpolitikforschung.