• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Instagram

Finding a spot in the culture of entitlement

A visit to the funding system of Berlin’s Senate Chancellery for Cultural Affairs

This article was commissioned by the  Korean Arts Management Services and originally published in Korean  for – a database website for the global exchange of performing arts, a project supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Republic of Korea.

“Culture coins the image of Berlin in Europe and to the rest of the world,” says the spokesperson of the Berlin’s Senate Chancellery for Cultural Affairs, Dr. Torsten Woehlert.  With the German capital’s investment totalling to 500 Million annually, the senate “channels 370 Million Euro, plus 130 Million Euro to the 12 boroughs of Berlin.”  From this budget, 85% goes to the maintenance and subsidy of the city theatres, operas and cultural institutions, whilst 15% is allocated for the “freie scene” (independent).  Hearing such huge figures sound like lottery winnings.  It is worth noting that the Berlin Senate represents only one of the five key players in the cultural arena. The Federal Government, boroughs, foreign embassies and the private sector (i.e. music industry, fashion labels, publishing houses) likewise have an existing funding and structural support system that contributes to the cultural life. So where is the rub? How come artists whether they belong to the institutional or independent sphere continue to moan about the lack and even the absence of funding in Europe’s emerging cultural capital?

VolksbŸhne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin Copyright (C) Thomas Aurin

VolksbüŸhne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz is one of the city-subsidised theatres in Berlin, under the artistic leadership of Frank Castorf.  © Thomas Aurin

It is an understatement to say that Berlin has a vibrant international art scene.  The art community is pulsating. There are approximately 5,000 visual artists, 1,200 writers, 1,500 Pop/Rock and world music groups, 500 jazz musicians, 103 professional orchestras and ensembles, 1,500 choirs, 300 theater companies and 1,000 contemporary choreographers and dancers. The relatively low cost of living and open spaces in the formerly wall-divided city is “attractive to young artists and creative class due to its history before and after 1989.” Berlin, which has the capacity/space to accommodate 8 million inhabitants, now has a population of 3.5 Million.  Given these facts, one can tell how much space there is in the city to move and what opportunities can be created by artists in a given environment.

According to Woehlert, the city reaps about “8 billion revenue from tourism,” which is primarily drawn by its cultural vibrancy.  Apart from the museums and galleries, there is no other city in Europe that has 3 opera houses, 8 big theatres, 120 small stages and 7 orchestras.   Among a number of city-subsidised performing arts spaces and institutions are Hebbel-Theater Berlin[i], Friedrichstadtpalast Betriebsgesellschaft[ii], Stiftung Oper in Berlin[iii], Deutsches Theater/Kammerspiele[iv], Volksbühne[v], Maxim Gorki Theater[vi], Theater an der Parkaue[vii], Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz,[viii] Grips-Theater[ix], Neue Theater Betriebs – Renaissance Theater Berlin[x], Berliner Ensemble [xi]and Sasha Waltz and Guests.[xii] Depending on the maintenance and operation costs of these theatres/companies, Berlin provides an annual budget ranging around 240 Million.

Culture is not just a standout factor.  It is not just a nice thing to have. Culture is an economic pillar,” asserts the 49-year old Berlin spokesperson. With an established funding structural support for the city-theatres and other institutions, the point in question is how is Berlin responding to the changing and pouring demands of the international art scene? Woehlert acknowledges, “There is this rising awareness (about the needs of grassroots professionals within the Senate).” But his response was a rhetorical question, “Should we spend more?”

Institutional Entitlement vs. the survival of the Freie Scene

“Testament” by She-She Pop, performed at the Hebbel Am Ufer, © Doru Tuch

“The reality is that the growth rate of the budget will never match the growth rate of the scene. Imbalance is due to historical and institutional (structural) reasons with Germany’s long tradition of operas and theatres.  Intensive spending of 85% goes directly to personnel alone, with the remainder directly allocated for the programmes.  Within these institutions, we have civil servants,” explains Woehlert.

He continues, “The institutions that get funding is close to an entitlement. Closing down an opera house does not offer any advantages to the city.  It would only cost money. You don’t cut when it doesn’t make sense.” To sustain the programming, the institutions are asked to look for other sources.  They are encouraged to seek both public and private funding as well as establish strong cooperation with the “freie scene.” Within these terms, the city looks into how money is generated from collaborations.  The institutions, however, are asked not to empty the pockets of their young collaborators from the “freie scene” through theatre rentals and production costs. Whereas, when international partnerships are concerned, some financial benefits are expected to come out of it. Institutions are held accountable by the parliament whether they run effectively in economic terms i.e. audience development.  Debates concerning institutional funding essentially revolve on the need to increase their funding or not.

The “freie scene”, on the other hand, is “not a must.”  Woehlert explains the pure logic behind the funding allocation that “there is no legal responsibility for the city government to support the independent art scene. Legally, we could cut on the freie scene – since there is no entitlement.  There are no economic consequences. But there would be cultural and political consequences that nobody wants.” Nonetheless, Berlin Senate maintains an annual budget of 10 Million Euro to support the thriving and emerging artists through an open call process.

Christopher Winkler’s “Taking Steps,” a production presented at Sophiensaele © Heiko Marquardt

Championing the Berlin funding system

The Governing Mayor of Berlin Senate Chancellery for Cultural Affairs promotes art and culture within Jurisdiction of the State of Berlin. The focus is on promoting quality outstanding projects by Berlin (based) artists.  It supports artistic productions and grants project funding and scholarships for artists regardless of their citizenship. Support is available for any non-profit sector working in field of fine arts, photography, new media, literature, music, performing arts, theatre, dance, film and interdisciplinary forms.  Funding is aimed at the professional Berlin art scene and based on the premise of artistic quality, cultural diversity and innovation. It aims also at strengthening cooperation and presentation options (including abroad), improve the working conditions of artists and promote artistic development through scholarships. The Berlin Senate encourages the development of concepts and projects that is of importance to the current artistic and social discourse and most importantly its ensured visibility in Berlin.

Grants and project funding decisions are usually based on the recommendations of the juries or advisory boards. These experts are independent from the government and follow rigid procedures in assessing applications that adhere to the principles of artistic freedom, transparency and fair judgment. The body of decision makers comes from a variety of vocational specialisations (i.e. creative practice, artistic/executive management, academics, critics, art educators, artists); artistic practice (aesthetic character, genres, styles, views); gender; age and cultural background (nationality / migrant background).   Generally, they have an overview of artistic and cultural discourses and developments; professional experience and knowledge in a specific field of practice; and interest and commitment to the development, promotion of artists and art forms.  The jury composition usually changes on a regular basis with a term lasting for a limited period of one year.

According to Woehlert, “it is the most just system. In general there is an open announcement and decisions are based on the recommendations of the jury. “We don’t want politics to decide.  But politics (politicians) make the recommendation to the Parliament.”

Since 1998, the Berlin Senate established a system for the “freie scene” specific for the performing arts which provides a twofold funding scheme for artistic groups as well as venues: the “Projektförderung” (project funding) and the “Konzeptförderung” (concept funding). Both funding scheme is done through an open call process with the former having a budget of 4.6 Million and the later, 3.4 Million.  The project funding has four categories or levels that rage from “Einzelförderung (Project), “Basisförderung” (1-2 years – for a company), “einjährige Spielstättenförderung” (venues) and “Einstiegsförderung” (new comers).  The concept funding, on the other hand, is given to performing arts companies, groups or venues for a period of 4 years.   Within this scheme, the city offers “Fehlbedarfsfinanzierung,” which means that it augments the expected or projected losses (minuses) that a certain group cannot cover in their balance sheet. In these two pillars, the categories illustrate the step-by-step process and levels that the artists go through within the funding structure in pursuit of sustaining their work. For the recipients of the “Konzeptörderung,” artistic groups are accountable for the artistic programming and development of their work.  This means that these groups have to maintain specific artistic standards used as a reference by the committee when reviewing the continuity of support for the succeeding years.

Throughout the years, this system has brought forward names and performing arts groups like cie.toula limnaios[xiii], Constanza Macras/Dorky Park[xiv], Christopher Winkler[xv], She She Pop[xvi], Gob Squad[xvii], Rimini Prokoll[xviii], Nico and the Navigators[xix], Novoflot[xx], Rubato[xxi], Lubricat,[xxii] Berliner Kammeroper [xxiii]and Zeitgenössische Oper[xxiv]; as well as spaces and venues like Sophiensaele[xxv], Ballhaus Ost[xxvi], Tanzfabrik[xxvii], Labor Gras[xxviii], Dock 11 [xxix]and Ballhaus Naunynstrasse. [xxx] On the basis of the figures provided by the city in the past 3 or 4 years, it is easy to spot the “top players” in the independent performing arts scene.  It is also very likely to come across some names repeatedly when examining other funding bodies in Germany, programming in prominent or established venues and international festivals.  Many of which, have invested a great deal of time and resources (personal, professional, educational) in enlarging their artistic capacities and network.  When one looks in parallel with the established institutions, although the funding structure and allocation is of significant distance, the amount of financial support received by certain independent groups strongly reflect the move towards its informal institutonalisation.  As Woehlert puts it, “The Freie Scene mirrors society.”

With all consideration to the above-noted process, it seems realistic to thrive in the independent art scene in Berlin. As all instructions, recommendations, funding provisions and reviews/analyses are published in the city’s online platform<, the system reflects the transparency to the public and creative community alike. However, if one looks closely into all data, it is important to note the essential aspect of being integrated in the society. What does this mean?  Since the funding comes from the German taxpayers money that is openly shared with the authentic and international community of Berlin, it would be useful to have a mastery of the German language since all materials are available in the vernacular tongue. Naturally, it is also possible and practical to have local collaborator who is familiar with the system, able to speak and write fluently in German and known in the scene.  For newcomers, it is important to present one’s work consistently, which would enable the exposure of one’s work and name altogether.  How one makes this possible relies primarily on ones creativity – artistic practice and finding resources to support ones work and oneself. There is, of course, value given to the project concepts and proposal, but like in any creative venture or any type of business, if one is seeking support, there is always a lingering need for the “proof.”  And to gain substantial proof as an artist in a city where masses of creative dwellers flock, one need to remain sturdy or even bullet proof. “The Berlin Senate follows an omnibus system, which means if someone wants to come in, someone has to come out,” states Woehlert.

About the Writer: Vanini Belarmino is a Berlin-based producer and curator specialising in interdisciplinary exchange and cross-border collaborations. She is the Founder and Managing Director of Belarmino&Partners, an international project management and promotions consultancy for arts and culture <


[i] Hebbel-Theater Berlin<

[ii] Friedrichstadtpalast Betriebsgesellschaft<

[iii] Stiftung Oper in Berlin<

[iv] Deutsches Theater/Kammerspiele<

[v] Volksbühne<

[vi] Maxim Gorki Theater<

[vii] Theater an der Parkaue<

[viii] Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz<

[ix] Grips-Theater<

[x] Neue Theater Betriebs – Renaissance Theater Berlin<

[xi] Berliner Ensemble<

[xii] Sasha Waltz and Guests<

[xiii] cie.toula limnaios<

[xiv] Constanza Macras/Dorky Park<

[xv] Christopher Winkler<

[xvi] She She Pop<

[xvii] Gob Squad<

[xviii] Rimini Prokoll<

[xix] Nico and the Navigators<

[xx] Novoflot<

[xxi] Tanzcompanie Rubato<

[xxii] Lubricat<

[xxiii] Berliner Kammeroper <

[xxiv] Zeitgenössische Oper<

[xxv] Sophiensaele<

[xxvi] Ballhaus Ost<

[xxvii] Tanzfabrik<

[xxviii] Labor Gras<

[xxix] Dock 11<

[xxx] Ballhaus Naunynstrasse<

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All