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Podewil, Berlin

 Angela Plohman interviews Andreas Broeckmann

Podewil celebrated its 10th anniversary on June 29, 2002, amidst growing uncertainty of its future existence. In 2002, the City of Berlin hit a financial low, and to compensate for its own mismanagement of funds it took steps to retrieve five million Euro from its state-owned organizations. On March 19, the City of Berlin announced 715,000 Euro in cuts to Berliner Kulturveranstaltungs-GmbH, a cultural body that forms the administrative structure of Podewil, Kunst-Werk, and Künstlerhaus Bethanien.

Podewil was hit particularily hard. It was also announced that not only would Podewil's operational funding be cut, but that it would have to relinquish its rehearsal rooms and studios to over 70 employees of the Museumspädagogischer Dienst (MD) (the pedagogical services of Berlin's museums). On June 27, the final decisions were released. As of January 2003, the Berlin Cultural Senate will cut Podewil's budget by 215,000 Euro. It was also confirmed that the Pedagogical Service of Berlin's Museums will take over a large amount of space in the Podewil building. Although the cuts are not as drastic as originally foreseen, the reality is that the shape of Podewil's future programming must now change to accommodate the loss of funding and space.

In June 2002, before the budget cuts were finalized, I interviewed Dr. Andreas Broeckmann, the media arts curator at Podewil and the artistic director of Berlin's annual Transmediale Festival.

AP What was your first reaction to the news put forth by the Berlin Senate regarding the budget cuts?

AB The current cuts come as part of a long series of funding cuts that have been affecting independent Berlin culture for the last ten years. A lot of frustration has already been spent on this process, and the situation this spring is amplified by a big banking scandal and the realisation that the city is more or less bankrupt. Feelings are of course mixed, and what angers us is that the amounts saved by cuts in the cultural sector are negligeable in the bigger picture, and yet they are sufficient to destroy decade-old, successful structures.

AP In your opinion, why are cultural organizations such as Podewil viewed as expendable, despite their international presence and reputation?

AB The situation is of course more complex than a politician saying, "Podewil is expendable". Nobody is saying that, instead they are insisting that according to their calculations the centre can continue working successfully with a budget reduced by, whatever, 20%. I think that they even understand the importance of our work. There is a fiscal reason in that Podewil and similar institutions get a lot of project funding on a yearly basis, and unlike maintenance, salaries and long-term contractual commitments that you get in the theatre and music world, this kind of project funding is money that can be taken away easily. The Berlin Senator for Culture, Flierl, promises us that the big cultural institutions will also have to suffer but that it takes a year or so to sort out how to make the necessary cuts. It is little consolation to know that Berlin's cultural infrastructure is being eroded as a whole, but it is also clear that a bankrupt city may not be able to maintain three opera houses whose programmes are often very similar.

AP How will these decisions affect cultural life in Berlin? Can we now expect more announcements of the like in the upcoming years if the city of Berlin can not solve its financial problems? What is the general feeling about this among cultural workers and artists in the city? It seems that there is fear in the air across Europe, for example as here in Holland, where the new ruling parties have not once mentioned culture in their agendas.

AB It is very difficult to say, because of course large amounts of money continue to be spent on cultural institutions and events. Also, if three opera houses build their programme around a repertory of Mozart, Verdi and a couple of other authors for reasons of popularity, and publically funded theatre or modern dance events suffer from a lack of audience because they are competing in the same field, and all this is happening in a city that cannot pay for enough teachers and social services, you must wonder whether humility might not be the best way forward. The danger lies in a certain political timidity which means that rather than make two painful, deep cuts, we get blanket reductions across many institutions (the lawn-mower principle) which debilitate all of these. But more generally, I am pretty sure that the perception of 'Berlin's cultural life' will continue to be as diverse as it always has been. Some years are good for Rock music because one band rises to international fame, other people will think Berlin is only interesting for its independent club scene, from yet other perspectives Berlin is a museum city and on the rise to the world top. Only some of these observations have anything to do with direct state funding.

I believe that we are finally experiencing the end of the social-democratic consensus of the 1970s and that we are facing a real struggle about the meaning of culture in a democratic society. This struggle is far from having been lost, but it needs a high level of activism and vigilance to affirm the importance of cultural practice as a factor of social innovation, ethics, and inner-societal peace. We need to reformulate the role of culture for a post-industrial and globalised society -- similar I guess to the project of critical discourse in the 1970s. I believe that the task is as big, and I hope that enough people in our generation will have the stamina that the first European post-war generation had.

AP What do the cuts mean, in literal terms, for the future existence of Podewil? How will activities have to change, how will personnel have to change? What does it mean for Transmediale?

AB It is difficult to say what will be the end result. There are also other factors, like the possibility of the Museumspädagogischer Dienst' that organises culture-pedagogical programmes across Berlin taking over two thirds of the Podewil building. My guess is that we will have to continue working at a reduced level and that the pressure for success will increase if we want to prevent further slashes in the next years. Some people will leave in frustration, but others will use the tension and the anger of the current situation for completely new things. I think the challenge will be to continue to do internationally interesting things with less funding, and I think that we will find ways to do it. In terms of activities and personnel, this will probably mean that we have to go down the ugly road of 'flexibilisation' and do more on a project-by-project basis, creating a sometimes healthy, more often unhealthy and draining dynamics and insecurity for everybody involved.

As for the Transmediale, it is not directly affected by all of this because we received the ultimate cuts from the Berlin culture department in 2000 already and we have had to make do without them for over a year now. We have our offices in Podewil and get a lot of valuable administrative support from them, but if Podewil was to close down, we would probably be able to find a new host. This is not desirable, but it means that the fate of the Transmediale is not directly tied to Podewil. Besides Susanne Jaschko and myself, we are already working with people on a half-year project basis only, which means that we lose half of our people from one year to the next because they drift off or find other, more stable employment. So unfortunately we are already in a rather 'advanced' stage of organisational post-modernisation ...

The flip-side of this is that, after two years of running the Transmediale, we are getting into a more stable working mode and have some capacities to organise events throughout the year, mainly in Podewil and under the label 'transmediale.salon'. Berlin urgently needs places dedicated to media culture on a continuous level, and with its interdisciplinary mission, Elke Moltrecht's well-established electronic music programme and the Transmediale connection, Podewil would be in a good position to become a strong node in the local and international network of media cultural centres. We will have to see what is going to become of such a vision in the current climate. Ask me again in a year.

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