With the goal of discovering different ways of cultural funding in Europe, the Berliner Festspiele started a talk series (four Mondays), called “It needn´t be this way! (Es geht auch anders!)“, focusing on the changes of cultural funding structures and on how “…political processes, institutions and artists as well as production processes (are) organised…” in some neighboring European countries.

The first talk has been about the (music) theater scene in (Flemish) Belgium. Even after 30 minutes of history lessons by the four guests, I – as a neutral listener – did only slowly understand the impact of funding policies on the artists and producers. While before the 80´s there has hardly been any funding for modern & so-called free theater artists, establishing a specialized Flemish funding system has created a vibrant exchange of ideas.
Today, the amount is roughly €100 Million per year with ca. 10% for structural funding and the rest for project funding. Every institution – even the Opera House in Brussels – has to apply every 2 or 4 years for a new round of funding – thus forcing the management to rethink its program and strategy.

From a system, which has been based on favors and knowing somebody, the change process in the 80´s and 90´s led to an application process, where each project is judged by expert panels and even small projects by unknown artists do have a chance. Because this somehow creates a fair chance for the “independent scene”, some members in the audience stated, that Berlin could learn from that, instead of “…having mostly huge fixed budgets for the large institutions”.

However, there are some inportant differences, which should be noted:
– the size of the market and budgets
– the fact, that even established theater institutions in Belgium do not have their own ensemble, but are rather “places” for visiting tehater-groups
– therefore groups are forced to tour – also in Europe

While the panel was quite specifically remaining on their subject, I did take two interesting thoughts home with me: Firstly, the Belgium commission is changing their category-system (where one has to file an application) from art-type (theater, dance, music theater, etc.) to a functional approach (producing, educational, social, etc.) and thus adjusting to the realities that many modern pieces are crossing categories. Secondly, the cooperation between “high” and modern art as well as between large institutions and small groups in Belgium works well, because through the funding process and political will, they have realized that cooperations are a win-win situation for both sides – and this is something, cultural policy in Germany can learn from.

Next dates in the series are: 2013-11-25, 2013-12-02, 2014-01-13.
update: full audio file of the discussion is now online here