Bundesforum 2017 - Teil V - Promotion of Plurality (5)

Bundesforum 2017 “an Initiative for the Development of the Independent Performing Arts”
By Özlem Canyürek

Bundesforum 2017 brought together the actors of the independent performing art scene, representatives of funding institutions at federal and state levels, and policymakers to discuss the current funding mechanism and exchange ideas for the improvement of the financial support scheme in the independent performing art milieu. The main highlight of the discussions was the importance of a continuous dialogue between the actors of the independent scene to exchange views on the main issues and how to raise a collective and stronger voice together against acute problems. The scale of the contemporary discourse regarding funding, stressed by the participants varied from the promotion of new aesthetics and artistic research as well as the artists' development, strengthening cross-border cooperation, fostering a nationwide network of alliances and collaborations to digitalisation, and archiving for safeguarding the cultural memory. While a wide range of matters conversed, advocacy for a plural performing art scene hardly referred. Although the demand for the promotion of a diverse theatre landscape expressed, the utterance for a more inclusive theatre realm was rather thin as if immigration is not perceived as one of the growing challenges for the independent performing art scene.

Accessible and Inclusive Theatre Landscape

Germany is an immigrant country over five decades, and yet the members of the society with migration background still underrepresented in the public and independent theatre scene. Their lack of presence in the theatre sphere is not only limited to their exclusion from the scene as audiences but also as artists and cultural professionals. The diverse cultural expressions and forms of aesthetic understanding of immigrant cultural creators cannot be articulated on the stages and mostly remained unheard by the larger portion of the society.

Migration is neither a trend nor a temporary impact of globalisation; it is a continuous transition. The cultural policy and funding institutions at national, state and local levels must engage them with the question of what is needed in the theatre system to promote equal participation to be relevant in a culturally diverse society. With what planning, instruments and support schemes people with different cultural backgrounds can take part in theatre? How to start a process that stimulates an impulse to think differently in a heterogeneous society, marked by cultural differences? What strategies should be formulated for cultural differences to be recognised as normality, capable of contributing to the artistic canon? How can this new way of thinking be helpful to introduce new support measures that search for the influence of the involvement of individuals with different cultural backgrounds, have various aesthetic approaches and bring something new to the theatre landscape?

Work in Progress

Almost all the participants of the Bundesforum 2017 expressed the significance of a long-term process-oriented approach. But how to interpret this dynamic model of a support mechanism that invests in processes which champion the participation of artists with migration background and diversified narratives? First of all, the dedication to promoting the process in an immigrant society requires a political will that aims to initiate an active engagement with cultural diversity in cultural policy. A policy that proclaims the “democratisation of culture” as one of the priority objectives and creates an environment, in which the actors of performing art scene can be in an intense dialogue and continuous interaction to address the structural needs for a transition in the system towards an inclusive theatre.

Dr. Günter Winands, Ministerial Director and the Head of Office of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM) stated in his speech that the subjects which have national importance fall into the responsibility of the BKM. The networks, alliances that emphasise the impact of joining forces for lobbying for their common interests should also be in the position to remind the governmental bodies that management of cultural diversity matters for the development and the renewal of the performing art scene. In that respect, there is also a requirement for the lobbying to include the representation of cultural diversity into the theatre discourses as a subject of national importance.    

Programming, Reaching out New Audience and Staff Appointments

The repertoire, staffing and visitors of theatres do not correspond to the demographic structure of Germany. This situation is severe, especially in the public theatre sphere. This fact alone indicates a need for a flexible framework that allows experimentation to reinterpret the artistic formats with intercultural sensitivity. From this point of view, what should be the responsibility of the cultural policy to advocate for the diversification of narratives created by artists from different cultural backgrounds for a more diverse audience?
 
Kirsten Haβ from the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (KSB) highlighted the importance of programmes like “Heimspiel Fund” to promote productions that deal with local and social realities of their cities. Programmes such as “360°” of KSB and “Homebase” of Fonds Darstellende Künste are examples, stepped in the intercultural direction to encourage theatre institutions to address cultural diversity in their organisational culture actively. These actions should be constantly followed by new intervention measures to reflect the artistic creativity of society from a more enriched perception. For a mentality change, what strategies and approaches funding programmes should adopt for strengthening intercultural exchange and building intercultural competencies in the theatre milieu? How this dialogue, encounter and interaction between culturally diverse people can be beneficial for the adjustment of the rigid structures in theatre practice that encapsulated in specific production styles and aesthetic perceptions, addressing only a particular audience? How can the incorporation of diverse cultural expressions play a part to stimulate a structural change in the theatre scene within a society in the course of pluralisation?  

Structural Change: Interweaving and Fluidity

Dr. Thomas Oberender from Berliner Festspiele drew attention to a structural change that is already taking place, in which “the focus is no longer on what is represented on the stages, but also on who represents something. In that sense, the independent theatre is often closer to the social reality of a multicultural and multi-ethnic urban population”. He described a system change driven by the independent scene and festivals, moving away from a rigid theatre system to a connective, fluid system which he refers as interweaving. According to his view, the principle of "interweaving" emphasises the interconnectedness and intertwining of different cultures, which opens up and hybridises the institutions more strongly. A way to go! A direction to take to question and evaluate the artistic canon and discuss how such processes enhance the diversification of the content and who creates them.


Özlem Canyürek is a PhD student at Hildesheim University, Department of Cultural Policy, examining the intercultural opening of theatre landscape in Germany. Her research is supported by the PhD programme of the Educational Integration Centre (ZBI): Diversity and Democracy in Immigrant Societies.