In this series we report on how arts and culture have faced up to the challenges of coronavirus in Europe, North America and neighboring countries.
Series: Arts on the Globe
In this series we report on how arts and culture have faced up to the challenges of coronavirus in Europe, North America and neighboring countries
Focusing on and factorizing Germany’s pandemic-related cultural assistance
There is no denying that inaccurate information about cultural assistance in Germany contributed to the diffusion of a larger-than-life, idealized image. *1 Setting this aside, though, another aspect of Germany’s pandemic-related cultural policies contributed to the positive image of those policies in Japan: Monika Grütters’ many remarks linking culture and democratic society.
Many people think of Germany as a scientific and rational country; on the other hand, Germany also describes itself as a “nation of philosophy” and a “country of innovation.” Consequently, its policies quite often have idealistic elements. A strong, earnest country with no superficial showiness, which works towards its ideals straightforwardly and unostentatiously… True to this national image, Germany’s cultural policy in response to the pandemic showed continuously and steadily that politics is made up of the two pillars of practical work and ideals. This is not unrelated to the richly rhetorical speaking style characteristic of politicians in “low-context” cultural spheres, where communication requires clear and thorough verbal exposition. While in reality politicians must do more than just speak, in this case the balance between ideals and action was one of the elements that was highly evaluated in Japan.
At the same time, it seems to me that what this phenomenon reflected was not so much interest in a true picture of Germany, as an idealized image of the sort of crisis-period cultural policy that people involved in Japan’s cultural/creative sector were seeking. Plaudits were especially plentiful when German leaders spoke about the social significance of the arts and culture. What this tendency shows us is a picture of those in Japan’s current cultural/creative sector who would like society to understand expression and creative activities and think about their significance in a deeper way.
1) The true meaning of “Culture is fundamental to democracy”
Germany’s politicians continued to convey the message that they fully understood both the personal and social significance of culture. While calling for restrictions, they also took pains to convey their awareness of the various meanings of culture in relation to individuals and society. In this way they attempted to offer reassurance that they did not take a dismissive attitude towards the cultural sector. Support and conviction—if either of these were lacking, the power of politics in a time of emergency would have been inadequate. In Part 2, I will consider this conceptual dimension.
In addition to the statements cited in Part 1, remarks by Grütters that drew attention in Japan were those stressing the conviction that culture and the arts were part of the foundation of a democratic society. From around April 2020, Grütters repeated this sort of message to the media (with minor variations in wording) when explaining the significance of support for the cultural/creative sector. An article published in May was translated in its entirety into Japanese by the Goethe-Institut, by the Goethe-Institut; and since Germany’s cultural assistance effort was gaining attention in that period, the article subsequently became widely known even among people outside the cultural sphere. In July, when New Start Culture was launched, Grütters expressed this stance with the words, “Culture is fundamental to our democracy.” *2。
“Consider the implementation of tax benefits, and the artists’ social insurance fund in which the German government invests. In this sense, both the nation and its people recognize the role of culture, which stabilizes democracy and effects critical reform.”*3
“It’s true that the cultural/creative sector is important economically. But even more significant for our democracy is that the closure of theaters, cinemas, opera houses and other cultural sites could have a major impact in the long term.”
[Author’s note: (Because the field of culture and the arts is heavily impacted by restrictions in contact and travel)] Art that encourages critical reform, acts as a medium for societal self-reflection, and has the power to foster a culture of democratic debate and understanding, is disappearing—and moreover in a period when various democratic freedoms must temporarily be curtailed on a scale that would have been unimaginable a short time ago and the future is more uncertain than it has ever been.”
“Democracy, even when healthy, must constantly breathe. Artistic freedom provides the oxygen needed to keep democracy from dying.” *4
“We need museums, theaters and concert halls not just as venues for culture. Rather, we need them as social settings where people can gather and communicate with others.” *5
※4：https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/bundesregierung/staatsministerin-fuer-kultur-und-medien/aktuelles/auch-die-demokratie-braucht-beatmung-warum-kunst-gerade-in-der-krise-unverzichtbar-ist-175203 (For the complete translation, see: https://www.goethe.de/ins/jp/ja/kul/mag/21930923.html）.
The approach of describing culture as fundamental to democracy revealed the most “German cultural policy-like” aspect of the series of statements made by politicians about culture and the pandemic. Actually, this view of culture and democracy is not a new phenomenon that came about as a result of the pandemic. Ever since the “new cultural policy” of the 1970s, whose slogan was “culture for all, by all, of all,” it has been the raison d’etre of Germany’s cultural policy, and the interpretation one always returns to in considering the essential and social meanings of culture and the arts.
When this point was introduced in Japan before the pandemic, opinions were polarized. Some said it was “German idealism” or “a leap of logic;” others said that speaking about culture and the arts, which were merely “individual/ personal interests,” in connection with democracy—which is part of the “public” and “political” sphere—showed that Germany had an amazing respect for the arts and culture. But it seems to me that the premise for understanding this is somewhat different.
Today there is little controversy about the various types of power that the arts and culture exert over individuals. When arguments arise, it’s over the question, “Why do policies support culture to the point of spending ‘opportunity costs’ which limit resources that might be used for other things?” In this situation it isn’t enough to talk about individual meaning. One cannot combat the skepticism that says this support goes to a privileged group (in the sense of having previously amassed cultural capital as well as experience and understanding). Moreover, the reasoning that culture helps form national/social identity and is a powerful symbol is not very well received in Germany, which has a history of art being used as a tool in the service of propaganda. Thus, it became necessary to verbalize a type of “social significance” based on respect for individual equality and freedom.
Figure 3 – Understanding the cultural sector as an autonomous field that fosters norms *6
(traditions and customs/norms)
(language and arts/communication)
Figure 3 is a framework representing “sector autonomy.” While there are a number of variations in the field of policy studies in Germany, in discussions of cultural policy it seems to me that this “PESC” classification offers a clear understanding of trends of thought in Germany. Why does society need to foster and preserve an environment where “expression” disseminated in crystallized form as art and culture can act freely? And in implementing support for this sector, why is it inappropriate for “evaluation” to be an uncritical invocation of “rationality” in other sectors? This framework helps us think comprehensively about discussions that tend to become subjective when specific individual works and cases are emphasized.
This chart divides the world inhabited by human beings into four autonomous sectors—politics, economy, society, and culture. Each sector acts autonomously, and the “media” and “rationality” that mediate in each sector differ as well.
In the political sector, the “medium” is law, and rationality is legality. In the economic sector, the “medium” is money, and here rationality is judged by efficiency. The “media” in the social sector are traditions and customs (including religion, precepts, and manners), and in this case rationality lies in social norms. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is the advice, “If you catch on quickly to and follow local norms, you’ll stay out of trouble.” It tells us that in the social sector, rationality is based on a foundation of norms.
What about the cultural sector? Here the media are language, scholarship, and art. In this sector, rationality is communication. Generally speaking, “communication” brings to mind the medium of language, but here its meaning is not limited to language. Certainly, combining words can turn people’s thoughts, ideas and imagination into literature, drama, scholarship, and films. *7 But the means of human expression are richer and more diverse than that. People can express their ideas and feelings by painting, dancing, moving, singing, playing an instrument, showing. They try to make themselves understood and to understand. This mutual interaction is called communication.
In Germany, where culturally diverse people live and work together as a matter of course, C (the cultural sector) is conceptualized as a setting where measurements like logocentrism (whether one is a native speaker), economic hierarchy (rich / poor / disparity) and social belonging (whether one is a member of a minority group) are cleared away, and space is opened up for the sort of interaction that, as Arendt said, asks not “what” you are but “who” you are. *8 In this “space” for the mutual exchange of ideas, people acquire subjectivity and constantly cultivate their competence of discernment. The abilities fostered in this way support a society with a democratic system.
Even after the end of the Nazi era, the danger of actions that mobilize (like an alibi of democracy) citizens dispossessed of critical judgement, based on the simplistic binary opposition “state vs. people,” has always haunted democratic society. The interpretation of the cultural sector as a breakwater for this type of action is closely intertwined with remorse over the history of a nation that placed high expectations on “culture” at the dawn of the modern nation state, and plunged into the First World War and later gave rise to the Nazi regime while declaring itself a “nation of culture.” Modern Germany attempted to reconstruct a democracy fallen into dysfunction from a point where the character of each individual could develop freely through culture. Thoroughly considered in the process of rebuilding cultural policy, and among the most important theoretical foundations on which politicians (whether center-right or left-wing) base their statements on culture, are expectations of and trust in the critical and judgmental capacities fostered by culture.
Instead of linking the cultural sector with the social sector and regarding one as a subcategory of the other, what is essential is being aware that culture is an autonomous field on an equal footing with politics, economy, and society. (This is not synonymous with “art for art’s sake.”) It follows from this thinking that it is inappropriate to uncritically invoke other sectors’ standards for autonomy (legality, economic efficiency, norms and conventions) in reference to the cultural sector. In reality, of course, the fields are not isolated from one another, and the world is formed through their mutual influence. That is why there can be friction at the borders when they fail to yield to one another. Germany constructs a politics that nonetheless pursues ideals by applying the nation’s characteristic rationalism in practical matters.
Generally speaking, it’s because this sector maintains its stance of “not reading/not being able to read between the lines” that this continues to be a world where people can question (as in “Just a minute—let’s stop and think about this together”) the irrational laws and rules remaining in society and their implementation, the economic single-mindedness that treats people like cogs in a wheel, and the stifling conventions people have long followed despite not having been part of the consensus building process. Artists and scholars serve the function of what Kurt Vonnegut called the “canary in the coal mine.” They see things that people have become used to and say, “Just a minute.” In that sense they may be a troublesome group. But this is the creator’s role in society, and it is from here that the path of “freedom” for all is gradually carved out.
Culture, whose Latin origin “cultura” includes the meanings “cultivation” and “ fostering,” is the field where standards are “developed/cultivated” prior to “solidifying” into legal and social norms. The understanding of culture as “fundamental to democracy” has come about precisely because this field counters the existing situation with critical debate. And because this is a fundamental understanding, the position that preventing the suffocation of this field of communication is essential to our society overall, even if venues for face-to-face interaction are physically closed, was boldly declared as a justification of cultural assistance.
In one sense, cultural policy is a conservator that protects, hands down and preserves outstanding works of art produced through superb technique. At the same time, it is democratic society’s (sometimes maladroit) carpenter, maintaining an environment in which the creative sector’s autonomy can be protected. Decidedly lacking in the step-by-step theory that says cultural sufficiency is the “next” step after economic sufficiency, is an understanding of the various elements necessary for democracy. What is exposed here is the shallowness of understanding in relation to the social significance of the arts, culture and expression.
2) A lockdown “treading on thin ice”
For this reason, calling for a suspension of cultural activity was potentially fatal politically—especially for German politicians who had always treated this understanding as fundamental. Both Grütters and Merkel spoke in meticulous detail and proceeded with caution. But even for Grütters, who was showered with praise in Japan, the situation in Germany was already a bed of nails in April 2020 (as outlined in Part 1).
An abhorred word was being fired off: politicians were said to be engaging in Berufsverbot (“professional disqualification”). In other words, the suspension of cultural activity was being compared to the “suppression” of anti-establishment artists by the dictatorships of the Nazi period and the former East Germany. Additionally, things like unemployment resulting from politics and unemployment insurance programs that politicians made people receive were mocked in various ways in the media and on SNS. At that time, when controlling the flow of people was the only way to prevent the spread of a life-threatening disease, this word was flung into a situation where politicians were working frantically around the clock, all the while lending an ear to opinions from various quarters. In that moment, politicians who had long treated respect for democracy as a principal theme must have felt tremendous frustration, sadness and helplessness.
3) Germany’s largest-ever special fund for cultural events
On December 8, 2021, Angela Merkel concluded her 16-year tenure as chancellor and retired from politics. At the end of April 2021, she held an online discussion meeting with creative workers. Within a limited time frame, she responded to a succession of questions and requests. She even explained specific assistance programs. It was astonishing that the chancellor of the entire country had such a detailed grasp of specific activities. Her statements about the meaning of culture and art contained a personal warmth that came from her experience of culture up to that time, and her honesty and sincerity seemed to reassure the attendees.
Then, in a cabinet meeting on May 26, 2021, the German government approved the largest special fund for cultural events in the nation’s history, totaling 2.5 billion euros (325 billion yen converted at the rate of 130 yen to the euro). [Registration was opened on June 15. See Part 1, Figure 1.] This fund was established for event operators, in order to encourage resumption of events and facilitate the planning of future projects. If events were planned, this would also generate jobs for creative workers who had lost employment, resulting in indirect assistance. Eligible activities were cultural events to be held in Germany for which tickets would be sold. The two main types of assistance are as follows.
1) For events with an audience capacity of up to 2,000 people, financial support is provided to compensate for losses incurred due to the reduction of seat numbers as a necessary infection prevention measure. In other words, this assistance supplements ticket earnings. (Due to step-by-step restrictions on numbers of attendees, the upper limit in July was 500 persons. Amounts are calculated on a case-by-case basis according to numbers of tickets sold and venue capacity. The maximum amount per event is approximately 13 million yen.)
2) For large-scale events (planned after September 2021) with audience attendance capacity exceeding 2,000 people, where advance planning of various aspects (tour logistics, securing artists and venues, etc.) carries high risk in the current situation, up to 90% of costs resulting from cancellation or postponement are covered. (Relevant costs are listed expenditures such as personnel costs, venue charges and artists’ fees.) Accordingly, this assistance is said to effectively function as cancellation insurance with a maximum compensation amount of about one billion yen per event. (For small and medium sized events covered in (1) as well, it is possible to apply cancellation insurance. For events registered in advance, a maximum of 50% of event expenses can be received.)
In other words, through government payment of expenses lost due to cancellation/postponement and audience limits—costs which in normal times would likely have been recovered—this assistance aims to keep organizers from unavoidably opting to cancel events after comparing cost and sales earnings outlooks. (In normal times event insurance is available from private insurance companies, but this type of insurance does not cover cancellations resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. In any case, the focus is on filling the “gaps” in income and event-related expenses that would be expected if there were no restrictions in place. If an event is held with attendance restrictions, the relevant portion of sales earnings is subtracted from costs resulting from cancellation or postponement.)
Regarding this fund, in May it had already been decided among the states’ ministers of culture that the German government would contribute, and administration and implementation would be carried out at the state level. The German Cultural Council is also a member of the fund’s management committee. Event operators register the event dates and expense plan in advance through an online application platform. This platform was unified countrywide and put on track by the city-state of Hamburg. The national hotline for questions and consultation was prepared by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. *9。
Even in a time of emergency, the continuation of sectors that maintain unhampered communication is indispensable for a democratic society. The greatest merit of Germany’s cultural policy during the pandemic is that politicians have held on to this one fundamental principle as a shared understanding, and taken the initiative to demonstrate in Germany and overseas that they have not forgotten it.
And unexpectedly, they have even acquired an image, in a “soft power” sense as well, as a nation that is generous and friendly towards support for the arts and culture. *10 This could be called the product of “discretion,” “prudence,” and “obstinacy” that do not treat the expressive forms of art, scholarship, etc. as trivial just because they cannot stand alone economically, or ignore them just because they represent a minority perspective, or throw them away instead of leaving them for future generations just because they are not the trends of the current times. This depth of spirit is at the foundation of the cultural and creative environment of this country, which has cultivated a cultural/creative sector that one might even call too large in scale to to be shut down.
The Chancellery, home of the office of the BKM (Photo: Yuki Akino)
In the Merkel administration it was said that this was more advantageous than having a ministry of culture surrounded by enormous ministries and unable to assert its presence, since Grütters (CDU) could speak with Merkel immediately (as opposed to ministers of other departments, who had to make an appointment to see the chancellor) [according to an interview meeting by this writer in 2019]. In the new administration, launched on December 8, 2021, Claudia Roth of the Green Party assumed the post of BKM; and Olaf Scholz (SPD), who as minister of finance had worked hard on the implementation of the “bazooka,” became chancellor. A ministry of culture was not established; the Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor-level position BKM, which is entrusted with authority to represent the federal government, was retained. The debate over stipulating the promotion of public culture in the Bonn “Basic Law” (the actual constitution of Germany) was revived during the Covid-19 pandemic. and will be considered by the new administration along with the debate over adoption of a guaranteed minimum wage in the cultural sphere as in other fields.
What is revealed through observation of Germany’s cultural policy in an era of crisis
There are disparities between Japan and Germany both in the scale of the cultural/creative sector and in the number and form of restrictions on activity accompanying city lockdowns, so a simple comparison of support amounts is not very enlightening. And, as I wrote in Part 1, Germany’s support program cannot be idealized uncritically, as if it were completely without flaws. (As mentioned in Part 1, the immediate assistance of April 2020 applied to impaired ability to pay fixed expenses due to the pandemic. Thus, it was not unconditional; it emphasized the bankruptcy crisis and the presence or absence of liquidity bottleneck. It was said that immediate support would also be examined closely at a later date, so if wrongful receipt of support, or receipt of too large an amount, was found, this could be returned voluntarily without writing a reason. It has also been reported that refund requests based on state-centered auditing will be carried out later.) However, while present-progressive-tense problems, and issues grasped and responses considered by the government, were also widely communicated in frequent updates to people throughout the country, Germany’s cultural policy placed in the foreground the balance between practice and ideals. This directly embodied the political credibility and reassurance that was also needed in Japan in a time of crisis. For that reason, every word and action of German politicians in regard to cultural assistance was followed with intense interest by a wider range of people in Japan than ever before.
Observing the series of actions taken in Germany from both the practical and conceptual aspects reminds us in Japan that an environment where creators can express themselves freely is an indispensable element in indirectly forging democratic politics and enabling it to function soundly; and that cultural support is not an insular type of “industry support” benefiting only creators and people in their industry, but something that by its nature has a decisively important meaning connected with the foundations of civil society.
At the start of this article, I stated that the phrase “From material wealth to wealth of the heart and mind” became a disturbing “magic spell” in Japanese society. This phrase, which is connected with a “step by step” format and “spirit,” caused the people of Japan to internalize, willingly or not, a one-sided interpretation in which culture seems like a “luxury” to be enjoyed only in economically comfortable times—something with only personal significance.
The succession of “uproars” in Japanese society around Germany’s cultural policies during the pandemic is telling us of the need for Japanese society to reaffirm at this time the overall social significance of expression and expressive freedom as a foundation of democratic society, without being caught up in this diagrammatic magic spell. This is of course something that strives for a different horizon than the theory of steel hardened by pressure to conform—the “culture of service for the sake of society as a whole”–that various regions have experienced at different times. In that sense, for Japan, the statements of Germany’s politicians are neither “someone else’s business” nor “idealistic thinking.”
Stopping to think about the meaning of the phenomena visualized here is in no way meaningless. What sort of idealized image has been projected on and represented in the series of phenomena that started with the “Grutters whirlwind”? What is the raison d’etre of cultural policy? The process of analyzing this background is actually densely packed with material for considering the outlook of cultural policy in Japan.
Concerning this article, prior to sharing discussion points, one is simply overwhelmed by the volume of information. Therefore, the editor would first of all like to ask you read it thoroughly.
Then I would like to cite the “opportunity cost of art and culture” referred to in Part 2 as an important point of debate when considering the arts and culture during the Covid-19 pandemic. In other words, it’s the question, “Why does financial and human capital that could be invested in education and medical care have to be spent on the arts and culture?” Dr. Akino categorizes the world around us into four autonomous subsystems (politics, economics, society, culture), and explains that because each one serves a different function, there are reasons why capital should be invested in the arts which make up that particular sector. On the other hand, it is likely that what has actually been (unreasonably) sought in many cases, including in Japan, was a persuasive argument for the political and economic usefulness of the arts. The discussion point of the opportunity cost for the arts and culture is an essential question for both cultural policy studies and the sociology of arts and culture; and from this example of Germany, one understands that with the difficult situation of the coronavirus pandemic, it was even more necessary to face this dilemma than in normal times. (Mitsuoka)
U.S: Transformation caused by the pandemic, transformation ongoing under the pandemic
Kosuke Fujitaka (NY Art Beat co-founder)
Art in the Face of COVID-19 – Australia
Julia Yonetani (Contemporary Japanese-Australian Artist Duo “Ken + Julia Yonetani”)
Taiwan: The state of museums in Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Huang Shan Shan (Director, Jut Art Museum)
Hong Kong: What Opportunities Does COVID-19 Offer the Arts?
Mizuki Takahashi (HAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile) Executive Director and Chief Curator)
The Outlook for Japan through the lens of Germany’s pandemic-related cultural policy (Part 1)
Yuki Akino (Associate Professor, Dokkyo University)
Reflections: Preparing fertile ground for culture beyond the COVID-19 pandemic (Part 1)
Shunya Yoshimi (Professor, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo)
Reflections: Preparing fertile ground for culture beyond the COVID-19 pandemic (Part 2)
Shunya Yoshimi (Professor, Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo)