A Changing Cultural Policy: Underdevelopment in a time of uncertainty
Recently, a commentary by Stephan Hilpold, head of the feature section of Der Standard, was published with the title “Stiefkind Kultur” (Stepchild: Culture) . Obviously, not everything has gone smoothly in the course of the new government formation in terms of responsibility for art and culture. The former rector of the Academy of Fine Arts, Eva Blimlinger, was long considered a favourite for the perception of cultural-political competences at the federal level. For some time there was even talk of a specific Ministry of Culture, which was to be headed by Blimlinger. There was great hope that such a departmental and personnel decision would increase the relevance of the cultural sector in Austrian society in the long term.
What has been realized is quite different. While Blimlinger, the resolute co-negotiator of the arts and culture chapter in the government programme, took over the chairmanship of the parliamentary culture committee, Werner Kogler once again pulled a surprise candidate from his hat in the shape of MEP Ulrike Lunacek and made her the State Secretary responsible for arts and culture. Now, the political merits of having this Green-party bedrock are beyond question; it is easy to understand why Werner Kogler, in the current suspended situation, did not want to forego Lunacek’s many years of political know-how as a junior partner in a coalition with strong ÖVP representation. Admittedly, it is unlikely that the two confidants in the Vice-Chancellor’s Office will primarily exchange views on cultural policy issues.
Ulrike Lunacek is a largely unknown quantity in cultural policy; correspondingly, memories of similar constellations emerge. When the former mayor of Wiener Neustadt, Peter Wittmann, first headed the State Secretariat for the Arts in the Chancellery under Viktor Klima’s government, Klima boasted that he had made culture a “matter for the boss”. He had previously brought the Rolling Stones to Wiener Neustadt and yet he had already made an impressive belly-flop in his first major television interview. Based on the experiences of that time, it is not entirely absurd to interpret Lunacek’s appointment as a victory of a party strategy over professional competence, with which once again cultural-political issues were sacrificed to overriding power interests. Anyone who is aware of the high degree of personalization within the cultural industry will miss the penetrating assertiveness of the undisputed expert Blimlinger.
An appeal to the cultural sector: moaning, groaning and complaining is not a cultural policy strategy in the long run.
Reasonably expectable, and therefore symptomatic of the public discourse, were the lack of complaints from artists and cultural workers in the run-up to the event that culture was not receiving the attention it deserved. Their concerns were negotiated exclusively as unattractive set pieces in the power poker game, and the (intrinsic) value of culture was not sufficiently appreciated. This almost ritualistic form of collective reasoning, after the manifold attempts of right-wing forces to take over cultural hegemony, only insufficiently conceals how little the cultural sector has done – always with reference to its claims to autonomy – to improve its standing in society and thus also to influence political decision-making.
After all, the composition of the new federal government shows that the outdated deal between the state and the cultural sector, based on the motto: “Wash my fur but don’t get me wet”, no longer works. The state, which is supposed to confine itself to maintaining a largely hermetic bell jar, under which a self-referential cultural enterprise largely satisfies itself, has been shattered. Accordingly, a cultural industry (such as Gerhard Fritsch’s dictum at the beginning of the 1970s that it was necessary to open the windows of an old German living room and let in a fresh breeze) appears to be more strongly called upon today to intervene in social conditions and thus to appear as a (cultural) political actor. After all, there is much to be said for the fact that the generation of political pressure is the only language capable of understanding political responsibility of whatever political colour. Lamentation, including the raising of the moral cudgel, will do little to help.