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Monika Grütters, Germany’s Federal Commissioner for culture and the Media. Photo: Olaf Kosinsky/Wikimedia.
Monika Grütters, Germany’s Federal Commissioner for culture and the Media. Photo: Olaf Kosinsky/Wikimedia.

German States Demand More Federal Aid for Culture

As Germany begins to ease lockdown restrictions—some galleries and other small businesses reopened this week—political leaders across the country’s sixteen states are calling for the federal government to do more to help the cultural sector as artists and arts workers face a new reality of social distancing and banned public gatherings of more than 5,000 people, which is in effect through October.

Citing the devastating impact of the pandemic, culture ministers are asking for additional aid from the Berlin-based federal government, which initially rolled out a $54 billion relief package for freelancers and businesses in the cultural, creative, and media sectors at the end of March. 

“Further joint efforts are required to prevent the art and cultural landscape from becoming impoverished because of the Covid-19 crisis,” reads a letter the states’ ministers sent to Monika Grütters, the federal commissioner for culture and the media. “It is a unique situation that requires a state-wide effort by the federal government.” The document was also sent to Federal Minister for Finance Olaf Scholz and Federal Minister for Economy Peter Altmaier and reviewed by dpa, the German press agency.

While the state ministers concede that the emergency aid program and the social protection pacts passed by the federal government “have brought important measures quickly into place,” they feel that further steps are necessary for the culture sector to survive. They are now arguing for programs that will provide financial assistance in the long term, since many states have not yet lifted restrictions and their economies remain at a standstill. The letter also highlighted gaps in the relief packages, which they claim did not sufficiently cover the needs of self-employed artists who have suffered a “considerable loss of income” and small cultural institutions with ten employees or fewer.

The ministers also pointed out several overlapping federal and state initiatives. As a result, Bernd Sibler, the culture minister of Bavaria, is calling for greater collaboration and coordination between the federal government and the states and is stressing the need for a more comprehensive federal aid program. “It is important to develop structures that are as uniform as possible across the country,” Sibler told dpa.  “As this crisis progresses, we have a transformed situation. . . . We want to make it clear that we will continue to help.”

While Germany’s attempts to flatten the curve of the virus have been successful—at the time of publication the country had more than 150,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and a death toll of only 5,321—and some museums are tentatively planning to welcome visitors again in May, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned against reopening the country too quickly to prevent a resurgence of infections.

Facing an uncertain future, a number of cultural figures, including Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the German Cultural Council, which represents more than 250 cultural associations and organizations, are demanding a federal fund for culture and are pushing for the federal government to make an initial investment of at least $500 million to ensure the health of the arts.