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German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Her Way Out, Merkel Calls for Gender Equality in the Arts

On the same day she announced she would not be seeking another term in her German chancellorship, Angela Merkel called for more women in the arts at a ceremony yesterday celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the national Culture Ministry at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin. A government-commissioned study last year found that, though 48 percent of women are in the German cultural workforce, 21 percent hold top management positions at media companies and 16 percent are in decision-making positions in significant cultural departments. Merkel pointed to the balancing of award- and grant-giving bodies as one way to combat the underrepresentation of women in cultural leadership positions.

“Whoever cares about diversity cannot accept that women still earn considerably less than their male colleagues,” she said, reports the Art Newspaper. “Let’s ask ourselves—how many female conductors have we experienced? How many women rank among the top-selling painters? The answers are rather sobering. This means we need real equality of opportunity for men and women in arts and culture.”

Merkel also addressed the need to confront the colonial histories of many art objects and museums: “I see dealing with objects with a colonial background as one of the most complicated issues,” she said. Though the German federal government created the German Lost Art Foundation in 2015 to assist in the restoration of looted items, controversies surrounding such works arise frequently. In September, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum submitted proposals for the Swedish government to create an independent panel to help with such cases. 

Some have criticized Merkel’s decisions to open Germany’s border to refugees and to provide three bailouts to Greece as factors in the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) Party, as well as the decline in her popularity. She announced yesterday that she would not seek leadership of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the December party congress. Merkel has led the CDU since 2000 and been chancellor since 2005; her term is set to end in 2021, though it is possible elections may cause her to exit earlier.

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