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Cities and land, hand in hand?

The NRW KULTURsekretariat is changing. That’s nothing new in itself, because circumstances in the member cities are also changing, naturally with an impact on the Kultursekretariat as their association. Of course, it cannot be taken for granted that such changes only happen for the best when it comes to cultural affairs: Our cities are increasingly finding it almost impossible to free themselves from the stranglehold of their debts and cultural projects are faced with being shut down. At the same time, the opening hours of libraries are being reduced, music schools closed and in some places, whole theatres are being put up for sale, even in the face of vocal objections by local people.

It is therefore absolutely essential to vigorously avoid carrying on in this way in a state where 87% of spending on culture takes place in the cities. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that the ratio of cultural financing between city and state must be rebalanced, because the attractive feature of this German state has in many places become a pressing burden, particularly due to the heavy drain our communes place on the financing of culture. The structural underfinancing of some cities is already producing the first signs of problems, by no means only of culture, as the examples of Oberhausen and Hagen are already showing at the beginning of a looming, all-embracing economic crisis.
Plenty of difficulties exist therefore, accompanied by a wave of cultural-political turbulence in far too many places, whether in the Rhineland, the Ruhr or in the Westphalian area of the state – be it in the area of dance production, staffing decisions or with regard to the planning of new cultural buildings.
Constructive and highly promising developments nevertheless give us cause to hope that new approaches to cultural work in the state and together with the state will lead to improvements.

From 2009, therefore, the Kultursekretariat, the largest communal funding institution in NRW, will take on a new and important range of tasks as the result of considerable reform to the cooperation between cities and state, between Kultursekretariat and State Chancellery. Closely intermeshed with the relevant local cultural institutions, the Kultursekretariat will control and coordinate the International Cultural Relations, equipped with additional staff and a considerable boost in funds. As an expression of the addressed, necessary coexistence of the communes and the state, but also in the context of the support of communal culture through state means, an important step will follow, which aims to present the diverse and important cultural landscape of NRW as being more structured and far-reaching.

However, international productions on a grand scale and with a wide reach beyond NRW, require efforts to be made to retain fundamental structures as a precondition for a lively and varied cultural life in places where the action is: in the cities: To this end, there must be less communal supervision on the one hand and on the other they must not rob themselves of the cultural substance that exists in their theatres, museums, music schools and libraries.
Networking NRW culture better on an international level and making it easier to discern is only worthwhile if artistic quality and substance are preserved and developed. Positive attention will simply fail to materialise, either from the general public locally or from elsewhere, if mediocrity and small-mindedness are allowed to prevail.

The considerably extended range of tasks presents the Kultursekretariat and its cities with major challenges for their joint work. The basis and ongoing core business of the Kultursekretariat remain its diverse local, regional and inter-regional programmes and projects, which will also be promoted, initiated and networked in the future in the closest possible cooperation with its member cities and their institutions. This will be facilitated through the committed and qualified hard work of our employees, to whom I would again like to extend my sincerest thanks. In order for all the work that they and we do with our partners throughout the state to continue to function properly, requires a prudently financed and structured culture on the ground.

In any event, we will continue to work with our cultural partners to maintain and develop the cultural infrastructure and in the interests of art and culture. And if the problems in some places still present a major obstacle, we can at least be certain that culture and education will continue to gain in importance in the future. To jeopardise them based on short-term considerations and with a view to short-lived minimal effects on the budgets would be a sure-fire way to arrive at a dead end.
Dr. Christian Esch

Kultursekretariat NRW Gütersloh
kulturpartner WDR3
Ministerium für Familie, Kinder, Jugend, Kultur und Sport des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen