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Music

Menuhin Foundation woes deal blow to German school arts funding

The Yehudi Menuhin Foundation has helped finance numerous music and arts projects in schools across Germany for over a decade. Now, the institution is closing down programs due to insolvency.

Children singing in a boys' choir

Menuhin aimed to improve children's access to music, art

"Our pupils were really disappointed when they heard the news, especially since we had just started a new project," said Jan Wais, a teacher at Cologne's Finkenberg School for children with special needs. "They've been asking 'Why doesn't Max come here anymore? We had fun with him.'"

That "Max" was Max Höfler, a Cologne artist who was showing the elementary school kids how to make paper mache sculptures.

"It's something entirely different when I now have to continue working on the project with the kids, when I'm not even familiar with it," said Wais.

Violinist Menuhin, together with 'MUS-E' kids in Düsseldorf over a decade ago

Violinist Menuhin and his 'MUSE' kids in Düsseldorf

Klaus Edwards, the Finkenberg School's principal, agreed that the cancellation of the art project through the Duesseldorf-based Yehudi Menuhin Foundation is upsetting. "It's a huge loss, and we won't be able to fill the gap completely," he said.

The German branch of the International Yehudi Menuhin Foundation (IYMF) had announced in late March that it would put its work on hold starting in April when bankruptcy proceedings were set to begin. The Duesseldorf district government had stopped payment of one milllion euros (around $1.4 million) to the foundation due to what it said was inadequate proof of the foundation's prior expenditures.

Cultivating creativity

During his lifetime, star violinist Yehudi Menuhin was particularly interested in supporting music and art education. Born in the United States to a Russian Jewish family, Menuhin later became a Swiss and British citizen. Considered one of the 20th century's most gifted musicians, he established the International Yehudi Menuhin Foundation in Brussels in 1991.

Menuhin once said that "each human being has the eternal duty of transforming what is hard and brutal into a subtle and tender offering," and the foundation is based on helping children realize that goal. The IYMF is now a network of 11 different institutions located throughout Europe and Israel - aiming to promote cross-cultural exchange and foster creativity among youth in socially-challenged neighborhoods. The German branch of the foundation was established in 1999, shortly before Menuhin's death.

Kids in the Menuhin Foundation's MUSE program

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The music and arts education project "MUS-E" has been the international foundation's important and successful effort, allowing some 500 artists to mentor socially disadvantaged elementary school children in countries across Europe, over a span of four years.

The MUS-E project in German schools had become popular in recent years as dwindling municipal funds strained music and art programs. In Germany alone, 16,000 children in 645 different classes took part in MUS-E programs, working with more than 200 artists and musicians.

Until now, the German Yehudi Menuhin Foundation had received subsides from the German national and state governments, the European Union and private sponsors. With the announcement of the foundation's insolvency and cancellation of the MUS-E program, participating schools are being forced to find new funds and rely more heavily on other arts program sponsors.

Some more than others

Yet Germany is still better off than many other countries when it comes to funding the arts. This year, the US National Endowment for the Arts has a budget of just $166 million (116 million euros), compared to Germany's 1.15 billion euros.

Two girls holding musical instruments

School music programs are a big topic in German education

Other programs, like "An Instrument for Every Child" - which aims to provide musical instruments and education for children in more and more German schools, also continue to grow.

Still, the cancellation of the MUS-E project for now is painful, said Werner Schmitt, a member of the German Yehudi Menuhin Foundation board. Only the project in the western German state of Saarland will continue, as its finances were managed independently.

The International Yehudi Menuhin Foundation, for its part, is planning a MUS-E program in Kosovo. As Schmitt pointed out, MUS-E is "the only program in the area of music, art and education that is linked together throughout Europe."

He also said he hoped MUS-E could be started up in Germany again one day.

Author: Klaus Gehrke / als

Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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