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Culture

Study finds bankruptcy threatens many German cultural institutions

Shifts in funding may put a substantial number of German museums and theaters out of business. A new study looks at the problems facing Germany's cultural landscape and suggests solutions with a corporate twist.

A man looks at a work at a gallery's exhibition

Smaller, niche institutions are more likely to be threatened by funding cuts

A study released Wednesday claims that every 10th museum or cultural institution in Germany may be forced to close by 2020 due to lack of funds. The report was released by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Around 8 billion euros ($10.2 billion) in public funds are given each year to German cultural institutions, and the study's authors expect an eight to 10 percent drop in that number by 2020. The report also claims that museum operating costs will increase by 24 percent over the same period.

"Due to the financial crisis, cities and counties have to invest their money elsewhere and not in culture. We expect to see this trend continue over the next decade," Claudia Witzemann, head author of the study,told Deutsche Welle.

Smaller museums dependent on public funding are particularly threatened, she said, adding, however, that "many institutions receive the bulk of their funding from local sources rather than the federal government."

Visitors as consumers

The report makes a number of suggestions for museums to bolster their available funds, many of which focus on the suggestion that visitors be viewed more strongly as customers.

"Museums view their visitors purely as consumers of culture and not as consumers with multidimensional interests and needs," said Witzemann. The report recommends strategies like incorporating dining into the museum experience, organizing events like travel packages related to the museum's offering or offering more goods for purchase to customers.

But those strategies have been largely unsuccessful and with good reason, said Adele Schlombs, director of the Museum for East Asian Art in Cologne, which has also faced a number of funding cuts in recent years.

Two masks hang on a wall at the Museum of East Asian Art in Cologne in front of a viewer

Cologne's Museum of East Asian Art focuses on core exhibitions and not events

"It completely misses the point of a museum that receives public funding, when you establish elaborate price tiers of services. All tax payers should have relatively equal access to the museum and its offerings," Schlombs said.

Another issue relating to expertise arises when cultural institutions attempt to branch out into other arenas, like dining, travel or marketing fine goods. Additional personnel must generally be employed to manage these offerings, but the report already cites escalating personnel costs as a central reason that museums are threatened.

"Our staff is simply not trained or prepared to handle being broad-based event managers, and many of the museums I've seen go down that path have had very little success," Schlombs added.

Thorny issues when closing

Closing museums may sound simpler than it is in practice, especially when public funds have long been used to support a gallery's collections.

"It's important to remember the legal question too when talking about closing museums - who do the items within really belong to? It's not as simple as auctioning everything and shutting the doors," Schlombs explained.

The complex legal issues related to museums and their missions may make politicians and other public figures hesitant to close them, even in trying financial times.

Currently, visitor fees cover 35 percent of costs on average in Germany's 6,500 museums, but Witzemann recommends increasing that number to 60 percent.

Especially for museums financed by community coffers that are already running dry due to the recession, that may prove a tall order.

Author: Greg Wiser
Editor: Kate Bowen

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