Culture researcher Andreas Wiesand talked with DW-WORLD.DE about the Wagner family "soap opera" and said that Germany's arts subsidies are deeply rooted in history so the general public doesn't question them.
The German state spends 2 billion euros a year on theater, Wiesand said
Andreas Wiesand is the director of ERICarts (European Institute for Comparative Cultural Research) and the Center for Cultural Research. While the former has a broader European focus, the latter explores cultural issues within Germany.
Do you agree with Nike Wagner that subsidies to the Bayreuth Wagner Festival should be cut?
She does have a point there. In Germany we have little legal basis for art funding. It is more or less done on a day-to-day basis of means. The German Federal Court once issued a ruling to the effect that money is scarce so it should go to those artists and events that need it. Often the money goes to the more popular events anyway. The Bayreuth Festival gets 1.7 million euros ($2.15 million) from the federal government, which may sound like a lot but it's not really that much. We spend over two billion euros per year for theater in Germany. One should also not forget that the family affair has a big part in this. The Wagner family situation has been called a soap opera.
What is the goal behind public arts subsidies in Germany?
Wiesand: new media art isn't part of the subsidy infrastructure yet
Germany doesn't have a clear cut cultural financing policy. It's a wild mixture of cities, Länder (states) and the federal government, so that's a very difficult question to answer. Germany hasn't had a discussion about this, like some other countries have. We conduct surveys and it is astonishing that the general public does not question art subsidies, which may be different elsewhere. It's very traditional here. A town with 30,000 residents can have its own opera -- like Coburg next to Bayreuth. That's because of history: these towns were once capitals of little states and they wanted to have their share of the arts.
If funding to the Wagner Festival were to be cut, where should the money be redirected?
There are so many events that deserve something, not only (Nike Wagner's Kunstfestival in) Weimar. Nike Wagner is quite active in getting money from different sources, so she shouldn't complain. I can understand her. She's more avant-garde, which would make the Bayreuth Festival interesting if she took over there, but that's already out of the question. There are other, less traditional sectors in Germany too, which don't yet have a proper place in this infrastructure: cultural education, community arts, immigrants, new media art. Subsidies have been stable in Germany in the last few years, with a total expenditure of about eight billion euros per year. Actually, the real costs have been going down slightly, but not as much as in other countries.
What do you expect from this year's Wagner Festival?
I haven't been in many years, so I really can't say. But it's always really remarkable. I have a tip for anyone who wants to get tickets. If you're from very far away, your chances of getting tickets are much better. I thought about calling up my friend in Chile and asking him to get tickets for me.