“Culture and art is a good and valuable thing but it has got nothing to do with my life” – this quote from a typical non-attendee is, in short, the main finding of our studies. The image of the arts as something very special, far removed from one’s own activities, the perception that the arts are exclusive and elitist is a hindrance for people to partake in arts events. This image of the arts is reinforced by cultural policy and arts institutions in Germany. In Germany we have the tradition of promoting and publicly funding mainly high-art forms. Culture still is an important distinguishing factor, as was demonstrated impressively in Pierre Bourdieu’s studies from the 1970s (compare Bourdieu 1970) (* 2 ). High art culture is still reserved for well-educated people. Gerhard Schulze’s empirical studies reveal that arts participation is an important factor in realising certain lifestyles and that the way of participating in and interacting with the arts depends crucially on one’s own social standing.
Which factors inform the Germans’ image of culture?
It is the traditions of a country in relation to culture and the arts that are most responsible for that country’s perceptions of culture and the way it deals with culture. In Germany, the Classical Age of the 18th Century – the age of Goethe and Schiller – is considered to be the height of German culture. The perceptions of the arts and culture as a timeless value of the „good, true and aesthetic“, in contrast to politics and everyday life, shape the perception of culture in Germany to this day. Culture in those times became the privilege of the educated classes, as opposed to the pomp and spectacle of the aristocracy and the popular „people’s culture“ of the simple working classes. The typically German distinction between serious „E“ culture and popular „U“ culture developed during this time.
After the Second World War, policymakers in Germany continued to promote serious „high“ culture as the valuable culture and developed their arts funding policies accordingly. This image of culture is still being promoted today – and still today, only a small, highly educated elite of the German population could be considered regular arts consumers.
Initiatives of the New Cultural Policy, established in Germany in the 1970s (see Hoffmann 1979) (* 4 ) to promote other socio-cultural forms, were only of marginal influence and did not manage to change the predominant idea of culture. 85% of public arts spending goes into high art institutions, while only 5% goes into third-sector multicultural, interdisciplinary institutions or into cultural education programmes. Guarantying the freedom of the arts is the most important criteria for cultural policy; moreover, it is the only criteria concerning the arts which you can find in German law (Grundgesetz, Art. 5, Abs. 3). There is hardly any money for audience development activities and cultural education in Germany, as audiences were not considered to be important until recently. As most arts institutions were public institutions or highly subsidised, it mattered little whether they were popular amongst the population or not, or whether they managed to reach their intended audiences or not. Preserving the freedom of the arts and keeping them isolated from political and social needs is still the most important criteria of cultural policy.