The arts will lose their greatest advocate when Angela Merkel goes

The arts will lose their greatest advocate when Angela Merkel goes


norman lebrecht

October 30, 2018

With the exception of Helmut Schmidt, who played four-hand with any pianist flying in to Bonn/Cologne, Angela Merkel has been the most passionate advocate for arts funding that Germany has known in the post-War era.

Her departure in 2020 will undoubtedly bring a readjustment of priorities, especially at Bayreuth where she is a regular summer visitor.


Last night, Chancellor Merkel gave a part for the 20th anniversary of the office of the Minister of State for Culture, a role she has filled with close allies and in which she has always taken a close interest.

When the current minister, Monika Grütters, opened an exhibition on Germany at the British Museum with an acceptance of Germany’s responsibility for starting both world wars, she was summoned immediately on her return to report to the Chancellor, who promptly booked a visit of her own.



  • JoBe says:

    Given that Germany is a federal country, most of the arts funding is made by and decided upon by the Länder, not by the governement.

    • Scotty says:

      In other words, the national government distributes funds to the provincial governments (Länder), which then decide exactly what gets funded.

      • JoBe says:

        Those other words are wrong. Citizens of the Länder pay taxes to the respective Land, which then redistributes the money to the cultural institutions within its borders. Think of the Ruhrtriennale in Nordrhein-Westfalen, about which a lot of fuss has been made recently, notably on this website.

        • Scotty says:

          That as well. (I happen to live in NRW.) Or do I have it wrong? My impression was that some funds came from the national government and some from the province, such as NRW.

          • HugoPreuss says:

            The vast, vast majority comes from state and local communities and their regular budgets. I live in an East German town of about 100.000 people and we have a professional orchestra. Funded mostly by the city. Federal funding pays for some signature projects, some museums, but the nuts and bolts of arts funding are state and local, via state and local taxes.

    • True, about 90% of German arts funding comes from state and municipal governments. As Chancellor, however, Merkel has resisted the privatization of arts funding so vigorously promoted by American neo-cons, and which has harmed the cultural lives of less resistant countries like Italy, Holland, and the UK.

      The greatest weakness of public arts funding in the USA is that it is relatively centralized in the NEA in spite of the fact that the country has so much regional cultural diversity. Culture is by nature local.
      Funding should thus come from the State and Municipal levels, but regional autonomy in the USA is poisoned by the ethos of “States Rights,” all but a code word for reactionary views. Another problem is that more regional autonomy might threaten the uniform mass markets needed by our corporatized economy. Public arts funding in the USA is surrounded by layers upon layers of problems.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        William, when it comes to your imaginary govermernment funding system in the US, I can understand an argument in favor of localized decision making, but not localized funding. How would the arts budget of Virginia, compare to that of West Virginia?

        • It varies in the EU, some countries have more centralized funding, especially the small ones. In Germany, funding remains very regional and there is competition between the states and cities for supporting the arts because of the various benefits they bring. I could envision something like that happening in the States, especially over the next decades as the social democrats gain ground, which seems likely. I think the USA has little choice but to develop new concepts of the common good. And if some of the dangers can be held in check, I think we need more regionalism.

          • William, I love the regionalism of German Arts funding, which should encourage diversity- of course it does nothing of the sort, but that’s certainly not the fault of federal German politicians.

            The real catastrophe here is of course the ‘arms- length’ funding model, that removes all accountability.

            Germany spends at least €10 billion on the arts per year, most of that goes to our art-form (2nd only to France). What do ordinary Germans get for there money? No meaningful addition to the standard repertoire since 1947, and the widely and rightly loathed Regietheater.

          • “their”, goddamit!

      • Ruben Greenberg says:

        William: a seldom-mentioned phenomenon in the US is the part universities play in the cultural life of a community. Any, even small, university town has a lot going on on the campus; and open to outsiders for free or for a very modest fee: concerts, theatre, art exhibitions, ballet, etc.

    • Bruce says:

      To be fair, he calls her a “passionate advocate of arts funding” (i.e. someone who encourages it) not someone who actually gives the money to the arts organizations.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Angela Merckel the Art’s greatest advocate? I’m not sure. The concurrence with Mr Vladimir Putin is very, very hard. 🙂

  • J says:

    It’s a shame as she’s one of the few sane leaders left on this planet….she should’ve known better when dealing with the refugee crisis. Even now with the backlash which resulted in brexit and trump, she still hasn’t backtracked. It’s a shame as she’s kept things together but can’t take blame for the grievous errors she made.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      As the very controversial Enoch Powell said, all political careers end in failure. unless of course you call it a day while you are ahead. In this country Thatcher and Blair learnt this lesson.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Merkel’s decision to open the borders for thousands of refugees was a right one and entirely based upon practical considerations: the people were there, an enormous human tragedy was threatening, and the country can manage such numbers of refugees. She represented the best of the European spirit, demonstrating the European nature and ambitions of Germany as the heart of the continent (in more than one sense). The refusal of other European countries to take their share in this European initiative showed them up as hypocrites, not to speak of the eastern European countries who only want to be European when they can get money out of the EU. Merkel’s entirely right decision woke-up the masses who had been disenfranchized over the last decennia, or imagined to have been disenfranchized, and they helped rightwing extremism and populism enter the government system, thereby crudily rebuking Merkel’s attempt to show a human face of Europe. Shame over the continent where old ghosts are wrenching themselves from the cupboards.

      • Dominic Stafford says:

        Damn you, Borstlap! You’ve made me agree with you; but Chapeau!

        Merkel is, and has been, a wonderful leader. Germany should be very proud of her.

        • JoBe says:

          She made some good decisions and she made some bad decisions; she acted wisely sometimes and she acted foolishly sometimes. She wasn’t “wonderful” at all, she was merely decent.

      • jaypee says:

        I usually disagree with everything you say when it comes to music.
        But when it comes to “social” issues, I agree with you 200% and raise my hat to your comment.

      • Michael Endres says:

        “Merkel’s decision to open the borders for thousands of refugees was a right one and entirely based upon practical considerations.”

        She did not consult with any other countries, many of them greatly struggling afterwards,
        which was reckless and irresponsible.
        Allowing immigrants into a country without proper checking is also far from a wise decision and can have potentially catastrophic consequences.
        I guess you live in safe distance from troubled quarters, but it might look a bit different for the “disenfranchised” ( deplorables ? ), who have to live on a daily basis ( via minimum wage and zero hour contracts ) with the consequences of these decisions.

      • J says:

        I agree, but it’s not as straightforward as that given that a significant proportion of refugees were fighting age men. Actual refugees yes, but this wasn’t looked into properly.

    • HugoPreuss says:

      Wow, Angela Merkel caused Brexit AND Trump? I never knew we had such a powerful chancellor…

      • J says:

        Indirectly speaking…that happened as a consequence of her actions

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Her actions in letting in those refugees, and then trying to force other countries to take some of them when she realised what she did was unpopular in Germany, contributed to the debate on immigration during the Brexit vote. I know because many of those who voted for Brexit told me (well, in their slightly confused and garbled way).

  • Geroge says:

    I asked the cultural office of the city of Munich whether the new Munich concert hall would have a standing room area. The answer was that the concert hall is planned by the State (Bavaria) and that they cannot give information. I found that absolutely ridiculous. It’s one of the most discussed cultural issues.

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    Michael Portillo once said that when he served in the Cabinet of Her Majesty’s Government he could get Bayreuth tickets very easily every year. But once he was out of power, they dried up.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Toodle-oo. Here’s your hat; what’s your hurry?