If someone has money and isn’t an artist, it’s the same as, as something different. If an artist has money or he doesn’t, or say, he is an artist, no, he has no money, but he is an artist – you get what I mean. – If he was an artist or he wants money – well, everybody wants money.” Karl Valentin, the master of absurdly comical nonsense, rooted in Darmstadt through his father, lets us appreciate his vocabulary with a distinctive overtone: if you have money, you are not an artist and vice versa. Anyway: what does an artist need money for? Everybody wants money. What is true for the artist, applies to art, to culture as the summary of all arts, no matter what, or even as the epitome of human civilization outside of nature.
It is not uncommon to come across this type of Valentin nonsense in everyday conversations about culture, albeit without his subtle philosophical agitation. This is not just about the frequent and standard debate on competition in the distribution battle, but also about standing up to the opinion that art and culture are luxuries. When money is scarce, as is frequently said, one must first give up the luxuries.
Art is as volatile as money. Yet, musical, literary or visual presentations are scopes for productive imagination, media for coping with the world, and means of raising social awareness. Culture that is worth its salt can sometimes be dangerous, for it touches the explosive charge of human existence. However, it has become evident over the decades, that continuity in the cultural self-image of a city exercises the senses and awareness. Art educates, and human life depends on culture. The treatment of culture determines the climate of a city and contributes to the self-awareness of urban society.
Culture promotes humanity. It is the internal face of a city. Therefore, it is vital to interpret cultural promotion as public patronage. Even nowadays, the promotion of arts and sciences by wealthy and interested benefactors still has its significance for the constancy of culture as well as its future evolution. Historically, patrons have mostly been private sponsors. The meaning of “Maecenas” (patron) goes back to Gaius Maecenas, friend of Augustus, who lived in the last century before the turn of eras (70 to 8 BC) in ancient Rome and was one of the richest men in the city. His literary interest led him to convene the great poets of his time to his palace and to support them. Until the end of the 18th century, patrons were mostly aristocrats. With industrialization and the ascent of the middle class, patronage shifted towards being funded by private individuals from financially strong social classes. Crucial to that form of patronage was the personal connection between benefactor and beneficiary.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the development of anonymous and collective patronage, funded by associations, businesses or governments. Nowadays, publicly funded patronage essentially supports the preservation and development of culture.
Municipalities, in particular, voluntarily pick up the task of actively promoting art and culture depending on their spending power. Darmstadt has always been among the top of such cities. However, the term “voluntary task” indicates that culture is understood as subordinate to the statutory tasks, or as a marginal concern. Therein lies the problem with funding by means of a statutory budget. That which is not statutory is subject to renegotiation. It was the municipalities that actually accomplished the reconstruction after World War II and which, during the following decades, opened up to new forms of cultural identity and supported not only the preservation of traditional facilities but also alternative and social culture projects. In that sense, cities may have carried out cultural policy voluntarily, but they regarded it as a mandatory task. For, the richness of European culture is based on the richness and diversity of urban culture. Hence, urban quality of life must be supported by strong cultural achievements. The funding of culture must not be an act of charity passed on solely to foundations and private patrons.
The battle for the money is also always a debate on culture – the intellectual element of our urban existence, the expression of freedom of thought and creative action. That was what made the following achievements possible: setting up a house of literature, a municipal gallery and the cultural centre Centralstation in the city centre, the continuous reconstruction of the Mathildenhöhe district, redeveloping and transforming the state theatre, initiating
the science and congress centre Darmstadtium, supporting the independent scene in all its diversity, providing the independent theatre scene with the Mollerhaus as a permanent performance venue, opening a new artist’s workshop on Riedeselstraße, and preserving the public libraries. A public library is the most democratic facility in the world. What you find there, wrote Doris Lessing, has defeated dictators and tyrants: “Demagogues can persecute writers and dictate them a thousand times what to write, but what has been written in the past, they cannot make it disappear, try as they may.”
Cultural debates, held academically or not, take strength and energy, and many of those who praise the results find everything nice and delightful. Karl Valentin put it this way: “Art is nice, but it’s a lot of work.”
Peter Benz was born in Darmstadt in 1942 and studied German philology, political science, philosophy as well as sociology in Frankfurt (on the Main). From 1970 to 1974, he taught at the Justus Liebig School and at the Bertolt Brecht School in Darmstadt. From 1974 to 1976, the author was a member of the Hessian Landtag. In 1976, he was elected city councillor of Darmstadt on full-time appointment. In 1983, Peter Benz became mayor of the city of Darmstadt; from 1993 to 2005, he was Darmstadt’s senior mayor. He is chairman of the cultural association “Darmstädter Förderkreis Kultur e.V.” and of the amateur theatre “Hessische Spielgemeinschaft 1925 e.V.”