Ruth Wagner: Art and culture are the soul of a city – and a hard economic factor as well

Past Darmstadt postmarks read “Darmstadt brings the arts to life”, followed by “Darmstadt – City in the Wood”. Today, the city positions itself as the “City of Science” – all three self-images apply and distinguish the “small” big city. With a growing population of 140,000 and 118,000 jobs, Darmstadt, the “City of Science”, exhibits a future-oriented development in comparison with Hesse and with Germany: based on a combination of business and science, a favourable traffic position, social and cultural facilities as well as natural and urban landscapes.

The economic core of the city is characterized by the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, communication business, IT sector, software companies, space and satellite technology, mechatronics, as well as film, TV and video industry. This flexible spectrum of Darmstadt’s economy corresponds with specific and unique scientific institutions, namely three universities, three Fraunhofer Institutes, the Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research (GSI), and 30 more scientific institutions. Their international scientific ranking as well as the know-how of the scientists and students stimulate not only the work, employment and innovation of companies but also the technical demands that business puts on science.

So much for the economic facts of the city. In my opinion, however, art and culture are the soul of our city. Art and culture are key to the life fulfilment and self-discovery of people. Art serves the self-assurance of the artist and is part of the self-reflection of a society.


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In other words, artistry provides individual and social identity. It conveys social values and promotes understanding and exchange between different cultures. That is why culture is a crucial location factor for a community and even an important, special and “hard” economic factor.

Cultural and creative business on the upswing
Creativity, knowledge, education and delight in experi­menting, failing and starting over are conditions for scientific and economic success. This is especially true for the “cultural economy” or “creative economy,” which has emerged in Europe, Germany and Hesse over the past decade. Creative and artistic persons are at the base of that economic sector. Writers, film makers, musicians, architects, designers and artists produce artistic and creative goods and services. In a European comparison, Germany is at the top. Spread over 237,000 companies and the self-employed, the approximately one-million-strong workforce of the cultural and creative economy achieves a 131.4-billion-euro turnover and a 63-billion-euro overall gross value added. In the meantime, that makes this economic sector almost as strong as the car industry and stronger than the chemical industry. That comparison underlines the misjudgement in qualifying culture as a “soft” location factor.

In Hesse, a workforce of 120,000 spread over 22,000 companies and producing a turnover of 19 billion euros – concentrated in the Rhine-Main region – demonstrate the large proportion of the cultural economy in the economy of Hesse. They prove that culture is a “hard” location factor.

Based on their respective turnovers, the literature, book and press market, the art, gallery and museum market, and the film, TV and video industry are the most important cultural business sub-sectors in Hesse. With a workforce of 21,000, the “cultural heritage” branch ranks particularly high. Despite the smaller turnover, the economic effects of this sector are significant.

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Facts about Darmstadt’s culture
Although there has not yet been a scientific study on Darmstadt’s creative economy, the high number of designers, jobs in the TV, film and video branch, architects as well as jobs in the press market, advertisement and communication lead the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Statistical Office to assume similarly positive results for the city of Darmstadt in those sub-markets.

The visitor numbers of municipal cultural facilities as well as international cultural institutions clearly document not only the high degree of appreciation for art and culture but also their indirect and direct effect on our city’s economy: nearly one million people visit the univer­sity and city library every year, the city theatre recorded 300,000 visitors during the past season, the Centralstation 170,000, and each exhibition in the Mathildenhöhe between 30,000 and 50,000. The conferences of the Academy for Language and Literature, the International Music Institute the German Polish Institute, the Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, or the German P.E.N. Centre are attended by thousands of people from all over the world every year.

Upwards of 30 million euros in municipal subsidies for cultural facilities not only justify the artistic and cultural experience but also directly and indirectly finance employ­­ment in those facilities as well as in the restaurant, hotel, transport and advertisement industries. At seven per cent of the city’s budget allocated to cultural expenses, Darmstadt lies behind Frankfurt at ten per cent, but ahead of Wiesbaden and Kassel each at 3.5 per cent. This is a good financial “investment” in culture and economic prosperity.


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The citizens of Darmstadt have obviously accepted this experience: in surveys, the city is largely seen and appreciated as a city of art and culture and of science as well as the “City in the Wood”. That is why the combination of those self-images is part of positioning our city economically in the Rhine-Main region.

Bild-Wagner-lachsfarbenRuth Wagner was born in 1940 and studied German philology, history and political science. She is the chair of the cultural commission of the city of Darmstadt. In 1978, the author became a member of the Hessian Landtag. From 2003 to 2008, she was presiding officer of the Hessian Landtag. From 1999 to 2003, Ruth Wagner held the offices of state minister for science and art as well as deputy prime minister.