Ruth Wagner: Art and culture are the soul of a city – and a key economic factor

Culture determines the quality of life of the cities, the municipalities and the states. All the same, culture has long been regarded as an economic factor for locations. For the city of Darmstadt, art and culture are not only indispensable for the economic positioning in the state of Hessen and Germany – the citizens treasure the “city of the arts” to a great extend. At one time Darmstadt advertised with the postmark “the arts are alive in Darmstadt”, which was followed by “Darmstadt – the city in the forest”. Today the city positions itself as “science city”– all three self-images are correct 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 Hessen 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 base of the city is formed especially by the chemical-pharmaceu­­tical industry, telecommunication, the IT in­­dustry, software companies, space and satellite technology, mechatronics and the film, television and video industry. This broad range of Darmstadt’s economy corresponds with specific and unique institutions of the sciences, namely three universities, four Fraunhofer Institutes, the Society for Heavy Ion Research (GSI) and 30 further scientific institutions. The city’s international ranking as well as the competence of scientists and students stimulates the working process, employment and inventiveness within the companies, as do the technical demands of the eco­­nomy to­­wards the sciences. So much for the economic facts of the city.


But for me art and culture are the soul of our city. Art and culture are central to a person’s life of fulfilment and self-­discovery. Art serves as self- assurance for the artists and is a part of the self-­reflection of a society. Artistic creation secures not only individual but also social identity. Art imparts social values and promotes understanding and ex­­change between different cultures. There­­fore, culture is a significant location factor for the community and is also an important, a special and a “hard” economic factor.

Cultural and creative industries are ex­­panding. Prerequisites for scientific and economic success are creativity, knowl­edge and education, the joy of ex­­peri­­men­­tation, failure and restart. This is especially true for the “cultural industries” or the “creative economy” that has developed in the last decade in Europe, in Germany and in Hessen. The creative and artistic people are the basis of these economic sectors. Authors, film­­makers, musicians, architects, designers and artists produce artistic and creative goods and services. By comparison, Germany is at the top in Europe. The approximately one million employees in the cultural and creative industries achieve a sales volume of about 131.4 billion euros and an aggregate gross value of about 63 billion euros in more than 237,000 enterprises and indepen­dent sectors. Meanwhile, this industry sector is almost as econo­mically strong as the auto­­mo­­tive in­­dustry and stronger then the chemical industry. This comparison clearly shows that the evaluation of culture as a “soft location factor” is a gross miscalculation.


In Hessen, more than 120,000 em­­ployees in a­­­­bout 22,000 companies with a turn­­over of 19 billion euros – primarily in the Rhine-Main region – demonstrate the high per­­centage of the cultural industries within the economy. They prove that culture is a “hard” location factor. According to the shares of turnover, the literature, book and press market, the art, galleries, mu­­seums and the film, television and video industry are the most important market segments of the cultural industries in Hessen. The area of “cultural heritage” shows parti­­cularly high ranking with more than 21,000 employees. Despite lower sales, the eco­­­­nomic effects of this sector are considerable.

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 attendance at urban cultural centres and international cultural institutions docu­­ments clearly the high degree of apprecia­­tion of art and culture but also its indirect and direct influence on the eco­­nomy of the city. Each exhibition at Mathilden­höhe recorded about 30,000 to 50,000 visitors. In addition to the artist colony at Mathilden­­höhe and the many varied connecting art and business projects, many cultural insti­­tutions have been created and give rise to the high national and international standard of Darmstadt. The visual arts are not only defined by the many contemporary sculp­­tors, painters, media artists and designers living in Darmstadt and the Darmstadt Secession, but also through the presentation of contemporary art in the Kunst­­halle, which is supported by the Kunst­­verein art association founded in 1837. In addition to the private galleries, the offering of partnerships with businesses, public agen­­cies, architects, universities and designers is growing. The Arts-Prize of the city has been awarded since 1955 and distinguishes young con­­temporary visual artists.
With the Hessian State Museum (Hes­sisches Landesmuseum), the Residence-­­Palace Museum (Schloss­­museum in der Residenz), the Hunting Lodge in the re­­stored Hun­t­­ing Lodge Kranichstein (Jagd­­schloss Kranich­stein) and other local historical museums the museum landscape of the city of Darmstadt is extra­­ordinarily substantiated.


Literature is a vital source for the cultural reputation of our city. The German Aca­­demy of Language and Literature, the German Polish Institute, the German P.E.N. Center and the German Fund for Lite­­rature are visited by thousands of guests every year. More than 150 libraries demon­­strate that Darmstadt is a centre of books and literature. The uni­­versity library and city library alone attract about one million visitors a year. The inter­­nationally renowned institutes, which are sponsored together by the city, the state of Hessen and the Federal Republic of Germany, attest to the high rank of the literary scene. Important literary prizes, such as the Georg Büchner Prize, the Leonce and LenaPrize and the poetry competition “Lite­­rarischer März” (Literary March) show that Darmstadt is a centre for literature.

Theatre life in Darmstadt is colourful and alive. The State Theatre (Staatstheater) in­­vites to play, opera and dance theatre and records approximately 300,000 visitors each season. The free theatre scene is dedicated to children’s theatre, cabaret and also takes a look at con­­temporary issues and has together with other sectors, especially the music, become an important complement to the theatre life of the city. Even the city’s musical life is multi-­­facetted. Whether it is classical or contem­­porary, in Darmstadt music is made and listened to. Contemporary music is main­­tained on a high level of competence at the International Summer Course for New Music and the International Music Institute, to name a few. These are visited by thousands of guests from all over the world, as is the Jazzinstitute with its collection of the artist Joachim-Ernst Behrendt. The Darmstadt Academy for Musical Arts is one of the oldest and most modern music schools in Germany. The Centralstation entertains about 170,000 visitors a year with a diverse programme from music and literature to film and new media.

The more than 30 million euros in funding by the city of Darmstadt for cultural insti­­tutions not only justify the experience of art and culture, they also finance direct and indirect employment in these institutions and in the gastronomy, the hotel industry, the transport industry and in advertising. The share of seven per cent of the muni­c­ipal budget on cultural ex­­penditures is behind Frankfurt with ten per cent but in front of the cities of Wiesbaden and Kassel with 3.5 per cent each. This is a good financial “investment” in culture and economic prosperity.

Clearly, the citizens of Darmstadt accept this experience: surveys demonstrate that the city is seen and appreciated to a large extend as a city of art and culture, a city of science and as a “city in the forest”. This is why the interlinking of these three self-images also is a part of and belongs to the economic positioning of our city in the Rhine-Main region.

Bild-Wagner-lachsfarbenThe author was born in 1940 and studied German, history and political science. She was a longstanding member of the Hessian Parliament and vice-president of the State Parliament of Hessen from 2003 to 2008. From 1999 to 2003, Ruth Wagner was Hessian Minister for Science and the Arts and Deputy Prime Minister.