VOLKSBÜHNE
Berlin
Whatever You Want!
The Art of the New Patrons:
When Citizens Become Patrons
19.02.

Discourse
In German

With Susanne Burmester, Denis Bury, Holger Friese, Gerrit Gohlke, Kathrin Jentjens, Alexander Koch and Lena Ziese
Presented by Antje Stahl

They build schools and parks, commemorate victims of war or slain friends, fight for human rights and public awareness, shape villages and change cities: when locals take their concerns into their own hands as patrons of artistic projects, they create a new piece of society and life in their community. Around 500 projects have already been commissioned in Europe. For this opening evening, we will discuss the motivations behind them, the topics that top people's lists, and how artists come up with answers to the challenges on-site. How do the projects work? How does one become a patron? Who pays for it? And how might art be able to assert itself in the midst of life as a contribution to democratic cohesion?

On this first of six evenings in the “Whatever You Want!” event series in the Grüner Salon, mediators for the New Patrons report on civic projects with international artists:

A silver monster mobilises the entire city and becomes its new landmark. Two teachers commission a new school with unrivalled characteristics, which now serves as a model for others. A community of farmers fundamentally changes its dilapidated village and thereby transforms its own understanding of itself. A pygmy people in the rainforest builds its own cultural centre and botanical garden. An empty city centre fills itself with new life. And three nurses decide that their station needs a prayer room for believers from all religions. It's projects like these that spur the imaginations of locals and artists to take on even the most unusual challenges, and to trust that art will create something of significance for many people.

Photo: The New Patrons of Tours: Xavier Veilhan, Le Monstre, 2004

Whatever You Want! The Art of the New Patrons
In 1992, the French project Nouveaux Commanditaires (New Patrons) was launched with the aim of creating a new vehicle for supporting the contemporary arts. Instead of relying on private or public funding organisations, the programme encourages local self-managed groups of citizens to establish contact with internationally renowned artists and commission a stand-alone work for their home town. According to the credo of the New Patrons programme, any individual can become a sponsor of an important artwork. More than three hundred productions, many of which have taken several years to complete, have been commissioned in France through this programme so far. The fine arts, architecture, music, theatre – all artistic fields are represented. Financing is generally provided by private and public sponsors. In Germany, New Patrons is still in its infancy. Especially in structurally weak and rural regions, there are many people interested in participating in such a community-based process which allows their voices to be heard and enables them to respond to challenges in their communities through contemporary art.

Any citizen can be a sponsor. Normally New Patrons are small- to medium-sized locally-based groups of citizens who are committed to addressing an urgent, publicly relevant concern or issue in their community or neighbourhood. A mediator will consult and support the New Patrons with finding a suitable, renowned artist who will work together with them to develop an artistic proposal for their respective project. Once the citizens, mediator and artist come to an agreement, the citizens assume responsibility for acquiring financing, organising policy matters, collaborating with regional partners from the artistic and cultural fields, and hosting civic dialogues throughout the commissioning process. An extensive and long-term civic commitment is a prerequisite for the success of these local participation projects.

This event series presents the New Patrons' projects and, together with various guests, discusses civil society's underestimated ability to take its cultural needs into its own hands. New forms of social cooperation and conflict resolution will be debated, as well as the vision of communities that give themselves their own voices, in order to be the producers and not just consumers of their lives.

The Society of the New Patrons is supported by

With kind support of the Senate Department for Culture and Europe.


media

Die Neuen Auftraggeber von Dijon, Yan Pei-Ming, Portraits, 1992 © Les Nouveaux Commanditaires

Past Activities

Whatever you want! The New Patrons: Decision-Making on the Citizens’ Behalf. Is it Still Democratic?

With Dr. Mark Terkessidis (freelance writer and researcher of migration studies), Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Merkel (Director of the Research Unit Democracy and Democratization at the Berlin Social Science Center), Dr. Juliane Stückrad (Büro für Angewandte Kulturforschung, Eisenach / Department of Cultural Anthropology, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena) and Alexander Koch (Director of Gesellschaft der Neuen Auftraggeber, Berlin)
Moderation: Simone Miller (culture editor at Deutschlandfunk Kultur)

Politics and the administration act on their citizens’ behalf; a representative democracy cannot afford to have any doubts about this. Yet our faith in public representatives’ ability to fulfill this task has been wavering. The impenetrability of global developments and the practical constraints of policies driven by efficiency-oriented thinking are alienating the electorate from democratic institutions. The increased coarsening of political discussion is producing cracks in political structures. Anyone today who claims to act on the citizens’ behalf is entering uncertain territory. As every regional commissioner knows, you have to prove yourself before you can be trusted.

As a result, there has been a growing desire in various towns and districts for direct self-representation. People have begun fantasizing about a more direct politics that aims to concretely implement specific interests. This does not just apply to the diverse village communities organizing their own theater festivals. Every populist is trying to reclaim the will of the people for themselves in order to undermine democratic debate. Perhaps this risk is outweighed by the opportunities, namely to renegotiate democratic processes locally and develop a language that helps us become personally involved in political participation once again.

For despite all this uncertainty, nobody would dispute that democracy must regain our trust in order to shape society more actively and spontaneously than before. Decision-making on the citizens’ behalf: would this mean that future citizens will increasingly declare their own agencies, make their needs clear and demand them, and in doing so assume public responsibility instead of (merely) going to vote? Will there be new forms of guidance somewhere between local demands and political representation?

Photo: Yona Friedman, Musée des Graffitis, 2006-2009, Paris, France, ©Les Nouveaux Commanditaires

Whatever You Want! The Art of the New Patrons
In 1992, the French project Nouveaux Commanditaires (New Patrons) was launched with the aim of creating a new vehicle for supporting the contemporary arts. Instead of relying on private or public funding organisations, the programme encourages local self-managed groups of citizens to establish contact with internationally renowned artists and commission a stand-alone work for their home town. According to the credo of the New Patrons programme, any individual can become a sponsor of an important artwork. More than three hundred productions, many of which have taken several years to complete, have been commissioned in France through this programme so far. The fine arts, architecture, music, theatre – all artistic fields are represented. Financing is generally provided by private and public sponsors. In Germany, New Patrons is still in its infancy. Especially in structurally weak and rural regions, there are many people interested in participating in such a community-based process which allows their voices to be heard and enables them to respond to challenges in their communities through contemporary art.

Any citizen can be a sponsor. Normally New Patrons are small- to medium-sized locally-based groups of citizens who are committed to addressing an urgent, publicly relevant concern or issue in their community or neighbourhood. A mediator will consult and support the New Patrons with finding a suitable, renowned artist who will work together with them to develop an artistic proposal for their respective project. Once the citizens, mediator and artist come to an agreement, the citizens assume responsibility for acquiring financing, organising policy matters, collaborating with regional partners from the artistic and cultural fields, and hosting civic dialogues throughout the commissioning process. An extensive and long-term civic commitment is a prerequisite for the success of these local participation projects.

This event series presents the New Patrons' projects and, together with various guests, discusses civil society's underestimated ability to take its cultural needs into its own hands. New forms of social cooperation and conflict resolution will be debated, as well as the vision of communities that give themselves their own voices, in order to be the producers and not just consumers of their lives.

With kind support of

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[logo senat 220]

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