Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bank scandal results in € 1.000.000 cuts to Carinthian Arts funding

The Hypo Alpe-Adria bank of Carinthia was long a “cesspool of corruption … the perfect union of money and power … a mix of greed, criminal energy, and utter chaos“ (Richter Wolf). After executives buried over € 300 million in losses, the state-owned bank BayernLB in Bavaria took control of Hypo Alpe-Adria in 2007, and then in 2009 “shuffled“ it off to Austria, which nationalized it. In the years to follow, lawsuits and audits stemming from Hypo Alpe-Adria’s debts cost Austrian citizens € 5.6 billion in tax dollars.
On March 1st of this year, the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) called for bondholders to take financial losses instead of taxpayers. Regarding Heta, a wind-down unit established in 2014 to “dispose of the non-performing portion of Hypo Alpe Adra”, Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling announced, “The government won’t pay another euro in taxpayer money into Heta.” This leaves the burden of bailing out the bondholders to Carinthia, in effect condemning the province of 560,000 people to bankruptcy while relieving taxpayers in the rest of the country of debt up to € 20 billion or 6% of Austria’s economic output.
As a result, Carinthian leaders scrambled to cut government spending, and, with sad predictability, one of the first victims is the Arts sector, which will loose one million euros in public funding for 2015. Among those affected are AKS and her various (partner) platforms.
AKS submitted her grant application over seven months ago and, like many of her fellow artists, has been waiting ever since for an official confirmation or denial of funds from the notoriously dawdling cultural department. But one cannot wait forever, and as the first quarter of 2015 is already over, AKS has already been quite active this year: NETZWERK AKS gave a “beautiful and deep” performance of wozzeck_woyzeck_reloaded as part of theLange Nacht des Tanzes (Long Night of Dance) in Salzburg last week, and partner organization FORUM KUNST lead by Eleonore Schäfer celebrated its first vernissage of the year shortly before that. Work has already begun on a new production and AKS, who always treats her artists with honorable respect, has promised to fulfill her obligations to those already under contract for 2015. However, an upcoming performance in Vienna will be canceled, and it is unclear how the intended 2015 projects will move forward without funding.
To complicate matters, when the Carinthian Cultural Department assured AKS during a personal meeting six months ago and again during a more recent phone call that funding would indeed come, she renewed her contract with the Österreichische Bundesforte forART SPACE in Stift Millstatt for the coming three years; now she must find a way to pay the rent alone.
Some artists, including Maximilian Achatz of Waltzwerk in Klagenfurt, have written to the cultural department pleading for at least a face-to-face meeting. Leader of the Arts and Culture Subdivision Erika Napetschnig attempted an offer of sympathy, saying, “I’m sorry that you have the impression that our backs have turned on you, but please believe that that’s not true. Unfortunately our own hands are tied at the moment.”
Politician Christian Benger did not mince words. “To those who wish for meetings: we stand before an actuality which cannot be solved, because the finance department has no solutions. The expenditure stop is explicit.” He further stated that “[this situation] is no longer about desires. It is about necessity.”
Herbert Gantschacher, Leader of the ARBOS Society for Music and Theater in Klagenfurt, argues that investing in culture is indeed just as important as investing in the economy, and that failing to do so will have a negative impact on the future of society. “When [a society] does not finance [its] own culture, [it] is threatened by losing [its] cultural identity.” Gantschacher warns that this leads to “cultural bankruptcy.”
And thus we arrive at the age old question: are the Arts necessary to society?
Common arguments defending the necessity of the Arts include their power to:
  • inspire individual souls
  • shed perspective on pressing social and political issues
  • foster communication and collaboration on personal, local, national and international levels
  • provide a therapeutic outlet for both viewers and participants
  • teach children focus and discipline in an age of short attention spans and instant gratification
  • preserve the traditions and values of a community
Thus, the Arts are indeed quite beneficial to society. Nevertheless, when the entire state is deep in debt and spending cuts cannot be avoided, it is preferable to make cuts to the Arts rather than to healthcare, education or infrastructure.
While doctors, teachers and auto mechanics fill concrete needs within society in ways that dancers or directors or sculptors may not, artists still contribute to the economy: like anyone else, their jobs allow them to pay rent, to buy food and contribute to their communities. And now many artists in Carinthia and the collaborators they employ are effectively unemployed for 2015, placing a different kind of financial burden on the state – not to mention the morale of the communities in which they work. And with Carinthia facing bankruptcy, the situation in 2016 is not likely to be any better.
What is maddening is that these artists in Carinthia are taking a hit that people in other professions will not simply because of the actions of a few irresponsible bankers. Some must break contracts. Some will lose production partners. Some will lose additional grants they have been promised on contingency of state funding. All must figure out how to pay rent in the coming months. Perhaps a few will leave Carinthia altogether.
In any case, the Arts are necessary to those who create them. It is indeed because of this that art has been part of human culture for thousands of years, and as long as the drive to create exists, art will find a way. Even in Carinthia.
– hrgb
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