Cultural Agents
Looking for Talent

Kulturagenten für kreative Schulen (cultural agents for creative schools), stencil (Photo: © Bert Binnig)
Kulturagenten für kreative Schulen (cultural agents for creative schools), stencil | Photo (detail): © Bert Binnig

For two and a half years cultural agents have been organizing creative projects at German schools. Their goal: to establish cooperation between artists and teachers.

Mirtan Teichmüller is a man who laughs a lot, likes to tell stories and has a good feel for people. He fits perfectly into his position: Teichmüller works as a cultural agent in the city of Constance on Lake Constance. A cultural agent is an intermediary between schools and culture. Teichmüller was engaged by the forum K&B, the sponsor of the programme “Cultural Agents for Creative Schools”. It was initiated in 2011 by the Mercator Foundation and the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

The programme is conceived to supplement and extend cultural education in the schools. Together with teachers, parents, school children and artists at 138 schools in the five federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Hamburg, North Rhine-Westphalia and Thuringia, 46 cultural agents organize creative workshops, project weeks and excursions. Projects are offered not only as accompaniments to the typically creative subjects such as music, art, performance and design, but also as supplements to the natural sciences. Their task here primarily involves communication between schools and cultural professionals and to a lesser extent direct cultural or artistic project work with school children.

Thus in addition to the regular curriculum school children can learn how to design fashion, to photograph, to dance, to shoot videos and to produce small radio shows. The programme seeks to take up everything that is otherwise missed out on in the curriculum – and in the children’s free time. Some of them seldom have the opportunity of going to the theatre, the operas or the ballet.

Cultural projects foster self-confidence

But the cultural agent programme wants to do more than that: it also wants to give school children who perhaps do not do so well in “normal” lessons a new perspective. When these children are successful in other areas – for instance, when they can draw well or have a flair for dance – this can foster their self-confidence. The cultural agent programme searches out and promotes talent and individual abilities. Ursula Zacher sees it in this way too. She works as a cultural advisor at the Rosa Parks School in Herten in the Ruhr region, taking special care of cultural projects and working closely together with cultural agents. Zacher says cultural education fosters team spirit.

The pilot project is set to run for four years. Now more than half the term has elapsed. In the first two years more than 760 artistic projects were submitted, which were funded through the art money fund with about 4.7 million euros. Over 7 million Euros are available from this fund for the projects of the cultural agents for the entire project duration. Cultural agents are now an integral part of the participating schools. “There are already signs that through this a varied knowledge and experience is being developed which will later also be at the disposal of other schools”, says Sybille Linke, the executive director of the programme at the Forum K&B.

Most of the teachers know the agents, value their work and approach them in order to organize joint workshops and projects. But the way there was not always easy. Mirtan Teichmüller from Constance: “A cultural agent has to talk, talk, talk”. Like all cultural agents, he first introduced himself to the teaching staff, explained the idea of the programme and discussed shared visions and expectations. His concept went down well. The staff now approach him of their own accord and ask whether he can get a dancer to come to physical education class or a poetry slammer to German lessons.

Building sustainable structures

To prepare the schools for the end of the programme in one and a half years, the cultural agents are already taking care to build sustainable structures. The goal is above all to create strong cooperation between artists, institutions such as theatres and museums and schools. Teachers also need to learn to apply for funding themselves and rid themselves of the fear of the application bureaucracy, say the cultural agents.

In consultation with the teachers, Mirtan Teichmüller therefore seeks to select artists who can thrill the children. This will in turn also inspire the teachers. And the result, says Teichmüller, can be something wonderful.