German cultural and educational policy Ensuring freedom in the arts

Theatre play „Amerika“ at Deutsches Theater Berlin.
Theatre play „Amerika“ at Deutsches Theater Berlin. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance / Eventpress Hoensch

Artificial Intelligence Coding Art

A world of codes: In the “Open Codes. Living in digital worlds” exhibition at the ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe visitors undergo a digital transformation.
A world of codes: In the “Open Codes. Living in digital worlds” exhibition at the ZKM | Zentrum für Kunst und Medien Karlsruhe visitors undergo a digital transformation. | © ZKM | Karlsruhe, Foto: Felix Grünschloß

From subculture in the backyard to high culture in the opera house – with its diverse cultural scene, Germany caters to a wide variety of cultural preferences. But how exactly is Germany’s colourful cultural landscape funded?

Hamburg’s new, 800 million-euro Elbphilharmonie, the Museuminsel Berlin, and Semperoper Dresden are just a few examples of Germany’s cultural richness, were richness is meant quite literally. With its diversity and density, the German cultural landscape covers a wide variety of cultural preferences. But how exactly is Germany’s colourful cultural landscape funded? 

Monika Grütters, Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media from 2013 to 2017, explains the principle of German state support for culture: “It is not the remit of politics to plan culture, but rather to ensure its freedom.” Grütters is referring to the guarantee of artistic freedom set out in the German constitution. It provides state protection of artistic autonomy through government funding of art and culture to safeguard them from free-market constraints. It does not, however, prohibit private support from companies, creating an interplay between public and private support for the arts and culture in Germany. 

State support of the arts

Germany leads the world in state cultural funding. According to the Culture Finance Report, public sector financing amounted to 9.9 billion euros in 2016, only 17 percent of which came from the highest, federal level. The German funding landscape is unique for its decentralized organisation based on the concept of the “cultural sovereignty of the states”. Germany’s federal states and municipalities are responsible for setting cultural and educational policy and manage their own cultural budgets. The federal government is only responsible for promoting culture abroad and in affairs of state. In 2016, cities and municipalities accounted for the largest share of cultural expenditures with 45 percent compared to the states’ 40 percent contribution.

There are pros and cons to this decentralized structure. As a rule, the federal states allocate funding primarily for projects inside their territory, which impacts the range of art and culture on offer. According to Birgit Mandel, a professor of cultural mediation and cultural management at the University of Hildesheim, each federal state tends to promote and build on its own representative cultural sites. While this is not entirely unproblematic, it can also have positive effects. It creates competition that has resulted in great cultural diversity clearly visible in the sheer number of museums, theatres and orchestras that flourish throughout Germany. Worldwide, one forth of all professional orchestras are in Germany, Mandel said in an interview with goethe.de/kultur.
 
Government support for the arts in Germany goes beyond direct budget expenditures as well. Freelance artists, for example, only have to pay the employee’s share of usually around 50 percent into the Künstlersozialkasse – a social security scheme created especially for artists. The state and companies cover the other half.

Hamburg’s new, 800 million-euro Elbphilharmonie, is just one example of Germany’s cultural richness. Hamburg’s new, 800 million-euro Elbphilharmonie, is just one example of Germany’s cultural richness. | Photo: Elbphilharmonie © Maxim Schulz Additionally, the government offers tax breaks for private organisations such as companies or foundations that promote culture, a type of indirect state support for the arts. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Germany has given incentives to private companies interested in fostering culture, so as to make them more attractive to employees, for example. Today, companies support the arts through foundations, sponsoring, and donations. Private sector investment in culture is motivated in part by a sense of corporate social responsibility, but one primary driver has always been the boost it gives a company’s reputation. Large companies see themselves as ‘corporate citizens’ and thus as civil society stakeholders. Incidentally, companies also prefer to fund projects in the respective region around their local offices or plants.

Private investors versus state support

Not everyone approves of the leading role the German state plays in fostering culture. Some critics point out that excessive state interference could undermine freedom in the arts, while others emphasize that public support may make artists feel more indebted to society. 

But the alternative – an increase in corporate support for arts and culture – is also a double-edged sword. If cultural institutions were completely privatised and funding depended on a cost-benefit analysis, many might be forced to close their doors.

In terms of content, substantial state backing results in a focus on conventional, middle-class high culture. Institutions like opera houses and theatres with their high human resource costs claim the majority of the funds, up to 95 percent in some federal states. Subcultures and new currents and art forms, on the other hand, often report that they are overlooked and neglected. In an interview with goethe.de/kultur, cultural and media expert Norbert Sievers explained that the German funding system “created a marked conservatism in the cultural infrastructure on the one hand. Conventional art forms take priority, and anything novel must fight the establishment to be given a turn.” On the other hand, the high level of funding major cultural institutions received at times exceeded state capacity. In the meanwhile classical high culture is losing relevance for an ever-growing segment of the population. Only about ten percent of people – primarily academics with a higher social status – visit cultural institutions such as concert halls, theatres and museums.

Another major difference between public and private funding of the arts is the time frame. Government budgets often have to be renegotiated on an annual basis, whereas private foundations can invest more long term. 

If you think art and robotics have nothing in common, think again. Artificial intelligence is a tool for creative minds, and increasingly their competition. The digital revolution also provides art with plenty of fodder for critical reflection.
 

An algorithm on trial for murder: In her performance piece and subsequent film, The Trial of Superdebthunterbot, London artist Helen Knowles explores whether a computer code programmed to make autonomous decisions can be held culpable for any fatal errors it makes – here the death of two students killed in medical experiments. Knowles’ piece is part of the Open Codes exhibition at the Centre for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM). The show explores life in the digital world and the relationship between code and art and is on display until August 2018.

Algorithms are making inroads into all areas of our lives. They calculate who is creditworthy, automate war, provide early diagnoses for disease or – like IBM’s Watson software – independently edit horror film trailers. And they are stirring up the world of art, as artificial intelligence (AI) cis changing creative perspectives and processes, and even transforming robots and software into artists. In a process known as deep learning, AI software can come to recognize patterns and, similar to the human brain, learn from experience to increase its ability to make automated decisions.

Algorithms are like musical instruments

The Google Brain “Google Magenta” research project in an experiment in artificially generated creativity. The Brain team is working on algorithms that produce music, video material, and visual art. Applications are published on the “TensorFlow” open-source platform to allow other artists and creative minds to drive development forward. One program, “Performance RNN”, composes music, and while Google Magenta admits that, “the performances generated by the model lack the overall coherence that one might expect from a piano composition”, the artificially generated characteristics and phrasings are still “impressive”.
 
Developers like British Professor of Computational Creativity Simon Colton have spent years building creative software. On its website, his invention, a robotic artist known as the “Painting Fool”, expresses its hope “to be taken seriously – one day – as a creative artist in my own right”. The software paints abstract pieces, which have gotten so good it is hard to tell human from machine. Colton also gave his “Painting Fool” the ability to recognize emotions, which allows it to use colour to reflect the subject’s mood in a portrait, for example.
 
In Davide Quayola’s “Sculpture Factory” series, industrial robots create sculptures inspired by Michelangelo in real time in the art gallery. So generating art becomes part of the installation itself. In Davide Quayola’s “Sculpture Factory” series, industrial robots create sculptures inspired by Michelangelo in real time in the art gallery. So generating art becomes part of the installation itself. | © Davide Quayola Italian artist Davide Quayola employs algorithms to provide new perspectives on famous icons of the art world. The original Renaissance paintings that serve as raw material for his colourful, abstract paintings  are hardly recognizable in the finished pieces. His Iconographies series was based on famous works of art from his homeland. He used AI software to remix the originals, abstracting and emphasising colours and details. “Misuse of technology is interesting for
discovering new things,” Quayola says, adding that while the software replaces him, it does not replace the artist, and merely changes the artist’s role. He views algorithms as “musical instruments” for him to play with.
 
Technology is also changing processes of art production and digital art is no longer necessarily a s
olo endeavour. Artists often work with developers, and software and robots can also be valuable team members. In Quayola’s Sculpture Factory series, industrial robots create sculptures inspired by Michelangelo in real time in the art gallery. So generating art becomes part of the installation itself.

Darknet shopping spree

Many young conceptual artists highlight and problematize increasing automation, big data and artificial intelligence in their work, exploring digitalization through socially critical art. 

One art project provided a bot with 100 dollars in Bitcoin to fund a weekly shopping tour on Darknet market places like Agora and Alpha Bay. Some of the bot’s randomly selected purchases included a Coca Cola machine hacking tutorial, ecstasy tablets, and fake trainers, all of which were sent directly to a Swiss art gallery. The !Mediengruppe Bitnik from Zurich and London programmed the Random Darknet Shopper which, like Helen Knowles’ fictive trial that hints at the algorithmic abyss, explores questions such as who is responsible when software breaks the law.
 

  • We live in a world of codes. The “Open Codes. Living in digital worlds” exhibition at the Centre for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM) reflects on and analyses this world of bits and bytes. © ZKM | Karlsruhe, Foto: Felix Grünschloß
    We live in a world of codes. The “Open Codes. Living in digital worlds” exhibition at the Centre for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM) reflects on and analyses this world of bits and bytes.
  • Right at the start, visitors undergo their own digital transformation in Bernd Lintermann's interactive installation, “YOU:R:CODE”: starting with their mirror image, visitors are transformed bit by bit into a digital data body until they are ultimately represented entirely as code. © ZKM | Karlsruhe, Foto: Felix Grünschloß
    Right at the start, visitors undergo their own digital transformation in Bernd Lintermann's interactive installation, “YOU:R:CODE”: starting with their mirror image, visitors are transformed bit by bit into a digital data body until they are ultimately represented entirely as code.
  • Shawn Maximo’s “Open Doors” digital print takes a look at today's working culture, especially in the young programmer and start-up scene, where the ideals of creativity and flexibility in the workplace clash with tremendous time and performance pressure. © ZKM | Karlsruhe, Foto: Felix Grünschloß
    Shawn Maximo’s “Open Doors” digital print takes a look at today's working culture, especially in the young programmer and start-up scene, where the ideals of creativity and flexibility in the workplace clash with tremendous time and performance pressure.
  • Who is to blame when software results in a person’s death? Helen Knowle's video installation, “The Trial of Superdebthunterbot”, depicts a fictitious trial of an algorithm for murder. © Helen Knowles
    Who is to blame when software results in a person’s death? Helen Knowle's video installation, “The Trial of Superdebthunterbot”, depicts a fictitious trial of an algorithm for murder.
  • Data mining is the keyword - everything we do online is recorded and evaluated today. Is it also possible to filter out patterns from body movements and use them as data? Through dance, Julien Prévieux's film, “Patterns of Life”, explores various attempts to quantify body movements. © Julien Prévieux, Foto: Courtesy Jousse Entreprise gallery
    Data mining is the keyword - everything we do online is recorded and evaluated today. Is it also possible to filter out patterns from body movements and use them as data? Through dance, Julien Prévieux's film, “Patterns of Life”, explores various attempts to quantify body movements.
  • A chandelier that sends flashing Morse code signal is a real possiblity today with the right programming. The Murano glass chandelier by Cerith Wyn Evans transmits the “Stages of Photographic Development” chapter from Siegfried Marx's “Astrophotography” (1987) via Morse code. © Watanabe Osamu, Mori Art Museum
    A chandelier that sends flashing Morse code signal is a real possiblity today with the right programming. The Murano glass chandelier by Cerith Wyn Evans transmits the “Stages of Photographic Development” chapter from Siegfried Marx's “Astrophotography” (1987) via Morse code.
  • The People's Republic of China has recently become the world's largest producer of bitcoin through its mining activities. For the mixed-media installation “Chinese Coin (Red Blood)”, artist duo UBERMORGEN. COM visited a Chinese Bitcoin mining factory to film what takes place there. © UBERMORGEN.COM, Foto: Courtesy Carroll/Fletcher, London
    The People's Republic of China has recently become the world's largest producer of bitcoin through its mining activities. For the mixed-media installation “Chinese Coin (Red Blood)”, artist duo UBERMORGEN. COM visited a Chinese Bitcoin mining factory to film what takes place there.
  • How do you trap a self-driving car? Quite simply, as it turns out: Two concentric circles painted on the road are enough, as the picture “Autonomous Trap 001” shows, since the car’s programming will not allow it to cross solid lines. Artist James Bridle has also invented a self-driving car, and he shares the open-source software with others. © James Bridle
    How do you trap a self-driving car? Quite simply, as it turns out: Two concentric circles painted on the road are enough, as the picture “Autonomous Trap 001” shows, since the car’s programming will not allow it to cross solid lines. Artist James Bridle has also invented a self-driving car, and he shares the open-source software with others.

The !Mediengruppe Bitnik also made art out of the fake profiles found among the data of millions Ashley Madison extramarital affair website users, released by hackers at the end of 2015. Since many more men registered on the website than women, Ashley Madison had created fake profiles, then programmed female chatbots to converse and flirt with users. The media group artists transformed this data and digital misuse into art, recreating these fembots in the Is anyone home lol exhibit in Berlin in summer 2017. They appear as masked avatars on LCD screens hung at adult eye height, from where they continue their chatroom conversations with visitors to the exhibition.
 
Aside from the digital dystopias, algorithms can be quite cute and cuddly too. Los Angeles artist Channing Hansen uses software to calculate the material, texture and colours that goes into his woollen works. The information generated results in psychedelic, knitted wall hangings that are comfortingly analogue.