Arts Politics – Contemporary Arts – Political Science:
On three completely unrelated topics

By Monika Mokre

Paper presented at the FOKUS-Workshop "de-fine arts", 28.02. – 2.03. 2002, Vienna

The title of this paper is meant as a provocation – but at the same time, it is a simple statement about the situation in Austria. Current developments of the arts on the one and Austrian Arts politics on the other hand do not have much in common and several problems result from this incongruence. – And political science has nothing – or next to nothing to say about arts politics.

Descriptions of Austrian arts policy usually start with the year 1780, the year when Joseph II became sole regent of Austria. This rather long shot into the past is due to the fact that nothing very much changed from 1780 until about two hundred years later in Austrian arts policy.

Joseph II was the son and successor of Maria Theresia and a very good example of an enlightened despot. Many smaller and bigger revolutions from above were carried out by Joseph II – and quite a few of them he had to take back in due time as his ideas were simply to progressive for his time and his people. Joseph II was very interested in the arts. One of his most significant acts for the development of the performing arts in Austria was the elevation of the "Theatre next to the Burg" to the status of "k. k. Hof- und Nationaltheater. He thereby started a tradition of a very close relationship between politics and the arts. The arts flourished in the Habsburg countries due to generous financing, and at the same time, quite naturally, artistic work adapted to a high degree to the wishes of the emperors.

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[martin krusches telenovelas]

The end of Austro-Hungarian monarchy and the foundation of the Republic of Austria did not change much in this relationship. The most striking example for this continuity is probably that the Federal Theatres – Staatsoper, Volksoper, Burgtheater, Akademietheater – which were formerly theatres of the court remained in the ownership of the Republic of Austria. – I would like to skip now the politically troubled 1920s and 30s as well as the time of National-Socialism when there was no autonomous Austrian policy.

After World War II both Germany and Austria tried to emphasize their grand cultural past and their huge cultural heritage in order to make the world forget the immediate past of these countries and its outburst of the most brutal barbarism imaginable. Mind – it was the cultural and artistic heritage which was used to create a new attractive collective identity not a political avowal to democracy. So, while the Staatsoper was reconstructed and Mozart and Strauss (Johann Strauss, of course, not Richard Strauss) were celebrated, the work of the communist poet Bert Brecht was boycotted for the better part of the 50s, many smaller critical artistic institutions were closed down or simply refused financial support in the 50s and 60s and during the 60s the "Wiener Aktionisten" protested with their scandalous and scandalized actions against repressive cultural politics and were convicted to jail by exactly these politics.

Then came the late 60s and the early 70s, a time of social-democratic success in both German and Austrian politics. German Social-Democrats invented the formula "culture for everybody", a rather non-sensical claim in the light of a broad concept of culture; what they actually meant, however, was "art for everybody", or more precisely, "high art for everybody": Theatres and museums should lower their symbolic as well as financial thresholds in order to attract broader social strata. (The same concept applied to universities, by the way.) – Austrian social-democrats followed the German lead in a rather crude way; however, the basic features of this form of cultural politics were more or less the same in both countries.

But social-democratic cultural politics also felt some commitment towards those artists critical of political, social and cultural conditions – after all, social-democracy has its roots in the critique of capitalism – even when these roots are not easily recognizable in the politics of Blair and Schroeder. – And so, also innovative artistic movements and critical artists profited from state subsidies, although the sums used for innovative arts were always only a small part of those invested into the cultural heritage. For artists as well as for politicians the close relationship between politics and the arts often meant a bit of a tight-rope-walk; as the Austrian writer Robert Menasse put it once at the end in the Mid-90s: "Austrian artists are rarely available but as public enemies and public executives in one."

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Monika Mokre (little feature)

Siehe auch:
FOKUS (Forschungsgesellschaft für kulturökonomische und kulturpolitische Studien)

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