Music Begins Where Words End. Music in the Context of German Foreign Cultural Policy

Music Begins Where Words End

Music in the Context of German Foreign Cultural Policy

by David Maier, born 1982, cultural manager, working for the city council of Offenbach am Main, Germany. As an artistic director he is curating several festivals, events, and venues such as Worms: Jazz and Joy, POP UP Festival, and more. Furthermore, he develops and designs diverse artistic projects for the Goethe Institut. Since 2016 he is a PhD-student at the University of Hildesheim and Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences. 

1 Introduction

When this article was written, a long period of negotiations to build a new German government coalition came slowly to an end. From the very beginning of these negotiations between the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) it was obvious that cultural politics were not a priority subject on the agenda. Even more surprising and well received by several cultural players was the prospect of a changing German foreign cultural policy as one result of those negotiations. Even though cultural policy (home affairs and foreign affairs) has always been altered in the last seven decades, this impending shift towards soft power, a “Wettbewerb der Narrative und Werte“ (a competition of narratives and values) is remarkable (Häntzschel 2018/ Nutt 2018).

But let`s have a look back: In the 1960ies, it was the former chancellor Willy Brandt who first recognized foreign cultural policy as an important aspect of German foreign affairs. Brandt was the one to coin the phrase of cultural policy being the “third pillar of foreign affairs“ – in addition to foreign economic policy and diplomacy. In his days the focus was on the representation of Germany and its cultural landscape, the promotion of the German language abroad and the consolidation of Germany as a place of learning and European integration (Wagner 2009).

In 2000, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs developed a new German cultural foreign policy. With the “Konzeption 2000“ the so-called Cultural Programme Work – which would be mainly considered as the cultural programming by the intermediary organisations like the Goethe-Institut – was now playing an increasingly important role in foreign cultural policy (Auswärtiges Amt 2000).[1] This means that for the first time cultural programming, the areas of art, music, literature, film, and architecture (Bauer 2005), became important aspects of foreign cultural policy.

2 Music Policy as Part of The Foreign Cultural Policy

Traditionally and in this context music has always played an outstanding role for many obvious reasons. Foremost, this is due to Germany being perceived as a musical country with a great cultural heritage as well as a distinctive musical landscape. The philosopher Angela Grünberg mentions a ‘German sound’ and the way it swings within music (Grünberg 2010). Moreover, considering a more fundamental socio-cultural view of music, music is supposed to connect people beyond cultural, physical, and linguistic borders (Schmidt 2013:14). Or as E.T.A. Hoffmann put it: “Where language ends, music begins”.[2]

The cultural programming and its operational implementation is – as already mentioned – a mandate of the so-called intermediary organisations.[3] In the realms of music, the Goethe-Institut stands out as a key player. Specific collaborations with the German Music Council add to their work of supporting young professional and amateur musicians alike (Bertram 1999). Therefore, the German Music Council refers to music programming as “Auswärtige Musikpolitik”, a music policy which is to be understood as an “instrument with which to pursue a policy for a humane society” (Höppner 2007:8).

When regarding music as a part of foreign cultural policy, many questions arise that have not yet been discussed: How is music policy implemented within the strategic aims of foreign cultural policy? How should music policy be transferred into foreign music programming? Which role can music play anyway within the context of foreign cultural policy? (Martel 2011/ Kalisch 2009). What could music programming look like – especially if the aims and objectives of foreign cultural policy are rarely precisely articulated? Would culture only serve to embellish foreign policy? (Witte 2003/ Ehlich 1997: 50).

Discussing these questions requires discussing the dimensions and interdependencies between foreign cultural policy and cultural management. It is about identifying the activities of cultural managers who “act on behalf of cultural policy as well as on behalf of cultural players to empower intercultural development processes as well as individuals“ (Götzky 2011: 79, Föhl 2016: 22ff.).

This might result in a real  challenge for cultural managers abroad:

  • To what extent do cultural managers stick to strategic objectives of foreign cultural policy and which concepts are being derived for music programming?
  • To what extent do cultural managers reflect their theoretical and practical involvement in cultural policy?
  • What kind of culturally related managerial concepts and skills could be derived from an analysis based on music projects which have been implemented abroad?

And, last but not least: To what extent are these program managers of intermediary organisations really cultural managers – or are they rather pursuing an independent, operationalized cultural policy? (Fuchs 1999: 3/ Mandel 2011: 28/ Haselbach 2012: 217).

3 Two examples for Questions on Management of Foreign Music Programs

Research on music as an essential part of cultural programming and the described tension between strategic objectives and operative implementation, especially considering the cultural manager`s self-concept, is still rare. This Ph.D. project at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences and the University of Hildesheim wants to add new findings to this discourse. Two examples shall underline the necessity for research:

  1. a) The framework and the context, within which music project management takes place, determine the necessary abilities and tools cultural managers need. Kathinka Dittrich-van Wering states that a well-founded objective for program work

”(…) depends decisively on the situation in the host country and not on the political wishes or the economic interests of the sending country: it depends on the political and social system, historic experiences, religion, tradition, hopes, expectations and artistic expressions“ (Dittrich-van Wehring 2016: 117).

The specific environments of different regions are highly important to the cultural manager – especially in a globalized world and accordingly also a globalized culture and music industry.[4] Indeed, music makes the intersection of localization und globalization very much visible. Local trends and styles on the one hand, the globalization of club and music culture on the other hand foster the dynamics of the cultural globalization (Altmann 2009: 52). What does that mean for program management?

  1. b) On closer examination of music projects abroad, the question on how individually involved the cultural manager should be arises. It may be helpful to look into Motivation Theory. Would it not be relevant to know whether a cultural manager has a special kind of interest in a certain subject – in this case music? (Rheinberg 2010: 367).

Consequently, to what extent could a specific individual interest reflect music projects in a better way and more successfully within cultural programming? Or in other words: Is a personal, emotional dedication not a pre-requisite for creative output? How does the individual interest influence the selection and execution of music projects? Raphaela Henze states: “Many European arts managers too rarely leave their comfort zone, preferring to stay within the narrow confines of similar notions of arts and culture and similar funding structures and policies“ (Henze 2017 b: 80).

Examples can be found easily. In an interview former Goethe-Institut employee Michael Russ describes a common practice regarding concerts:

“This is how it works. There you have an internationally successful pop band, they will be on stage performing their songs, great! And people will be happy. After the seventh song they will leave the stage. Lights off and the story ends.“ (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen 2004: 78).

Cultural managers are usually described to be generalists, a qualification which is evidently crucial to cultural management in foreign policy. As a result, certain substantial key aspects in foreign cultural work may be balanced by a rotating system of delegation. What if, because of this, the projects might suffer a loss of depth in content development? (Landwehr 2014: 113f.). And what if cultural managers are not rotating – certain major aspects of cultural programming are just out of sight?

4 Conclusion

The many questions and challenges mentioned prove that research on this subject could lead to new impulses for a more creative realization of music policy master plans and their operational translation. It could turn out that it is very important for cultural managers to reflect their self-involvement and their independent policy, so that for the first time music projects abroad could be substantially linked to strategic objectives of foreign cultural policy.


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[1] The Goethe-Institut uses the term cultural programming, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs uses the term cultural programme work.

[2] The report of the „Enquete-Kommission Auswärtige Kulturpolitik“ follows a similar argumentation by legitimating cultural programming (cp. Deutscher Bundestag 1975: 54 and Wissig 1964: 53f.).

[3] “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is charged with the responsibility for foreign cultural relations.
The implementation of foreign cultural and educational policy is for the most part carried out by intermediary organisations, which make their programming decisions autonomously“ (cp. IfA 2018). Besides the Goethe-Institut, other institutions like Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IfA), Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (AvH), and Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD) are well known intermediary organisations.

[4] The responsibility for European cultural managers, which results inter alia from the contention with colonialism, is described by Raphaela Henze (Henze 2017: 7).


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