Gods' Spark in the lockdown

Although culture can also provide comfort in lockdown's dark times, there is little evidence of this in Germany at present. But art is education, there is humanity in art, for some people art is perhaps even a substitute religion. Particularly in times when Western democracies are in crisis, when many people have lost confidence, have become fact-resistant, or are conducting discussions with aggression instead of arguments, it can point to a better way. [This text has been translated electronically.]

If one wants to find out about the constantly changing Corona regulations in the cultural sector at the moment, something stands out: The regulations for cultural institutions can be found in the categories »leisure«, »entertainment« or even »sports«. Going to the theatre is thus - exaggeratedly formulated - equated with going to a club. The Berlin cultural scene, among others, did not want to let this go. Last November, in an open letter to Mayor Michael Müller, it pleaded urgently for the arts to be more than »mere leisure activities«.

When we go to the opera, a concert or the theatre, we are not merely entertained. In the gesture of Count Almaviva, who kneels before his wife at the end of Mozart's opera »Le nozze di Figaro« and asks for forgiveness, we learn what it means to admit one's own mistakes and to express an apology from the heart. When Gretchen utters her monologue »Meine Ruh ist hin« in Goethe's »Faust«, we recognize the consequences of unbalanced love. Art is more than a social pastime; it tells us about people and about being human. Of horrible events as well as of paradisiacal utopias. »Be embraced, millions! This kiss of the whole world!« How beautiful is this Schiller quote at the end of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. In music, the dream becomes reality: we rejoice in being human. Religion, origin, gender - none of that matters. We all feel the highest spark of the gods.

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of such a cultural experience knows the relevance of art for the world. Art is education, there is humanity in art, for some art may even be substitute religion. It can show a better way, especially in times when Western democracies are in crisis, when many people have lost confidence, have become fact-resistant or conduct discussions with aggression instead of arguments.

Although culture can provide comfort even in gloomy lockdown times, there is little evidence of this in Germany at present. Concert designer Folkert Uhde, a guest at this year's Ludwigsburg Festival, remarks: »The main problem in culture in general is that we are not particularly important to the vast majority of people«. The consequences of this are fatal for those working in the arts. In addition to the already existing fear of the virus, there are thoughts that as a singer you are suddenly a danger to the general public through the emission of aerosols, as Anna Prohaska, soprano at this season's Festival, reports. Even worse are the financial worries and hardships in the industry. Those who are not among the celebrated stars, those who do not have a permanent job or those who are just starting out in their careers are currently being left behind.

Hope and responsibility

But how to deal with this situation? We at the Ludwigsburg Festival would like to follow two principles: Hope and Responsibility. It does not help to talk down the Corona crisis. One has to take the disease as seriously as possible and react responsibly. Nevertheless, people are always successful in the end when they maintain hope and optimism.

As hard as it may seem, Corona can also mean an opportunity. A chance to establish new concert formats and attract new audiences. Entry restrictions force us to stop promoting environmentally damaging concert tours. Chamber music concerts in courtyards or performances in old people's or nursing homes for the isolated at-risk groups allowed art to reach unfamiliar places. Prohaska says that singing on her home balcony helped her get to know her neighborhood better.

The topic of digitalisation has also played an even more important role since Corona. Culture must find answers to this development. Streaming and online formats must be used more. But that also requires the willingness of the artists. For Prohaska, concert streaming is the »worst of both worlds«, since neither the editorial freedom of the studio situation nor the excitement of a live atmosphere in front of an audience is given. All beginnings are certainly difficult. Kaiser Wilhelm II once said: »I believe in the horse. The automobile is a passing phenomenon« - a rash assessment, as we know today.

»New Deal«

In this sense, one should not be afraid of new things even now. Folkert Uhde goes even further and is convinced that culture needs a »New Deal«. This means: more women in leading positions, more sustainability, a radical departure from systematized concert dramaturgy, and the establishment of new formats and works. The first steps in this direction were taken even before Corona, including at the large, established houses - whether through Digital Concert Hall at the Berlin Philharmonie or through programs for dementia patients at the Cologne Opera. And of course we, the Ludwigsburg Festival, had already drawn up our sustainability compass before Corona.

Living sustainability

The current crisis is a great challenge for all of us. Corona has also left its mark on the Ludwigsburg Festival. Planning security is impossible in these times. Many things have not been realised in the desired way. The Resonanzraum, which was to become a place of encounters in 2020, could not come into being as planned.

However, we are not discouraged and are optimistic about the future. We no longer want to function only as an »output-oriented system«, as Philippe Bischof has identified as a basic problem of the cultural sector. We want to show that a programme booklet, for example, also has a more universal value and is not a throwaway product at the end of the season. This is important not only for environmental reasons, but equally to celebrate the work of those who, away from the limelight, do their best every day to advance culture in our country. We want to champion gender equality and encourage more female conductors. We want to find answers to the changes in the digital age and present a new website to our audience. We want art to continue to be experienced live and as a participatory community experience. In short, we want the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be more than just a vague orientation for us. We want to live them.

We are very pleased to welcome soprano Anna Prohaska and and concert designer Folkert Uhde at this year's Festival 2021 and recommend the following articles and discussions on the subject of Conversations on the topic of »Culture in times of Corona«:

Carolin Emcke (author and publicist) in conversation with Anna Prohaska, Thomas Kufus (film producer) and Stephan Behrmann (dramaturg, theatre scholar, author)

Folkert Uhde (concert designer) about the "New Dealin conversationand in commentary

5 theses by Philippe Bischof (director of the cultural foundation Pro Helvetia) for a better future for the culture industry

Anna Prohaska (Soprano) on singing in the lockdown