In the September 2019 issue of the music periodical nmz (Neue Musikzeitung), German composer and concert educator Bernhard König published an essay entitled “Monteverdi und der Klimawandel” [Monteverdi and Climate Change]. What König wrote there represented some important food for thought for many at our institution, and even just his title alludes to a question that poses itself to all of us who work in the cultural field or at a university: What can I do to protect the climate in my area of work? The near-automatic answer is: the one has nothing to do with the other! But is that truly the case?

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On the one hand, ambitious young artists who want to have a career have no choice: they need to be mobile for concert tours, competitions, masterclasses, semesters abroad, and maintaining a presence in their countries of origin if they go abroad to study. What’s more, a career without international networking is a nonstarter— and internationality means travelling, including by air, which in turn means greenhouse gas emissions.

Even so, every single one of us does have a certain leeway within this overall framework— and for every single trip, one would do well to ponder the following questions:

  • Is this trip really worth it?
  • Could I take a train rather than flying?
  • Might I just stay longer rather than going there twice?
  • Could I take a direct flight rather than transferring?

Recommendations for an ecologically oriented mobility strategy are currently being discussed and developed in a newly founded mdw Senate working group.

At the same time, we need to be sentient of the fact that the conditions under which we work will be changing no matter what! We’ll soon no longer have the option of flying to the extent that we have up to now, just like travel by car will also no longer be such a matter of course as it is now. So we have a choice between managing an orderly, soft transition to more sustainable approaches to business and life or facing a collapse of our existing systems—including that of the cultural sector. And if we keep this reality in view rather than sticking our heads in the sand, we’re soon faced with a decision: Do we want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? Do we want to actively help shape the coming transformation, or would we prefer to hold on as long as possible to something that doesn’t have a future? It’s the same question that’s faced by people in coal mining regions and in countries that (still) live from oil production.

If we go on to ask, “What kind of transformation? How do we want our cultural landscape to actually end up looking? And on what does that depend?” we soon learn something surprising: one and the same approach can have myriad socio-political effects and raise our overall quality of life. Ecologising the cultural sector via the enhancement of regional structures and its broad anchoring amongst the populace can give rise to opportunities for those who work in the arts.

Just what is a successful career? When we turn our gaze back to the very basics and ask as to the meaning of life (as an artist) and what fulfils and satisfies us, we frequently arrive at different goals and life-planning then if we set off in search of some “great international breakthrough”.

If success means reaching people with our art, and if what we do has meaning when it produces resonance, then competition prizes and international engagements by no means guarantee a happy life that’s rich in success.

But if we realistically admit to ourselves that we won’t be happy with an empty stomach, either, this raises questions of a social nature and points to a need to reform. It’s currently the case that those who get hired for a steady job enjoy security. But how many of the artists out there don’t have a steady job? How many musicians are unable to obtain an orchestra post (to say nothing of having international careers as soloists) or are compelled to make do with teaching a few hours a week at a music school? How many actors end up keeping themselves afloat with funeral orations, odd jobs, and welfare payments? The current system rewards the few and leaves the many to work under precarious conditions.

The mdw will be neither willing nor able to do without “being part of it all”: our University aims to have large numbers of its own graduates be among those who “make it”, who get hired, who establish themselves internationally. But the elitist and strongly internationalised cultural sector has space for only very few of us. It ends up merely enabling the artistic “elite” to play for society’s “elite”. And it can be assumed that things there will grow ever tighter, with even less professional oxygen, when the ecological knock-on costs get priced in and an increasing number of people end up being excluded as a consequence.

We can indeed hope that a representative share of these artistic elites will still come from the mdw. But at the same time, it’s equally necessary for us to take care of the many who have some version of today’s oft-cited “patchwork career” ahead of them. Such careers need to be positively defined and connoted. There exists a need to identify the many challenges that await our graduates in the various activities that they’ll be pursuing—and to do justice to these challenges in the training that we offer. We need to break down the division in our heads between playing concerts and teaching, between artist and audience. Because ultimately, all of us are “cultural educators” in the broadest sense—no matter whether we play in a concert hall, sing at a retirement home, produce a theatrical project with refugee children, programme an event series, or research and publish on cultural topics. We need to anchor culture in our various regions and ensure active participation by the people who live there. We need to embrace our role in society: every cultural event entails social interaction, and it follows that every cultural project is a social project.

We need to shape and cultivate our cultural landscape in such a way that it enables the broadest possible swaths of society to participate in the most active way possible—for it’s in such a landscape that we also have a future!

The Working Group on Climate Protection created by the mdw Senate is open to participation by all mdw employees and students who are interested in doing something on this matter. So far, around 25 individuals from all areas of the mdw had begun working in teams focussed on the topics of mobility, buildings/energy/heating, teaching and research, and procurement.

On the occasion of the presentation of the greenhouse gas balance of the mdw a panel discussion will take place in the summer semester 2020. Representatives from the film, theatre and music industries are invited to think together about future perspectives:

„Zukunftsmusik“ – Internationale künstlerische Karrieren trotz Klimakrise!?
Wednesday, 1 July 2020, 5 p.m.
Livestream via the mdw media library (mdwMediathek)


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