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3 questions for Olaf Zimmermann

An interview with the Managing Director of the Deutsche Kulturrat [German Cultural Council].

For 25 years, Olaf Zimmermann has been the Managing Director of the German Cultural Council. We asked the publisher, former art dealer and recipient of the Federal Cross of Merit what he expected from cultural politics after 100 days of the new government.


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Pictures: Jule Roehr


GVL: The Ampel-Koalition [three-party traffic-light coalition] will have spent 100 days in office soon. Where do you see first cultural-political successes regarding the governments’ activities and where has it not met your expectations yet?

Olaf Zimmermann: To be honest, I have the impression that the three parties yet have to judder into gear yet.

The one who surely has it the easiest is the Minister of Transport, Hubertus Heil, MdB [member of the German Bundestag]. He can continue the tasks of the previous election period. The coalition agreement provided so much in terms of improving the social status, especially of solo freelancers. Preparations are currently made for this. We are still in a close dialogue here. 

What is still not clear is what is going to happen in terms of copyright. In the coalition agreement, there is relatively few said regarding the much-hyped balancing of interests, it will, in my opinion, depend on the voice of rights owners being heard loud and clear. It is not yet clear how the Minister of Justice, Marco Buschmann, MdB, is going to act. 

To stay with copyright, there is a clear plea for a strengthening of open source and open access in the coalition agreement with regard to science and research. It can be surmised that the Minister of Education and Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger , MdB, is going to implement those projects. Here, the question remains whether a private economic science publication sector is still in view or whether the Federal Government merely considers it to be an addendum from former times. 

My impression is that expectations from among the cultural and creative sector industries from the Federal Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Action, Robert Habeck, MdB, are high because he is actually an author and thus has a relation to the industry. The fact that he has swiftly got economic aids under way, is a first success. Nevertheless, the Litmus test remains whether the cultural and creative sector stays one topic of many or whether real accents are meant to be set here - especially with a view to the sustainable remodelling of the economy.

Katja Keul, MdB, has not appeared that visibly so far in her role as Minister of State for the foreign cultural and educational policy. The crossover between domestic cultural policy and foreign cultural and educational policy, above all because the Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth, MdB, is anchored in this field and has already spoken up. 

I therefore advocate that one should not allocate too much to the first 100 days and not look at the gesture politics but rather take stock after a year. Until then, everyone had the time to get settled in their subject area and to present real results. Especially in cultural policy, it is my view that it is about going the extra mile to improve the framework conditions for art and culture.  Instead of “glitz and glory”, this entails actual work.

The society-wide hotspots are currently diversity, digitisation and democracy. Which of these topics will the cultural sector be pioneering in your view?

I believe that the cultural sector is a clear pioneer when it comes to diversity and digitisation. If I look at the music sector, you can quickly ascertain that it has been diverse when the notion wasn’t even used and no particular efforts were made on behalf of diversity. This is surely due to the fact that the cultural sector must act much more in line with the customer than publicly funded cultural institutions. Such population groups have also been long targeted by means of pop culture, something the public cultural institutions, especially in theatre and museums, had to slowly discover first; but of course, the exceptions are the rule here, too.

Digitisation has been a driver in the cultural sector for a long time. Both in production and distribution, digitisation has been a given for quite a while now. Compared to the public cultural sector, the cultural industries have clearly been pioneers.

In your view, what are the contributions made by the collective management organisations/music licensing companies regarding the cultural diversity in Germany?

First of all, the collective management organisations/music licensing companies are indispensable for the eligible rightsholders, because it is only the CMOs/MLCs with their negotiation powers that are in a position to negotiate the relevant agreements and thus to make an important contribution to the financial income of the eligible rightsholders.

Users do, however, also enjoy significant benefits from CMOs/MLCs because their transaction costs are reduced. Thanks to the internal distribution mechanisms, they make an important contribution to the cultural diversity where such performers and users are participating adequately in payouts which are actually used less. Beyond that, the social tasks which the CMOs/MLCs are carrying out, are very important for the recipients. Furthermore, their importance in the cultural promotion must not be underestimated.

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