Many rural regions are struggling to address daunting challenges. As industry and businesses restructure their operations, jobs are cut. The population in small towns and rural areas decreases, while the percentage of older citizens left behind increases. Tax revenues fall. Theatres, libraries and museums are often the first to feel budget cuts because municipalities are not obliged to finance cultural institutions. Despite the fact that such institutions are excellent at stabilising identity and fostering a sense of community, their cohesive effect in these regions is frequently undervalued.
While cultural institutions in large cities have been addressing the changes in urban society in recent years, the organisations in small towns and rural areas are now faced with very basic questions: Do they even have anything to offer their citizens? And what do the people who live there need? The conditions for cultural production outside of metropolitan areas are also fundamentally different. Regional cultural institutions have to attract a far more dispersed audience, but usually have a much smaller budget to do it with.
In close cooperation with partners on location, TRAFO aims to develop concepts for transforming existing cultural organisations in selected model regions. The focus is not so much on saving as many of these organisations as possible, but rather examining what kind of alternative role they could play: Who do they want to reach? What would an attractive cultural infrastructure in the region look like in the future? How can things be organised differently? TRAFO provides funding to projects and artistic approaches which have a pioneering function and point the way to new methods of cultural production.
For the first round of funding (2015-2020) four regions in Germany have been selected as examples of the diverse challenges facing structurally weak regions. Model projects in the Oderbruch region, southern Lower Saxony, in the Saarpfalz and the Swabian Alb demonstrate the potential that change can bring about. Applying participative, cooperative and identity-building approaches, they offer examples of how local and regional cultural organisations can reinvent themselves as modern and exciting educational and cultural venues.
In response to a growing interest in developing cultural perspectives in rural areas in Germany, the Federal Cultural Foundation has expanded 2017 the TRAFO programme to include more federal states in two phases. In the development phase of TRAFO 2, the nine states which have not yet been eligible to participate in the programme – Bavaria, Hesse, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Schleswig-Holstein and Thuringia – have been invited to recommend two regions in their respective states which have been adversely impacted by demographic change, but still maintain publicly funded cultural institutions. With the support of the TRAFO Programme office, these regions developed new ideas for their transformation projects, for which they received proof-of-concept funding of up to 40,000 euros. The regions could then apply for funding by summer 2019 to implement their transformation projects.
An independent jury of experts selected the conceptual ideas from seven regions in autumn 2019. The proposals from the following regions will be awarded implementation funding of up to 1.25 million euros between 2020 and 2023: Vogelsbergkreis (Hesse), Uecker-Randow (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), Mestlin (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), Kusel (Rheinland-Palatinate), Köthen (Saxony-Anhalt), Rendsburg-Eckernförde (Schleswig-Holstein) and Altenburger Land (Thuringia).
The Altranft Open-Air Museum is undergoing extensive restructuring to become a model of an attractive regional museum. It also aims to become a focal point of cultural activities for the surrounding areas. To this end, the museum cooperates with museums of local history, independent artists, schools and other organisations in the region. Over the coming five years, the museum will be restructured in such a way that the district and local municipalities will be able to continue financing the new model with their own resources.
Southern Lower Saxony
The town of Osterode is restructuring its municipal library and transforming it into a place of encounter, education and culture. Using a wide range of media in various languages and offering writing workshops, bilingual readings and intercultural theatre projects, the library aims to become a new cultural junction within the city and region.
The Jacobson-Haus in Seesen, which housed the municipal library and several associations up until now, is being expanded into a venue for theatre productions, concerts and exhibitions, including a community-oriented cultural office. The programme for the new centre is being jointly developed by public and private organisations, cultural associations and independent artists. The projects in Osterode and Seesen and their respective library directors are in constant contact throughout the transformation process.
Four small mining museums in the Harz Mountains are collaborating to restructure their organisation under the aegis of one association. In order to transform their local memorial sites into modern educational venues, they are combining ideas, resources and structures in three steps. In the first phase, the museums is working with citizens, schools and associations to define their respective areas of specialisation. In the second phase, they will pool their resources and employees, and in the final phase, the museums will cooperate with interested members of their communities to overhaul and standardise the design of the permanent exhibitions and museums.
This project puts a participative cultural development concept to the test. Citizens, associations and directors of organisations in seven Saarpfalz districts meet at round-table meetings on a regular basis. Together they develop ideas and projects for the existing organisations in the region which strive to accommodate local needs and establish new cooperative partnerships. In addition, the coordinators will invite international artists to participate in artist-in-residence programmes, in which they will work on regional themes and reflect on the transformation process for several weeks at a time.
In the Swabian Alb, a project is underway to create a network of cultural institutions, in which large institutions act as “patrons” for smaller organisations and share their experience in developing projects and building cooperative partnerships. As European LEADER funding is allocated to cultural projects in an exemplary manner in Baden-Württemberg, the project focuses on training personnel in funding application procedures and anchoring these at the cultural organisations.
In addition to carrying out these concrete projects in the model regions, a primary goal of the TRAFO programme is to share gained experience and encourage further debate. How can an institution reinvent itself? How is civic orientation accomplished? How can municipal cultural programmes complement each other, and what alliances can be formed between cultural organisations, political bodies and administrative agencies to create attractive cultural institutions? The programme also includes a “TRAFO Academy” which spread the word throughout Germany about the experiences gained in these model regions. The Academy targets at institutional directors, administrative employees and cultural producers in the regions who want to learn from each other and apply these insights to their own situation.