Berlin’s Senate Is Rolling Out Up to $320 Million in Emergency Grants for Freelance Cultural Workers and Artists

The government is trying to make the process as quick and simple as possible.

Berlin's cultural is unrolling two emergency aid packages imminently. Photo: Jörg Carstensen/dpa (Photo by Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Berlin’s government is mobilizing to soften the blow of the global health crisis on small cultural businesses, its freelancers, and the city’s artists. The Berlin Senate announced today that it would soon be offering €100 million ($107 million) in €5,000 ($5,366) grants to freelance workers and small businesses in the cultural sector. In addition, the senate is offering another €300 million ($322 million) in loans for the retail, hotel, restaurant, and cultural industries.

The two emergency aid programs will be rolled out in phases, and there is a chance that an additional €200 million could be offered to freelance workers and small businesses, bringing the total sum offered in loans and small grants to €600 million.

The grants cover a broad range of leisure industries. Freelancers eligible for the grant program, dubbed Emergency Aid 2, include not only arts workers, but also those in the sport, event, and tourism sectors. The aid package for small businesses of between five and 250 employees (called Emergency Aid 1) covers restaurants, hotels, nightlife and events businesses, as well as cultural enterprises, including galleries.

“Berlin is alive and great because of the commitment of its cultural workers in all sectors,” says cultural senator Klaus Lederer. “The cancellation of countless cultural events,” he added, “will threaten the existence of many of them.”

Installation View, Pae White Special No. 127, neugerriemschneider Photo: Marco Funke, courtesy Gallery Weekend Berlin

Pae White at neugerriemschneider during Gallery Weekend Berlin 2017. The annual May event has been postponed until September. Photo: Marco Funke, courtesy Gallery Weekend Berlin

Different Aid for Different Needs

Businesses and self-employed people alike are facing an uncertain future as public life has slowed to a standstill in Germany. The latest grant and loan offerings are part of a wave of aid packages that have been made available to keep creative industries afloat.

In an effort to counterbalance what the government calls “liquidity bottlenecks,” the government initially launched so-called bridge loan applications for cultural sector on Thursday. But soon after the initial announcement, the cultural department was criticized for failing to address the needs of freelancers (a category which, by definition, includes artists—8,000 of whom live in Berlin).

In response, on Friday morning, the Senate rolled out a second phase of emergency aid: freelancers and small businesses that employ fewer than five people (this definition encompasses many of Berlin’s galleries) will soon be able to seek small sustenance micro-grants of €5,000.

“Loans are unsuitable for individual artists, because the huge majority of us who live from hand to mouth won’t be able to pay this money back when the situation normalizes again,” Zoë Claire Miller, an artist and a representative for the Association of Visual Artists in Berlin, tells Artnet News. She stresses that the still-to-be-announced application criteria will determine how helpful the emergency funds will be.

A view from the 2019 edition of Art Berlin. © Clemens Porikys.

A view from the 2019 edition of Art Berlin. © Clemens Porikys.

How Do I Get One?

So, how does one go about getting one of these bailouts? The Berlin Senate says the application—in development now—will be simple in order to limit the bureaucratic burden. Artists, cultural workers, staff at small arts associations, and self-employed people must only prove that the grant will secure their “professional or operational existence.” The senate warned that if the government learns that the applicant has subsidiary income that was not reported, it will amend or withdraw the funds later.

“Berliners need help in these difficult times,” says the senator of economy Ramona Pop. “With our emergency aid program, we want to support solo self-employed persons, freelancers, and small businesses with liquidity problems quickly and without much bureaucratic red tape. We are doing everything in our power to ensure that Berliners are able to weather this crisis.”

The money is coming from the city’s general budget, according to a statement. The hope is to stabilize the socioeconomic backbone of Berlin—clubs, restaurants, tourism, and culture—while minimizing job loss. Depending on how long the crisis takes to resolve, this could become difficult. But Berlin’s finance head Matthias Kollatz says the goal is to “mitigate the worst of hardships.”

The Southern state of Bavaria, one of the states hardest hit by the outbreak, has also released a similar aid package, and Artnet News understands that the western state of Nordrhein-Westfalen is also planning a package.

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