Germany Has Rolled Out a Staggering €50 Billion Aid Package For Small Businesses That Boosts Artists and Galleries—and Puts Other Countries to Shame

"Artists are not only indispensable, but also vital, especially now," says the country's culture minister.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and culture minister Monika Grütters. Photo: Christian Marquardt/Getty Images.

The German federal government is stepping in with a sweeping aid package for the country’s creative and cultural sectors. According to a press release shared by the ministry of culture and reports in the German press, a staggering €50 billion ($54 billion) in backing will be provided specifically to small businesses and freelancers, including those from the cultural, creative, and media sectors.

The news from the ministry comes less than two weeks after Germany first made its promise of support. “We know the hardships, we know the desperation,” said culture minister Monika Grütters in the statement. “The cultural sector in particular is characterized by a high proportion of self-employed people who now have problems with their livelihoods.” She said that the federal government is “wholly aware” of the importance of the creative industries, adding that “[h]elp is coming as quickly and with as little bureaucracy as possible!”

The three-part package, according to the ministry’s statement and a report in FAZ, includes up to €50 billion ($54 billion) in aid for individuals who are self-employed as well as for small businesses, and this will extend to artists and small cultural businesses. They state the funding will come in the form of grants designed to help with overhead costs like venue rentals and artist studios. Loans will also be available within the package to help businesses bridge financial bottlenecks. In addition to arts-related individuals and organizations, the funding will support media enterprises, including newspapers.

In addition to the stimulus money, the new initiative states that social security (including unemployment insurance) will be made available to freelancers—including artists—for a period of six months and expenses for housing will be recognized to ensure that “everyone can stay in their own home.” To this end, the government is injecting another €10 billion ($11 billion) of support. The legislation also allows tenants to be protected from eviction should they be unable to pay rent. Loans may also be deferred and individuals are permitted to ask the tax bureau for a reduction in their payments or an advance on their tax refunds. But the process may not be as quick a fix as it seems: Since the initial announcement, two artists have told Artnet News that the application is actually “highly bureaucratic,” with several forms to complete and over 60 pages of small print.

Still, the sum being offered by the German government dwarfs the totals offered by other nations. England’s art council announced a package of $190 million in support to the arts. In New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is calling on the government to give US museums a $4 billion bailout—but the final total offered to arts initiatives in the newly passed Senate bill is less than five percent of that.

In Germany, the emergency legislation will have important implications for publicly funded institutions and museums. The government says that reclamations of funding are to be avoided in the event that projects cannot be implemented. Instead, the government will try to tailor existing budgets and adapt funded programs to suit the current needs.

“Our democratic society needs its unique and diverse cultural and media landscape in this historical situation, which was unimaginable until recently,” said Grütters. “The creative courage of creative people can help to overcome the crisis. We should seize every opportunity to create good things for the future. That is why the following applies: artists are not only indispensable, but also vital, especially now.”

Update March 26: An earlier version of this article misstated that the applications for loans for small businesses were already open for submissions. The article has been updated to include complaints about the application process.

Update March 27: The government has clarified a point of confusion in its press release and previous reports in the media, stating that the aid package for small businesses and freelancers in culture, art, and media will come from a larger package for solo self-employed people and small businesses that totals €50 billion.

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