Berlin Rejects Funding for Chris Dercon’s Latest Project

It's the latest blow for the Volksbühne Theater's unpopular incoming director.

Outgoing Tate Modern Director Chris Dercon was revealed as the new director of the Volksbühne, Berlin in April 2015. Photo: 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair via YouTube.

Things haven’t exactly gone smoothly for outgoing Tate Modern director Chris Dercon since it was announced that he will take over Berlin’s storied Volksbühne theater next year. Now he’s been dealt another setback after the German capital’s senate rejected a €500,000 ($559,000) funding request for a cultural project.

In its third meeting of 2016 the charitable committee of Berlin’s Lottery Foundation chaired by Berlin’s governing mayor Michael Müller distributed €18.5 million ($20 million) to 35 projects promoting society, sports education, integration, and culture. And Dercon’s project wasn’t among those that received a grant.

The incoming director’s proposal for staging a project with refugees on the grounds of the former Tempelhof airport was rejected in order to obtain more detailed information. However, according to the German daily Tagesspiegel, the proposal will be reconsidered by the committee at a later date.

Volksbühne, Berlin Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Volksbühne, Berlin
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a tough year for Dercon who’s appointment by Berlin culture senator Tim Renner was unpopular from the start. His replacement of popular outgoing director of 25 years Frank Castorf provoked criticism from all quarters, with local media questioning Dercon’s suitability for the role (he’s never directed a theater), and the hefty €4.25 million ($4.7 million) budget associated with his appointment. Much of the anger was directed towards the €138,000 ($154,000) set aside for Dercon and program director Marietta Piekenbrock’s salaries and travel expenses for 2016, a year before officially taking up the position.

Making matters worse, in June 172 staffers and actors at the Volksbühne signed an open letter addressed to Berlin’s senate and federal culture minister Monika Grütters criticizing Dercon’s plans for the avant-garde theater as “banal” and “a threat.” The storied institution has always been on the very forefront of contemporary theater and staffers urged that the appointment should be “rethought.”

Projects that were granted funding include Berlin’s Bauhaus Archive, which received €1.1 million ($1.2 million) for the acquisition of the estate of the artist couple Hinnerk and Lou Scheper, and the Schaubühne theater, which received €600,000 ($670,000) towards it’s three-year “theater without borders” project, among others.

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