Berlin’s Culture Senator Reluctantly Supports Chris Dercon’s Appointment

The incoming director of the Volksbühne theater remains embattled.

Designated artistic director of the Volksbuehne theater, Chris Dercon. Photo: JENS KALAENE/AFP/Getty Images.

Berlin’s new culture senator Klaus Lederer has halfheartedly come out in support of the appointment of Chris Dercon, the embattled incoming director of Berlin’s Volksbühne theater, after the outspoken critic of the former Tate Modern director promised to “rethink” the role.

The head of the Die Linke (The Left) party in Berlin previously labelled the choice of Berlin mayor Michael Müller and predecessor Tim Renner as “ill-advised” and promised to ensure the theater would maintain a “solid ensemble and repertoire.”

Ultimately it was the cost of dissolving Dercon’s lucrative contract that stopped Lederer from sacking the Belgian before his position officially starts in the fall. The sizable package includes €138,000 ($151,000) for Dercon and program director Marietta Piekenbrock’s salaries and travel expenses in 2016 (i.e. in the year before officially taking up the position) and €212,000 ($230,000) for the following year.

“The state of Berlin will maintain its contractual obligation with Chris Dercon, which I will uphold as culture senator,” Lederer told local newspaper B.Z. on Thursday. “I expect the same from him.”

Berlin's new culture senator Klaus Lederer. Photo: Martin Rulsch, Wikimedia Commons

Berlin’s new culture senator Klaus Lederer. Photo: Martin Rulsch, Wikimedia Commons

Describing the tense talks with Dercon, the head of Berlin’s state culture ministry said, “In the end we had different perspectives on theater operations and functions. These differences may be unusual, but I would consider them tolerable.”

Dercon added, “We agreed to disagree. But from August 1 we will continue to run the Volksbühne in a way that honors both the social organism of this unique theater as well as the performing arts in Berlin and beyond.”

Dercon has been unpopular since his tenure was announced. Shortly after revealing his plans for the avant-garde state-funded theater, 172 actors, designers, dramaturges, and theater employees penned an open letter to Berlin’s culture ministry expressing their “deep concern” at Dercon’s directorship. Later the press derided the hefty €4.25 million ($4.7 million) budget associated with his appointment, and he also had a major funding proposal turned down by the Berlin city senate.

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