Diversity: How inclusive is Germany's cultural world?

24 May

Disabilities are multifaceted. From psychological to physical disabilities, there are many variations. In film, television and the arts, people with disabilities have become increasingly present in recent years and many artists who have a disability themselves are now open about it.


From "Game of Thrones" star Peter Dinklage who has achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that affects bone growth to pop icon Billie Eilish, who has Tourette's syndrome, to painter Yayoi Kusama, who lives with obsessive-compulsive disorder — more and more famous actors, artists and musicians with physical or cognitive challenges are garnering space in the spotlight.


Diversity in this day and age

In Germany, too, things are changing in the cultural world. Jutta Schubert, a project manager at Eucrea, an association focusing on art and artists with disabilities in German-speaking countries, sees some progress. She notes that diversity today is no longer limited to people with a migration background or people's sexual orientation but also includes people with disabilities.

"In Germany, people with disabilities were completely forgotten or overlooked for a very long time," Schubert told DW. Part of the reason, she says, is that most federal funding programs for cultural institutions focused on other groups. "People with disabilities have really only been at the center of the diversity issue for, I would say, one or two years."

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Inclusion in theaters

Today, she says, it is clear from calls for bids for artistic projects, such as those of the "Performing Arts Fund" or the German Federal Cultural Foundation, that the issue of diversity is being perceived more comprehensively. "Institutions understand that they can secure financial support if they hire people with disabilities or promote accessibility," Schubert explains.

A new program called 'pik' was recently launched by the German Federal Cultural Foundation with the specific aim of promoting projects in this area. It aims to facilitate long-term collaborations between theaters and inclusive groups and also includes a mentoring program. "Such a development would have been unfathomable eight or ten years ago," Schubert explains.

In addition, more and more cultural institutions are taking their own initiative in the area, especially in the theater sector. Schubert referred to the Munich Kammerspiele theater company, whose ensemble includes six people with disabilities. Other theaters are also showing interest in hiring people with disabilities for productions or even employing them permanently and integrating them into the ensemble.


Developments in the film sector

The film industry is also paying more attention to diversity. To generate realistic portrayals, German production companies such as UFA are now using actors with disabilities. In doing so, they are referring to the EU Platform of Diversity Charters, created in 2010.

"When German production companies look for actresses or actors for roles that portray, for example, a person in a wheelchair with a migration background or someone with brittle bone disease, more attention is paid to not casting with actors without disabilities.

The German film industry has been inspired by developments in the US, where actors such as RJ Mitte (from "Breaking Bad") and Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones ") have made careers for themselves. 

Even if they do not act as activists for people with disabilities, Schubert considers them role models. "Peter Dinklage speaks very openly about his disability and also sometimes expresses himself in interviews about what changes need to happen." According to Schubert, this openness has a positive influence on the acceptance of people with disabilities in general society.


Exhibition for artists with cognitive disabilities

Apart from the theater and film industries, the museum landscape is also undergoing change. The 2017 exhibition "Art and Alphabet" at Hamburg's Kunsthalle is one example. It showcased the work of Harald Stoffers, a successful Hamburg painter with a cognitive disability. "This painter, who works exclusively with writing, designed an entire room there," says Schubert.

A special award was created in Germany in 2000 for people with cognitive disabilities who create art. The Augustinum Foundation bestows the "Euward" — a made-up word combining "Europe" and "award" — every three years to European artists. The three honorees receive, among other things, an exhibition of their work at the Haus der Kunst in Munich, which gives their work visibility. This year, an Euward will be awarded again.


Integrating people with disabilities into the profession

One of the biggest hurdles for people with disabilities is getting into the arts and culture business at all. "For drama schools, disabilities were an exclusion criterion until a few years ago," says Schubert.

But the schools are becoming more and more open, she adds. The association she works for has initiated its own program to promote inclusion in arts education. So far, universities with visual and performing arts programs from five German states are participating. In 2024, the program is to be expanded to other German states.

When Schubert compares all the inclusion efforts in the cultural sector that have been undertaken in Germany in recent years with those in neighboring countries or even in Great Britain, she nevertheless concludes that there is "still a great deal of catching up to do" in this country.


Author Kevin Tschierse

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