The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Bernd Scherer
Bernd Scherer
Born in 1955. Bernd Scherer holds a doctoral degree in Philosophy from the Universität des Saarlandes and is author of several publications focusing on aesthetics and international cultural exchange. He comes back to the House of World Cultures as Director in 2006 from the Goethe Institute, where he served as Director of the Goethe Institute Mexico from 1999 through 2004 and subsequently as Director of the Arts Department for the Head Office in Munich. Previously, Scherer headed the Department of Humanities and Culture at the House of World Cultures and also served as its Deputy Director. The start of his directorship thus represents a return to an institution in which he from 1994-1999 played a decisive role with respect to organizational and artistic development.

The House of World Cultures
(Das Haus der Kulturen der Welt)

The House of World Cultures
The House of World Cultures is a leading centre for the contemporary arts and a venue for projects breaking through artistic boundaries. The House of World Cultures has set itself the task of presenting cultures from outside Europe through their fine arts, theatre, music, literature, film and the media and engaging them in a public discourse with European cultures. The House of World Cultures’ program focuses on the contemporary arts and current developments in the cultures of Africa, Asia and Latin America as well as on the artistic and cultural consequences of globalization. It gives priority to projects that explore the possibilities of both intercultural co-operation and its presentation.
The building now serving as the seat of the House of World Cultures was originally designed as the Congress Hall. It is one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks. The building is situated in the cultural and political centre of Berlin.
The House of World Cultures is a nonprofit-making institution belonging to the Federal Republic of Germany. It is a division of the “Kulturveranstaltungen des Bundes in Berlin GmbH”, which includes the Berliner Festspiele and the International Film Festival, Berlin. The House of World Cultures is supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Cultural Affairs and Media and by the Foreign Office.
Arts Organization of the Month
The twelfth documenta will be taking place in summer 2007
Presenter Interview
As it prepares to reopen with a newly renovated building, Berlin's House of World Cultures is broadening its vision and role 
The House of World Cultures (Haus der Kulturen der Welt: HKW) of Berlin is a government organization established in 1989 for the purpose of introducing non-European culture in Germany. Since then it has presented a wide range of cultural programs for the people of Germany. This August, a large-scale renovation of the HKW facilities will be completed and its programs will launch anew under the direction of Bernd Scherer. We spoke with Mr. Scherer about the new face of the HKW.
(Interviewer: Fumiko Toda, at the Japan Foundation, March 14, 2007)

The year 1989 when the House of World Cultures (Haus der Kulturen der Welt: HKW) was founded was the historical year that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall. In the almost two decades since, there have certainly been many big changes in German society. Considering this, have there been significant changes in the operating policies of the HKW during this time?
The concept of the House of World Cultures as an organization to present culture from outside the Europe to the people of Germany was established before the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is a very important fact, that the idea to create a platform for cultural exchange with non-European cultures in the city of Berlin was born before the Wall came down. In the 1980s when HKW was established the big influx of immigrants in Berlin and throughout West Germany was causing dynamic discourse concerning “multiculturalism.” At the time, the cultural and academic facilities in Germany had a very good relationship with not only the European countries but also with America, so it was natural to look beyond the Western cultures and attempt to actively build relationships with non-Western cultures.
From the beginning, HKW had no specialized facilities like a museum or theater and its building was a renovated conference facility. This is why the organization has engaged in programs over the full range of cultural genre, from the fine arts to the performing arts and literature, and we have engaged in academic programs as well. In the early years after the organization’s founding we mainly presented art exhibitions and performances by artists from the developing nations outside of Europe. However, since the audience attending these events were mainly the many people from regions like Latin America or the Mediterranean living in Berlin who were involved in the arts, one of the big issues we had to deal with was how to make the HKW’s mission reach a larger audience in the German society.
Entering the 1990s and what can be summarized as the era of globalization, HKW sought to answer the needs of the times by shifting its focus to contemporary art in a way that would systematically reveal global movements. And we have continued these efforts to this day while working in cooperation with other organizations like the Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin and the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin (the national contemporary art division founded in Berlin in 1996).
One of the things that became clearer in the 1990s was that the non-Western world had developed new centers. These included countries like China, India and Japan. Personally, I am quite familiar with the arts scene in Mexico and I believe that Mexico is another country whose arts gained considerable international recognition in the 1990s. These are examples of countries outside of Europe that have grown stronger politically, economically and culturally, and many cultural facilities have been built as a result. This is evidence that dynamic social and cultural scenes are blossoming outside of Europe and it means that there has been a big development in the discourse about the role of arts and culture and the forms they should take. Just as the HKW building, which was located on the “periphery” of West Berlin, moved to the “center” of Berlin right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, you can say that our organization’s theme (regional culture) also changed from a focus on “peripheral” culture to new “centers” of culture. It is very appropriate here to cite the words of the curator of our last documenta (in 2002) (*), Okwui Enwezor, who said, “This international discussion of center/periphery is having greater repercussions here in Germany.” At the same time, we are seeing a global trend in which a large number of contemporary artists are moving from the southern regions to the northern regions. Today, if we have an exhibition of African art, you will see many of the artists coming from Paris, New York and London. In other words, the regional divisions of the old map of the world are becoming almost meaningless.
In light of these new conditions, I believe that HKW is at a point where we must re-examine the issues we need to deal with. As a cultural institution that deals directly with the new issues that globalization has brought, I want to see us to work together with the artists of each country toward the development of their non-European regions rather than sticking to the old definitions of regional divisions in culture.
Another issue for HKW now is to make sure that the themes of the projects we plan are ones that have clear relevance for us as individuals in the society we live in. I believe that this is a very important point in order to make sure that the theme is not simply exoticism. We have to treat these as themes and issues that are relevant here in Germany and throughout Europe, it should not be a discussion of the exotic. That is what’s important. And it is the same in the way the work is approached.

Besides HKW, Germany has another big national government agency in the area of international exchange in the Goethe Institute with its 144 branches in 80 countries around the world. What is the division of roles for these two institutions?
The role of the Goethe Institute (established 1951) is to introduce German culture to foreign countries and as a result, it is an institution whose projects are mostly abroad. In contrast, HKW is at present an institution that produces projects from the new [non-European] cultural centers for the German domestic audience. If I were to express that in terms of a slogan, the Goethe Institute opens the door of Germany to the outside world, while HKW opens the world’s doors to the German audience. As institutions we support each other and we often collaborate on projects. However, because of the difference in our aims we do not simply “import” projects that the Goethe Institute has done and re-package them for the German domestic market. The Goethe Institute has a lot of high-quality, localized information, so when we plan a project we get their cooperation in gathering information concerning the country involved.

Can you tell us about the nature of the German government’s policies concerning international exchange in recent years?
Speaking generally, the German government’s policies reflect more the importance of an international cultural exchange. That means that the Goethe Institute has been given the biggest initiatives and also that the HKW has been given a larger role. This reflects a fundamental realization that in order to achieve mutual understanding of the type that will help solve the conflicts in today’s world, it is necessary to approach each other mainly from a cultural perspective. This consciousness has become particularly strong now that we are seeing cultures outside of Europe develop from what was once considered “peripheral” culture into important new cultural “centers” in their own right. Another important factor is the fact that cultural conflict, such as those involving the Islamic nations, has developed into major political issues. For HKW, it has become increasingly important that these issues be analyzed clearly through transnational media like television and the Internet.
However, in Germany we have a principle of the freedom of the arts and academics, which prevents the government from intervening directly in arts and culture. This reflects the insight that the arts and culture cannot just be used as instruments for policies. They are free expressions of individuals and groups within the society. And the state sees it as its obligation to support it within the country but also in the dialogue with other countries.
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