Debating freedom of artistic expression
at the Federal Foreign Office (Germany)


On Friday,  7th of September , 2018, for the very first time, the Arts Rights Justice Forum 2018 (ARJ) was being hosted at the German Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. The Minister of State for International Cultural Policy, Michelle Müntefering, officially opened the event and welcomed the audience (as you can read below). In the morning, international experts, facilitators and young professionals gathered to discuss crucial topics such as artistic freedom and the 2005 UNESCO Convention, invisible prisons – artistic freedom in the face of cultural labelling policies, building bridges and breaking down walls in the digital age, the art of borders crossing: Europe and worldwide, and “bottom-up” vs “top-down” censorship – who defines the space for freedom of expression in art? The second part was open to the public. It involved panel discussions with representatives of ICORN, the Martin-Roth-Initiative and Front Line Defenders, amongst others. Artists from the just ended Arts Right Justice Academy 2018 also presented performances related to current political eventslike the ongoing lack of respect to human rights and freedom of speech in many countries around the world.



Dear Professor Schneider,

dear participants of the Arts Rights Justice Academy, dear guests,

I am most delighted to be able to open the Arts Rights Justice Forum 2018 together with you today. The freedom of art, science and expression is vital to open societies. Open societies depend on criticism and controversy, both is practised in art, culture and science.

It is a key role of culture and education, of artists and scientists to generate ideas for debates about the state of the world and the images of our societies.

Especially in times like these we see the importance of advocating democracy and an open society. Nationalist and populist developments gain ground throughout the world, even in places we would not have expected a few years ago. Therefore, we need to double our efforts to offer platforms for exchange and debate. This is exactly what we are doing today by hosting the Arts Rights Justice Forum 2018. And these platforms are increasingly under threat. Therefore, we need “open spaces” instead of “shrinking spaces.
We need free and open spaces, in which the freedom of arts, culture and science is guaranteed. We need platforms and actors for art and culture that give access to art, culture and education.
We therefore support programs that offer protection to artists in difficult or dangerous circumstances.
Less than a month ago, the Federal Foreign Office in cooperation with the Goethe‑Institut and with ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) launched the Martin-Roth-Initiative which aims to protect endangered intellectuals, artists and opinion‑leaders. The program allows artists to work in a safe environment once again, either temporarily in Germany or in their home region.
In doing so, it follows the successful example of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative for persecuted academics.

Furthermore, three German cities are members of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN), with Berlin joining only a few months ago and becoming a city of refuge for writers and artists at risk in the ICORN network. I am glad to welcome experts and contributors of these and many other institutions here today.
Standing up and working for the values of our liberal democracy through the protection of artistic freedom is a key element of German cultural relations and education policy.
After all, this sends the right signal at a time in which platforms for thought, ideas, art and culture, as well as cultural exchange and working together for a better future, are shrinking everywhere.
This is also the right signal in the face of developments, also in Europe, of national isolation and populism.

Dear participants of the Arts Rights Justice Academy 2018,

this is exactly what all of you do on a daily basis. Your work is vital and many of you do it under difficult or even dangerous circumstances.
I am glad to welcome experts and contributors of these and many other institutions here today.
The UNESCO chair “Cultural Policy for the Arts in Development” at the University of Hildesheim has started an excellent initiative by launching the Arts Rights Justice Program. It literally opens spaces through the transfer of academic and practical knowledge. It creates networks, monitors relevant developments in international cultural policy and works on an international framework for the protection of artistic freedom.
The Forum raises questions and tries to find answers to the problems we are confronted with in the field of international cultural policy. Some of the questions and answers from my point of view:

1. How do we ensure that artists can work and art can be accessed in freedom?
Certainly we need protection and safety for artists. But we also need spaces of freedom in which free speech and expression is possible. And we need access to art, culture and education, in analogue and digital space.
2. What needs to be done on an international level to protect artistic expression in the digital sphere?
For the freedom of opinions, ideas and information, the internet is one of the greatest achievements of humanity. On the other hand, we see that this freedom is also exploited by those who oppose democratic and liberal values. At least, we also need a basic order in the World Wide Web, based on the declaration of human rights.
3. And what do changes and challenges in the world mean for international cultural policy?

For me that means very clearly:
advocate for the freedom of arts, culture and science, convey a clear attitude, but at the same time accept the global competition for minds, ideas and values, campaign for openness and international cooperation instead of permitting isolation and return to the national look for committed partners to work for mutual understanding, especially – and above all – in Europe.

Dear participants of the Arts Rights Justice Academy 2018,

I would like to thank the University of Hildesheim, it´s Department of Cultural Policy and especially Prof. Wolfgang Schneider for the initiative and for their commitment.
We are currently on our way to propose a new strategy for the German cultural relations and education policy for 2020. The inclusive approach of the process is designed to include all relevant players, practitioners and researchers.
Current developments such as increasing cultural confrontation, digitalization and globalization demand a re-evaluation of old conceptualities and terminology.
We are glad that we have strong and innovative partners like the University of Hildesheim by our side during that process and we are looking forward to your input.
I wish you a successful afternoon and fruitful discussions.

Thank you very much!