News |State Minister Monika Grütters calls for defense of artistic freedom

Prof. Monika Grütters | Photo: Kenneth Selko

How is fear currently shaping our society? And can art play a role in addressing those fears? These questions were at the core of “Raising Fear: Film, Literature, and Political Responsibility” on Friday, July 5, at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles.  Moderated by Steven Lavine, chairman of the Thomas Mann House advisory board, the evening drew deep insights from the event’s esteemed guests: German state minister Monika Grütters, filmmaker Werner Herzog, and cultural scientist Ulrich Raulff. From art’s relationship with democracy, to misguided demonization, to fighting for an open culture, the relevancy of the night’s conversation was emphasized and punctuated by the rumblings of a distant 7.1 earthquake.

Villa Aurora and Thomas Mann House executive director Heike Catherina Mertens initiated the fully attended event with words of appreciation to the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media for her support of the Thomas Mann House and the cultural institution’s mission of fostering productive transatlantic debate which is essential to addressing the current political and societal anxieties shaping the world.

Mertens opened the podium to state minister Professor Monika Grütters, who addressed the audience with an impassioned call to maintain and protect an independent culture. Grütters stated that freedom of artistic expression and democracy are inseparable, inherent to each other. Grütters went on to draw parallels with the current rise in global fear with Thomas Mann’s speech An Appeal to Reason, in which he denounced the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany. Just as it evolved in Nazi Germany, today’s international anxiety has manifested in the spread of fascist ideology, nationalism, racism, and xenophobia. Germany, the United States, and the West must remain vigilant in protecting democracy and freedom of thought against these destructive forces.

The night culminated with an insightful and entertaining discussion with renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog and cultural scientist Urlach Raulf. Facilitating the conversation, Steven Lavine posed the main question of the night: whether or not art can offer a solution to political and cultural unrest? Herzog saw the impact of art as long-term, a slow-moving tool to help change perspectives.

Ultimately for Herzog, true societal change does not come from art, but from sincere, individual engagement with those that feel left behind; those that are in the Heartland of America or in East Germany. Listening to and acknowledging these populations, instead of demonizing them, would offer a foundation to build social solidarity. Additionally, Raulff articulated the societal dangers of fear by referencing Aby Warburg: “Phobic energies reduce our 'Denkraum' (space of reflection); culture on the other hand keeps it as large as possible.”

Before the event, Professor Grütters explored the actual creation of art with Villa Aurora’s artist fellows. Udo Moll, who was a fellow at Villa Aurora in 2015 and has returned  to perform his new composition in Los Angeles, highlighted how the fellowship significantly supported his work. Going from initial concept at the Villa Aurora, Moll’s work made its premiere in Cologne two years ago and was presented by an ensemble in Ney York. In the fall of 2019, he will publish a CD with the radio version as well as a new take on the ensemble arrangement.

A new fellow to Villa Aurora, Angelika Levi, shared her artistic plans while in residency: "My new film project is about a group of Latin American female asbestos workers, who cleaned the buildings of the completely sealed zone at Ground Zero in New York from 2001-2002. A three-month stay at Villa Aurora provides a wonderful opportunity to develop the script and to do research in Mexico where most workers have returned to.”

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