Dadbeh Bassir: Untitled (Tehran series), Polyptych, Light Box, 2005–2014; © Dadbeh Bassir, courtesy of the artist; Aaran Gallery (Tehran) & La Caja Blanca (Palma de Mallorca)
Dadbeh Bassir: Untitled (Tehran series), Polyptych, Light Box, 2005–2014; © Dadbeh Bassir, courtesy of the artist; Aaran Gallery (Tehran) & La Caja Blanca (Palma de Mallorca)

Only those who are willing to change can stay true to themselves – 1997-2017

Until the 1990s, the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen, or Institute for Foreign Cultural relations) was a public-law institution.  On 26 August 1997, the legal status of the Institute was changed to that of an association, and its articles of association entered into force. Thus, the organisational structure of the Institute was modified, with the creation of leaner decision-making bodies and a clearer definition of responsibilities, to meet the new challenges it was facing.

By Udo M. Metzinger

In January 1998 a new president, Alois Graf von Waldburg-Zeil, came into office. Kurt-Jürgen Maaß, who became Secretary General in June of the same year, effected the ifa's transition to its current structure by means of a further restructuring and a more pronounced demarcation of sections resulting in four departments (Art, Dialogues, Media, and Administration). In September, 2006, Ursula Seiler-Albring was installed as the new ifa president, and she was re-elected in 2010. 

The economic crises of recent years have not left the ifa untouched, and cuts in the federal government's grants to institutions could not be avoided. The ifa Gallery in Bonn had to close its doors in the summer of 2004. At the same time, the overall amount of funds available for projects has increased, not least due to the increase in funds raised from third parties. The more that the flow of funds occurs on a selective, project-linked basis, the more important it is to have a stringent vision and concept.

CrossCulture Programme: fellows at the workshop; photo: ifa / Kuhnle
CrossCulture Programme: fellows at the workshop; photo: ifa / Kuhnle
15th Stuttgarter Schlossgespräch. Brasil – Europe: a relation on an equal footing? photo: bopicture, Björn Hänssler
15th Stuttgarter Schlossgespräch. Brasil – Europe: a relation on an equal footing? photo: bopicture, Björn Hänssler

New programmes and the building of networks

When one looks back on the last few years, what stands out initially are the intensified efforts in the area of cultural dialogue: from the initiation of the 'CrossCulture Programme' to the backing for the online magazine Nafas for art from the Muslim world, as well as 'Contemporary And' for art from Africa, to the civil-society activities of the programme zivik – Civil Conflict Resolution, which was set up in 2001, and similarly to CrossCulture, focuses on the countries in transition in North Africa. Today, cultural policy has become an instrument of crisis prevention. Likewise, art has become firmly established within cultural dialogue, since it can more easily surpass the limits of language, and overcome cultural barriers. Within the exchange of art worldwide, the ifa is the leading German institution.

The visibility of the Institute within the framework of German foreign policy has been improved through the construction and expansion of networks, particularly with European partners; through the further development of the magazine for cultural exchange, the editorial staff of which moved in April 2000 to Berlin, and which even ventured into newsstand sales with the 01/06 issue; through the establishment of the Stuttgarter Schlossgespräch, (a series of panel discussions) talks held yearly from 1999-2015 at the New Palace in Stuttgart; and through the intensified use of new media, in particular via information service activities. 

A centre of expertise on foreign cultural and educational policy

European Commemoration. Locating World War I / Edgar Wolfrum, ... (Hgg.). – Stuttgart: ifa, 2016. – 244 S. – (ifa-Edition Kultur und Außenpolitik)
European Commemoration. Locating
World War I. – Stuttgart: ifa, 2016.
(ifa-Edition Kultur und Außenpolitik)

The establishment of the Alexander Rave Foundation within the Institute, the development of the Research Alliance for Culture and Foreign Policy (known by its German acronym, WIKA), the establishment of the strategy group Culture and Development, and the organisation of conferences and other activities have all contributed to the growing recognition of ifa as a small-scale 'think tank' on foreign cultural policy; this is an expression that reportedly can be heard now and again in the corridors of the German foreign ministry. And if – as was recently yet again the case – the future of the 'Third Pillar' of foreign policy becomes a topic of debate, the Institute will be able to provide vital new ideas and proposals.

Foreign cultural and education policy has experienced an overdue revival in the past few years. Nearly all cultural institutions have been able to develop more stable structures. And haven't the events of recent years demonstrated the importance of the topics that the ifa focuses on? In a world that, as German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier says time and again, has 'been thrown out of whack', in which developments in domestic and foreign policy can hardly be separated from each other anymore, in which questions of identity and culture are once again the subject of heated discussion –  in such a world – the ifa appears to be more indispensable than ever. And so, faced with a changing political situation, the ifa has responded with a wide range of support programmes.

Further development of funding programmes

With respect to the central issue of this day and age, 'Flight and Migration', a new module was developed within the framework of the 'CrossCulture Programme' (CCP), designed for employees of non-governmental organisations, administrative bodies, and organisations in the area of refugee issues and migration in the following countries: Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Germany. With the support programme 'Humanitarian Assistance', the ifa offers consulting to organisations that provide assistance to victims of natural disasters, crises, and conflicts both within their own countries and abroad. At the same time, new forms of (political) communication have emerged, bringing with them a number of unknown factors that must be taken into account. This is where Mind_Netz (Mind_Net) comes into play. This programme curates and distributes German-language content taken from media outlets run by German minorities – in eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States – via Facebook, VKontakte, Twitter and YouTube.

With the establishment of the ifa Akademie in 2016, which has a team of over 80 teachers, as well as advisers, and offers German courses, seminars and training programmes to provide high-level education and training on current topics in foreign cultural and educational policy, the ifa has set out on another new path. The ifa Akademie works within the EUNIC network (the association of national institutes of culture in the European Union), it works together with the academy of the German Foreign Ministry, with the ifa's Dialogue and Research area 'Culture and Foreign Policy', and also with research institutions, including the universities of Edinburgh, Siena, and Krems. 

"Welches Europa wollen wir?", AP live at the Kammertheater Stuttgart; photo: ifa / Möhrle
"Welches Europa wollen wir?", audience at the Kammertheater Stuttgart, 2017; photo: ifa / Möhrle

"Welches Europa wollen wir?" ('Which Europe do we want?') the ifa demanded in spring 2017 in its series 'Außenpolitik live – Diplomaten im Dialog' on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office. At the Stuttgart Kammertheater Jens Plötner, former office manager of Federal Foreign Minister Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed with citizens wether Europe is only an economic alliance of conveniance or if there is more behind it. 

But still, the 'classic' formats within foreign cultural and educational policy have not been neglected in recent years. The ifa has organised a number of touring exhibitions; conferences; the research programme 'Culture and Foreign Policy'; the German Federal Government's programme of lectures, which has been run by the ifa since 1995; the specialist library for foreign cultural and educational policy; the magazine 'Kulturaustausch' ('Cultural Exchange'); and a number of other publications. With all of these activities, the ifa is addressing the challenges posed by a globalised world.

New media and virtual living environments are speeding up communication and exchange, and creating new identity patterns, and migration streams are also making new cultural spaces possible. The equation that says one state represents one culture has long since been overtaken by reality. Acting in international networks (like the European EUNIC) means that one must seek cooperative agreements and involvement in global cultural discourses; the principle of dialogue implies not only cooperation on the basis of partnership, but in like measure, the willingness to change. The ifa is ready.

Udo. M. Metzinger works as a tutor and author among other things on the “Netzwerk Politische Bildung” (Network Political Education) at the Bundeswehr, at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich, at the Federal Office for Civilian Service and at the adult education centres in Leipzig and Munich.

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