Sponsorship and
Neo-Liberal Culture




Digression: political companies

In 1995, the magazine “Die Beute” published an essay by Mauricio Lazzarato on Benetton and Berlusconi, which proved to be extremely influential for the debate in sponsorship-sceptical circles, because in it, the dominant role of cultural techniques in the new post-Ford corporate strategies was emphasised, where “.... aesthetically justified decisions” were linked to “political and public-strategic considerations via certain forms of presentation.”[38] Lazzarato took the example of Benetton and Berlusconi to prove that a new type of political entrepreneur is being formed, who, following the production of added-value, is now producing experience (which is also added-value) and can thus emotionalise and politicise public spheres for himself. The “raison d‘être of production in the post-Ford corporation” lay “not so much in the increase of sales as in the production of subjectivity,” which “comes increasingly to resemble political action.” Benetton was one of the first companies to give up the centralised manufacture of clothes, in order to react more flexibly to current fashions and cycles by distributing production to small firms which, while nominally “independent”, were totally at the mercy of the company placing the orders. Benetton is a company “...without workers, without factories, without a distribution network... The added-value results from the channelling and control of currents, above all financial and communication currents.” (ibid.) The communication and administration apparatus which manages this decentralised production must function in optimum fashion, just as the chains of shops organised on the franchising system must have a significant image at their disposal, which functions by way of a link-up of the market with key political stimuli. The Benetton PR campaigns formed the most demotic interface of an avant-garde enterprise with new artistic and art-institutional self-images. “Benetton is a branding machine for goods produced by other people, and the fulfilment of this label is a specific form of public relations which works with emotionalisation via social, ethnic, and political clichés: the subject who wears Benetton has the same devotional relationship to the multicultural fatefulness of the disasters of this world as do the potential collectors and the “affected” admirers of Douglas Gordon’s video-installations of the inmates of psychiatric institutions.”[39]

On the other hand, the reasons for these forms of image production also applied very exactly to sponsorship as the new corporate strategy. This is documented by an extract from a specialist legal article on the subject: “In today’s affluent society, characterised by shorter product life-cycles, increasing supply, internationalisation of markets, and a constant increase in the flow of information, communication policy, as a component of the company’s marketing, takes on substantial importance... The market situation is getting increasingly difficult, however, because the ever-larger supply of information is leading to the recipient thereof being overloaded... Phenomena such as zapping (switching channels as soon as commercials appear on radio or TV) along with a systematic shutting-out of advertising messages, are well-known. In reaction to the recognised... inefficiency of communication policy... marketing practice has developed the idea of sponsorship as a new form of communication policy... From the point of view of commercial enterprises, the advantages of sponsorship can be summarised as follows: it addresses target groups in non-commercial environments... the attitude of rejection among certain target groups... is less pronounced as a result... The image and the attention-value of sport, the arts, social commitment and the environment can be used for the direct promotion of one’s own aims. They are positive image-bearers... By means of sponsorship, communication can be realised on a target-group-specific basis... By means of sponsorship, existing communication barriers, in particular existing advertising bans and restrictions, can be circumvented. In addition, image-advertising can be placed in circumvention of the requirement that advertising be kept separate from editorial content in the editorial section of the medium in question.”[40]

Lazzarato’s assertion that it is precisely not the economic benefit – increase of sales – which provides the raison d’être of the communication-strategic company, but rather the claim to political hegemony, is confirmed once more in numerous concepts on the fringe of the sponsorship idea: e.g. corporate community investment. This concept reels off the neo-liberal multiplication-tables and the hegemony claims of commercial enterprise in such exemplary fashion that we shall quote it too at some length here:

"1. The positive development of our social system depends on citizens increasingly pushing back the scope of action of the state and its overblown, difficult to control organs, and to do as much as possible with the help of commercially run organisations.

2. Citizens... may be natural persons primarily, but in view of the effects of their activities, and their accumulated know-how... legal persons also bear a special degree of civic responsibility. The technical American term for this is “corporate citizenship”.

3. Commercial companies have... a huge interest in being seen as good corporate citizens, because this is the only way that markets can be guaranteed in the long term.

4. Business must press for rapid deregulation and privatisation, as this is the only way to reduce the tax burden and push back the influence of bureaucracy.” [41]

It must be emphasised once again that this is not a recipe for an actual conspiracy by business against the state, but that these highly exaggerated concepts, in their pseudo-pragmatism, are, rather, reflections of ideologies and dispositions.

Postscript: Does culture go on purpose – 2000

In aeroplanes one occasionally finds location-advertisement brochures which answer the “Does culture go on purpose” problem in an up-to-date version. This postscript updates the material on the Frankfurt museum boom and offers a rival foretaste of Berlin’s cultural planning: “For almost two years the local planning authorities have been working on a development concept... The mayor’s office envisaged an Urban Entertainment Centre for the eastern part of the site, with a musical theatre, large-scale cinema and shopping mall... The city administrators and local politicians in their turn hope that the inner city will be revived by these entertainment complexes... Just as the owners of the land were getting ready to sign contracts regarding an extension of the trade fair and the Urban Entertainment Center (which had already received planning approval), the Deutsche Bank pressed forward with a gigantic project in the summer of 1999... On what used to be the fringe of the railway tracks, the bank now intended to create a whole new quarter from scratch at a cost of more than 6 billion marks; it was to include, alongside a multi-purpose hall and a football stadium, also a “Stadthaus” (civic centre) with museums, a theatre and cabaret, and a huge shopping mall and six new tower blocks... This “Fair Town” project was partly justified by saying that Frankfurt had to be made more attractive for high-quality service industries from abroad. While the city had a reputation as an international financial centre, its lack of striking urban eye-catchers meant that it could not really occupy a top position among its rivals. The architect responsible for the project, Helmut Jahn, described his concept as a “container for 21st century society”, which would unite culture, services and residence in a single visionary urban form.”[42]


We land in Berlin, where we shall pursue the manufacture of the label Young Berlin Art. Even the functionaries of the label proclaimed this spring that Young Berlin Art was now only the “latest-but-one thing”. We shall see that the neo-liberal understanding of creating a public as marketing practice is now being translated both by the state and private sectors into a form of modern nationalism.

This could hardly be captured more precisely than in Malcolm McLaren’s description of the model for the German location label, Brit-Pop: “Today our culture can be summed up by these two words – authenticity and karaoke... Karaoke is mouthing the words of other people’s songs, singing someone else’s lyrics... Life by proxy, liberated by hindsight... Karaoke is the good clean fun for the millennial nuclear family... Here in “Cool Britannia” where I live, everyone is a celebrity because the nation (whatever it is) is such a star that everyone who lives in it is by implication a star as well... Tony Blair, our Prime Minister, knows this fact very well – he is in essence the first karaoke Prime Minister.”[43] Young Berlin Art cannot be regarded independently of the simultaneous image campaigns of Berlin speculative architecture, whose dedication to investing in the reconstruction of the capital grew louder in proportion to the size of the projects and the scandalous cheapness of the land.[44]

At the same time, “reconstruction” and “the new Berlin” have become meta-concepts in society, which can signify both the unification-national re-writing of divided German-German history and the neo-liberal restructuring of companies and the state. One cannot simply dismiss the idea that these meta-concepts and their approach receive some support from the discussions on the New Right in the arts pages of the Spiegel, Frankfurter Allgemeine and Die Zeit in the early nineties, which themselves had their roots in the “historians’ dispute” of 1986 and continued, having been given a new dynamic through being adopted in unexpected quarters – right up to the Frankfurt Book Fair speech by Martin Walser in 1998, whose equivalent in the art world was provided by Paul Maenz’s statement that he “was no longer proud of being ashamed to be German”.[45]

All of Berlin’s cultural PR apparatus deals in the city’s special historical location-emotions (re-unification, Cold war, Nazi thrill, the Twenties, Prussian Schinkel Neo-classicism etc.) But it is precisely the similarity of the communication management of major building sites and major exhibitions which reveals the extent to which political and investment interests are intertwined in the “production of capital-city identity”. An intertwining of which it would be wrong to maintain that private capital is trying to influence a neutral public sector for its own purposes. Rather, what we have is a social contract between the new generation of corporate bourgeoisie (the beneficiaries of privatisation) on the one hand, and, on the other, a political apparatus (the beneficiaries of nationalisation) which has undergone a process of corporate and re-unification ideological reform. If – as was described in the digression on Benetton – – the “production of a public” was debated as the epochal changeover from the classical production paradigm of added-value formation, this must now be extended to the production of an awareness of nationhood, equivalent to the added-value-forming techniques of the post-Ford corporation by the attachment of brand labels to all existing cultural resources. Exhibitions like “Deutschlandbilder” [Pictures / Images of Germany], “Das XX. Jahrhundert” [The 20th Century], the Berlin Biennale or “Children of Berlin”[46] work together with “Partner für Berlin, Gesellschaft für Hauptstadtmarketing GmbH” [Partners for Berlin, Society for Capital City Marketing Ltd.]. This company came about as a measure for “reconceiving the marketing of Berlin as a location”.[47] Its shareholders comprise functionaries of the city arts department, media corporations and private firms which have invested in Berlin’s property market – including Daimler-Benz (debis), ABB, Siemens, the Bredero/Fundus/Haschtmann group, Roland Ernst, and the Holtzbrinck publishing group. Berlin had, it was said, “the potential [to become] one of 50 ‘power regions’ [sic] such as Shanghai, Atlanta, South Korea, Silicon Valley”. The goal of “Partners for Berlin” was “for the public in Germany to take a positive attitude to the capital city, for the investment climate in Berlin to be positive..., for Berlin to regain its old status among the capitals of Europe and the world.”[48] This restoration intention mostly uses the 1920s as it political matrix, which is often grotesquely over-played. Although in Berlin much is made of the difference between “conservative” institutions and the young art scene, the identity of the communication marketing and the “partners” of “Young Berlin Art” is unmistakable. “Berlin is a city... whose geographical location and recent political history mean it is associated throughout the world with the start of a new political world order.”[49] The Berlin Biennale opened in this tone in 1998, the same time as the Kunstmesse art forum and the Sensation exhibition in Hamburg Station, the latter bearing the mark of the Britpop example. One day later, the debis complex on Potsdamer Platz was inaugurated, and on the next day, the anniversary of unification, the galleries staged their “concerted action” campaign. This holding of cultural events on national holidays is even being continued with the Children of Berlin exhibition in New York: “In a series of events, “The New Berlin” introduces itself to New York on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Wall. The activities focus... on the young art scene in the capital, said the managing director of the “Partners for Berlin” marketing company, Volker Hassemer, who is authorised to speak here on behalf of “Children of Berlin”. City Arts Minister Peter Radunski (CDU) will... open... the exhibition... One day later, the consul-general of the Federal Republic of Germany and the marketing company are issuing invitations to a “Berlin Dinner”... at which young artists and media entrepreneurs from the German capital and from New York will meet.”[50]

A sightseeing tour through Mitte, the central district of Berlin: in contrast to the historical matrices of bohème and city – they extend from the Situationist Internationals to the London club scene – which arose between the poles of social struggle or social misery, Mitte has been from the outset a “liberty”, occupied by initiatives, self-organised clubs, project-brokers and junior partners at the same time, without the small but pronounced time-shift which otherwise characterises gentrification processes. The scene-formation memoirs of Young Berlin Art in the catalogues of the Berlin Biennale and Children of Berlin[51] are imbued with legality in the same carefree way in which young West German enterprises described their Zero Hour origins while repressing their fascist continuities. Only now things are more dynamic: demonstrate a vitalist synergy of initiatives, come together, be in progress, ignoring the agreements and connexions between big capital and the new political apparatus, as if in order to manufacture the empirical objectivity, the autonomy of a laboratory situation, in which once again the free play of forces is demonstrated, in which market economy designs itself from itself. The Mitte district is often described in memoirs with the attribute “empty”, which suggests a neutral area for experimentation, but in fact means not being defined as private property. In this definition process, which at the same time is a process of extinguishing the non-private-enterprise history of the GDR, Mitte is instinctively associated with the government label “neue Mitte” [new centre, “Third Way”]. No distinctions are any longer made between culture management, clubs, media companies, sponsors and artistic production or party-political propaganda.


Two examples of concrete business relationships.

Following this highly exhaustive reply to the editor’s questions, we should like to end by appending two concrete examples to these ideas of sponsorship.

1. The draft contract of the Arts Sponsorship Working Group

The current draft of a sponsorship contract by the German Industry Working Group on Arts Sponsorship shows extremely clearly the extent to which private business believes artistic practice to be capable of providing services. When the sponsorship discussion turns to interference rights and speaker positions, it has not hitherto been made clear – in spite of the apparent public negotiability of the matter – how great a say sponsors imagine they will in fact get in return for what financial support. The Working Group was formed in 1993, in order firstly to create a lobby to press for tax relief for sponsorship activities, and secondly to organise symposiums and congresses which were, over the years, to test public acceptance of the conditions and claims which companies could demand of their sponsorship partners. It would take us too far from our subject to pursue the demands and the lobbying made by this Working Group and its publications (the White Paper, the Green Paper, the Blue Paper). They culminate in a sense in the current draft contract, which the Group has recently published.[52] The striking thing about this draft document is that it defines “mutual transaction” in a very one-sided fashion; this definition comes in a detailed and far-reaching catalogue of demands on the part of the sponsor. The demands are as follows:

§ 1 Exclusive rights to sponsorship: here at least the possibility of co-sponsorship is conceded.

§ 2 Advertising rights: “Indications on admission tickets, invitation cards, exhibition posters, other posters, leaflets, websites etc.” A mention in the exhibition catalogue. There is no suggestion that this “package” can be split up.

- Special admission rights to the exhibition; special guided tours for “company-relevant persons”, in the context of which particular attention is to be drawn to the role of the sponsor once more. It should be noted that these tours, which serve the purposes of internal Corporate Identity, are to be provided by the institution, which thus becomes an executive arm of this Corporate Identity.

- The right of the sponsor to make a speech of welcome at the inauguration of the exhibition. This represents a direct interference in the autonomy of the artistic sphere.

- The right to film and photograph the exhibition, and to use the result for “the company’s own communication”. This communication is totally beyond the control of the recipient institution. What goes into this communication, in what form and in what tone, are matters that need to be subject to negotiation and defined more closely.

- The right to use the title “Sponsor of the xyz Exhibition” for the period of the sponsorship, and to use the official logo of the exhibiting institution – a grossly vulgar and arrogant attitude, but one which ultimately only redounds to the discredit of the sponsor.

- Appropriate mention of the sponsor in press releases: “The press platform shall... be fitted out in such a way that the support of the sponsor receives due attention... Representatives of the sponsor shall be given the opportunity to make statements at press conferences... The sponsor shall in addition have the right after prior consultation... to distribute information material regarding its products to representatives of the press.” Press conferences are held primarily to explain the event and its content. They are often an important and sensitive component of the institutional and artistic work at the same time. The idea of welcoming speeches by middle managers, who have no specialist knowledge of the subject of the exhibition, and furthermore, are occupied in distributing advertising brochures, is so gross that it could even have the effect of damaging the company’s image.

The obligations of the sponsor are by no means so clearly formulated. It is striking that payments are always to be made in instalments, so that the sponsor retains the possibility of control throughout the various phases of the project, and the institution, having performed its costing in advance, remains dependent on the sponsor.

§ 4 is the only section to formulate a certain protection for artistic independence. It prohibits any direct advertising measures in connexion with the exhibits themselves. This definition of independence thus relates exclusively to the works of art. It demonstrates a totally obsolete understanding of artistic processes.

2. The contract negotiations for the “Messe 2ok” fair

Very few artists or curators intervene critically in sponsorship discussions. This points either to unsullied faith in the continuation of state subsidies, or to the fear of getting into bad odour with future financial backers. Thus there are unfortunately few examples in which draft contracts have been put forward on the initiative of artists or art institutions. And yet these drafts, even if they are not accepted, serve to formulate a view of what is right and proper – and one which is diametrically opposed to that set out above. One example is represented by the negotiations between the Siemens Culture Programme and the “Messe 2ok” arts fair.[53]

The Siemens Culture Programme offered the organisers of the “Messe 2ok” sponsorship to the tune of 40,000 deutschmarks; a contract was proposed, which, as the basis of co-operation, listed the following points:

- the independence of the organisers vis-à-vis the sponsor was to be preserved; the sponsor was not entitled to exercise any influence regarding the content of the individual contributions to the event, nor on the total image of the event;

- the public-relations measures were to be independent of the Siemens Culture Programme. Particularly in the arts sphere, “image” is put across largely by prior announcements using various media: advertisements, invitation cards, posters, the arts press etc. In this process, media practice is dictated to the artists, whether they are attached to the sponsor or to the institutions, as expertise whose basis cannot be questioned. Hence the demand for the inclusion of the following points in the contract:

1. Press conferences and releases were to be left to the organisers; no public relations material was to be produced or distributed by the Siemens Culture Programme.

2. The production and distribution of invitation cards or posters was to be left to the judgement of the organisers.

In return, the sponsor was to be mentioned, and its logo placed, on all relevant printed material, and the company was offered the right to use the event in all its own communications. These three rights were, however, to be the subject of more detailed negotiation.

Further points were:

- The limitation of the company to a purely financial “promotion role”. This was directed against the demand by the Siemens Culture Programme to turn this role into an initiative of its own and to describe it officially using the formulation “An initiative of...” After all, the event was not “initiated” by Siemens.

- the right to involve other sponsors

- the contractual status of the negotiations for the totality of the co-operation.

There was a spoken agreement on these two points at first, but they were rejected in the concrete negotiations on the contract.

It became obvious that what the sponsors were demanding was:

- global mailing in Siemens envelopes; press relations to be under the control of the company;

- rejection of organisers’ independence, i.e. interference in the organisation

- an obligation to pass on all information relevant to the event.

When in the fourth round of negotiations the conditions were not accepted, the organisers rejected any co-operation.

These two examples show what sort of effect the ideological debates can have on the actual relations between sponsor and the institution seeking sponsorship. It is our urgent desire that institutions and artistic intermediaries take a greater role in sponsorship negotiations. This does not mean passing demands through on the nod, nor does it mean idealistic rejection gestures, but rather a self-confident commitment to the values and moral awareness of an independent cultural statement, and not least to the rights of all those involved beyond worries about their jobs and budgets. What is urgently needed are solidarity concepts and lobby strategies between the artistic institutions and associations, without getting into a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis state and private backers as a result of fear of mutual competition. This demand may sound naive in an area where solidarity has always meant a loss of profile. But it should take account of the fact that if solidarity were to happen nonetheless, this brief advantage must be exploited, in which – triggered by the astonishment of the business – that typical mix of “alternative models” and “corporate” comes about, before the agents and the newly won-over take their conventional places once more.


[38] Mauricio Lazzarato, Benetton und Berlusconi, in: Die Beute, 2/95. At the same time, the discussions of the Italian theoreticians Lazzarato, Negri et al., who stood in the Operaist tradition, an alternative to the conventional Marxist economic critique, in which the concept of work was still the central category of added-value production, a thesis which in view of the divergence between unemployment figures and profits charts is becoming less and less tenable. Cf. the continuing discussion on the “end of work”, Jungle World, 1st half 2000

[39] Creischer / Siekmann: Reformmodelle, loc.cit.

[40] Neil George Weiland, Rechtliche Aspekte der Sponsoring, in Neue Juristische Wochenzeitschrift, No. 4, 1995

[41] Rupert Graf Strachwitz: Corporate Community Investment, in: Leitfaden für Sponsoring und Eventmarketing, ed. Hans-Willy Brockes, Düsseldorf 1995. Strachwitz is managing director of the sponsorship agency Mäcenata GmbH, and lobbyist in various initiatives.

[42] Klaus Ronneberger, in Andreas Siekmann: Aus Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, ed. Prikus, Frankfurt a. M. 2000

[43] Malcolm McLaren: Karaokeworld, in Nu, No. 1, Copenhagen,1999

[44] We can unfortunately not go more deeply here into the capital-city fantasies resulting from the restructuring of Berlin. They are revealed for example in the rehabilitation of late 19th century and national-socialist models in the New-Berlin city planning debates. Let us mention here just one of the numerous examples of image production, to stand in for the rest. Debis (the services subsidiary of Daimler Benz) organised, on the occasion of its topping-out ceremony, parades of workers through the Brandenburg Gate, something that was strongly reminiscent of GDR agitprop (cf. Christiane Post: Proletarische Kultur, ANYP 8, Berlin 1997). Many political and artistic groupings protested vehemently against “capital-city architecture” and Berlin city planning in the 1990s, cf. Baustopp/Randstadt, ed. Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin 1998.

[45] The issue in question was the comparability of national socialist with Soviet crimes, in which the historian Nolte went a step further and implied that the concentration camps were only a reaction to the Soviet Gulags. Nolte has recently been awarded a prize.

[46] This bon mot is obviously reference to the motto of the new German right: “I’m proud to be a German”, quoted by Peter Herbstreuth, Keine Angst vor Blitzgewitter, Tagesspiegel, 17.12.98. Paul Maenz, one of the central gallery owning figures on the Cologne scene in the 1980s, is now, with his collecting activity and his art-business background one of the authorities on the Mitte [Berlin] art scene.

[47] Deutschlandbilder, curated by Eckhardt Gillen, Berlin 1997: “Deutschlandbilder” saw itself as the first comprehensive presentation of the development of art in the two German states since 1933, and was intended in addition to prove a continuity of a search for national identity, by accusing “a politically correct consensus” of repressing national identity.
Das XX. Jahrhundert, curated by Joachim Schuster, Berlin 1998 – both exhibitions undertook a comprehensive look at West and East German art, aiming for the national homogenisation of cultural developments in East and west Germany.
Berlin Biennale, curated by Klaus Biesenbach, 1998
Children of Berlin, ditto, New York, PS 1, 1999 – these two exhibitions saw themselves as the start-up of Young Berlin Art.

[48] Matthew D. Rose, Berlin, Hauptstadt von Filz und Korruption, Munich, 1997, p.142

[49] ibid.

[50] Der Tagesspiegel, 22.10.99

[51] Children of Berlin, ed. Miriam Wisel / Peter Herbstreuth, Berlin 1999
Berlin/Berlin, catalogue of the Berlin Biennale, Stuttgart 1998

[52] The draft can be found at http://www.bdi-online.de under Organisationen; Partnerorganisationen Kulturkreis der Deutschen Wirtschaft

[53] The draft contracts and a report on the negotiations can be seen in ÖkonoMiese machen, loc.cit.