16th year of Malá inventura festival is preparing the first ever meeting with representatives of the Berlin Performing Arts Program, which is part of the Berlin-based association of artists in the field of performing arts (LAFT Berlin). With Felix Koch and Nathalie Frank from Berlin, but also with Petr Dlouhý, we will look for the possibilities of cooperation between the Berlin and Prague performing arts scene.
Can you briefly describe the structure of LAFT Berlin? What was the start-up moment for the foundation of your organization?
Felix Koch: The LAFT Berlin is a non-profit member-based association with several projects and working groups open for all members, who volunteer their time. Beside the voluntary structure, there are three different projects funded by the European Union or by the state of Berlin: The Performing Arts Program, the Performing Arts Festival and the LAFT Berlin Space Coordination. The staff of the three projects is working mostly part-time since a lot of employees are working also outside the LAFT as professionals in the independent performing arts community.
Nathalie Frank: LAFT Berlin was founded in 2007 by a small group of enthusiastic professionals like performers, directors and producers who saw a powerful and creative artistic diversity in the city but a lack of communication and financial means within the community. They started to strengthen the solidarity among independent artists as well as to improve working conditions for themselves and other professionals working in the field of independent performing arts in Berlin. So, we organized ourselves as a community in order to express political demands and financial demands with one strong voice when talking to politicians and funding institutions.
Did you have any inspiration or example from abroad?
Felix Koch: There were colleagues from other regions and cities who started such a member-based association before, so their experience and support pushed the final decision for the foundation in Berlin. And of course, there have been other attempts to join forces in earlier years which got forgotten eventually. The contemporary dance community organized itself already some years earlier, so for sure their structures and experiences have been an inspiration too.
What are the biggest pitfalls or obstacles?
Felix Koch: Hm… Perhaps one of the biggest pitfalls is at the same time one of our biggest achievements. Within ten years, the LAFT Berlin grew enourmously. What started in 2007 with a group of maybe 20-30 people became an organization with more than 350 members by now. What started with a group of volunteers who put a lot of effort into the political work beside their own artistic work became a larger structure with voluntary services on the one hand and paid work in the funded projects on the other hand. It’s an ongoing task to keep the balance. We are working carefully in order to stick to our basic ideas such as solidarity, grass-root-democracy and the will to strengthen the structures of the whole scene in the city. We still keep the momentum of organizing ourselves as a community and we established various ways of direct communication and decision-making open for participation.
Do you cooperate with some other “city scene” networks? Who can become a member?
Nathalie Frank: In order to become a member of LAFT Berlin, you should consider yourself as a professional in the field of independent performing arts and be officially registred as a citizen of Berlin.
Felix Koch: And yes, we are cooperating with other networks in various ways. Every cooperation could be different because every new connection to another city scene might involve different questions, different common interests. As one example I could mention the cooperation between festivals of indenpendent performing arts communities from various German cities and the Performing Arts Festival in Berlin which is happening again in June this year, from 5 – 10. Another example is the cooperation with ACT Sofia.
Nathalie Frank: But of course we are also keeping close links to other art scene networks within Berlin. We work together in solidarity to raise awareness for cultural issues in the city, join forces for symposia and other events, or cooperating to find solutions for the need of using rehearsal and event spaces in the city, which has become one of the biggest problems in Berlin due to ongoing gentrification.
What expectations do you expect from a meeting in Prague?
Nathalie Frank: We are happy about the interest in Berlin’s independent performing arts scene and share an equal interest in Prague’s scene. We hope to learn more about the community in Prague as well as to find common interests and first steps towards an exchange of the two city scenes.
Is there anything particular that has delighted you in the field of culture? Or disappointed?
Felix Koch: Oh, there is too much to tell! But just to mention one of many points: I am recently delighted by various attempts in the field of culture to counter the almost world-wide drift towards right-wing politics. Also within the independent performing arts community we can tell stories and present ideas which help to imagine a world with more freedom and solidarity instead of less, and which eventually motivate people to think about this and to work for it.
What are your wishes?
Nathalie Frank: You mean in general? I would say as an organization we hope to be able to continue our work and to keep learning and growing further – not necessarily in numbers but in terms of experience, in terms of partners and cooperations, in terms of knowledge and visions which can help us to continue shaping our own working conditions. Personally I wish that the independent performing arts community keeps moving, keeps changing, keeps producing beautiful, self-determined and mind-opening projects.