Vienna Declaration

On 17 May 2024, Wiener Festwochen, the largest crossover festival in Europe, proclaimed the Free Republic of Vienna to 36,000 people. A Council of the Republic was established in order to draw up guidelines for a ‘festival of the future’. Today, on 23 June 2024, the inaugural first year will come to an end with the publication of the Vienna Declaration – the constitution of the Free Republic of Vienna.

Why does an arts festival need a constitution? The values, ideas and rules that are presented here have entered curatorial debates for years. Today, we are issuing the Vienna Declaration in order to make explicit rules out of implicit ones, to turn ideological debates into concrete decisions. Only a transparent framework makes it possible to work together on equal terms. The Vienna Declaration is a decisive step in the direction of establishing a ‘festival of the future’, based on the cultural policy mandate of the Wiener Festwochen as a transdisciplinary, producing and international festival.

Two notions recurred throughout the Council of the Republic debates. An institution that aims to open up and change must first recognise that it is part of the problem. Structural exclusion is constantly replicated. On the one hand, a city festival has to address the people of a city, include them and listen to them. On the other hand, an international festival has to answer to the global nature of art and open up to the artistic and social practices in the world. We need to develop quantifiable parameters to these ends, to be evaluated and adjusted every year.

The Vienna Declaration was drawn up by the Council of the Republic, a board of eighty Viennese citizens. They are people from all districts of the city; they include school students, apprentices and university students, employees and freelancers, people without jobs and people in retirement, people who have grown up here and people currently seeking asylum, people of all genders and sexes, people with and without disabilities, people with a range of different biographies, migration histories and paths through life – as firefighters and teachers, as artists, child psychiatrists and publicans, in social services and in law, as doctors and behavioural biologists, activists and after-school teachers.

For five weeks, sixty experts from the fields of the arts, culture, politics, sciences, activism and civil society explained their positions on the transformation of the Wiener Festwochen to the council. Almost a thousand statements and suggestions were exchanged in ten sessions. What is the art for our age? How can a festival radically transform its socio-political goals?

The following declaration provides a direction. From autumn 2024 onwards, several council sub-committees will work on concrete measures to be implemented in the festival incrementally during the coming years. Experts, partner organisations from the City of Vienna, from Europe and the entire world will continue to be invited, heard and involved in the implementation process.

A versatile programme needs versatile perspectives. Programme design must not be the privilege of a small group of curators. The Free Republic of Vienna will therefore introduce an alternating advisory committee for the programme with local and international expert members.

Second: Comprehensive structural change instead of lip service. The Free Republic of Vienna will define binding quotas for invitations, co-productions and new productions. The global womxn composers platform Academy Second Modernism serves as an example.

Third: The festival belongs to the audience – including the audience that has not yet joined. The radical interconnection of programme design, publicity measures and price policies will serve to call all members of society. The Volksstück/pièce commune, which toured the entire city in cooperation with 23 partners, is a first step in this direction.

Fourth: The political handprint is as important as the ecological footprint. The Free Republic of Vienna will develop a sustainable production, presentation and touring model together with partners from throughout the world. It will provide a stage for the socio-ecological transformation.

Fifth: Change begins inside the institution. Only a team that reflects the entire scope of society can stage a festival that is relevant to the city and the world. The Free Republic of Vienna will aim to depict the whole range of urban societies in its staff structures.

Sixth: Debate instead of backroom diplomacy. The Free Republic of Vienna will develop plain processes and public formats that can be called on in case of controversies and when demands are raised to exclude guests or cancel artistic projects.

Seventh: The stages of this city are for the people who live in the city. We will develop arts projects together with local communities every year. In line with a modernism without borders, we hold that global exchange fosters urban diversity.

Eighth: The Free Republic of Vienna turns theatre into a space of debate. In order to negotiate social realities, we need formats that allow for quick and sustainable reactions to current events. The debates triggered by the Vienna Trials are a first example for this.

Ninth: We are committed to a respectful working environment and against every form of discrimination and violence – in front of, on and behind the stage. Codes of conduct will be developed and implemented together with expert support.

Tenth: Who finances the Wiener Festwochen, who reaps the profits? The Free Republic of Vienna will reinforce measures for the critical examination of the past and present income and fundraising structures of the Wiener Festwochen GesmbH with regard to social and climate justice.

Translation: Nadezda Müngersdorff

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