Alexandra von der Decken (27) graduated from Cultural Work and Arts Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Potsdam. She is currently full-time project manager for film & theater projects at the socio-cultural center “Kulturetage” in Oldenburg – a city in Northwest Germany. She is also the initiator, co-founder and culture manager (Financial Planning, Fundraising, Sponsoring) of the boundary transcending Freifeld Festival.
How do you define yourself?
I always get goose bumps, when someone calls me an event manager. Why? My work is clearly more than organizing a festival, or an event, for that matter. Yes, it is an important part that comes with-it, an important tool – but I define myself as a cultural worker/manager, because I influence and create society by producing and establishing cultural events.
What does ‘culture’ mean to you?
Our everyday concept for culture often summarizes the cultural forms like performing arts, music, poetry etc. My concept of “culture” is based on an extended idea of culture, which expresses a critical reflection on contemporary issues and societal change.
What kind of added value does culture give to you?
The added value of culture for me is the possibility to actively shape the societal change by creating cultural projects.
Being a cultural professional is…
seeing the world with the eyes of your inner child, questioning and inventing it.
What is the role of culture in your country?
I think for most people, the role of culture in Germany is still a part of their free time/ leisure. But you can observe a change. Since the importance of cultural education is growing at schools, culture is more and more part of life, especially in the personality development of children and young people. Furthermore the global interest in creative industries is changing the role of artists and cultural managers. They become more and more a central focus of politics, industry and players in urban development.
Can you sketch the cultural scene in your city?
Oldenburg is a large, modern city with 160.000 inhabitants, with a slightly rural character. There are plenty of classical public cultural institutions. Furthermore there is a versatile range of free theatre community, based on sociocultural movement from the 80’s.For a long period there has been no young, alternative, urban culture in Oldenburg. Mostly everything that happened, was based on collegial initiatives of the University Oldenburg; the shortfilm-festival “zwergwerk” is a good example. But in the last years a few young initiatives are discreetly developing in the city (an already well known example is the festival “Freifeld”). So the clear impression is: the generation change begins. Also the city endeavors to become a creative city, modelled after Hamburg, and so are the funding opportunities for artists.
How did you end up in this city? Why did you choose to work in this city?
Before I studied in Potsdam, I already worked in the cultural scene of Oldenburg. My name stuck and so I became a job offer after my diploma. Apart from that, Oldenburg is a nice city to live: not too small – not too big. That means short routes to the important places, which is good for my cultural work.
How is it for you to work in this cultural scene?
I like to work in Oldenburg, because there is enough space to create and make an effect. It is just exciting to participate in this generation change.
How can you define the position of the cultural professional in your city?
On my opinion the cultural professionals (in Oldenburg, but also in other cities) are still struggling with their identity. This reveals, particularly clearly, the poorly payment. In my opinion there is too little self-confidence about the value of cultural work and the job itself. Because lifeblood and energy for projects will not pay our rent. It’s an important contribution to society, and therefore it has to be paid reasonably. Fun is not a currency, and more often, the stress and uncertainty complicate that matter. Growing tomatoes pays the rent, because it is important. Cultural work is also.
How do you see the future for yourself as a cultural professional in your city, are there any opportunities here? And why?
At the moment I am certain that there are some opportunities. Suitable job opportunities occur mostly in the public cultural scene, in NGOs, in the creative industry and as independent entrepeneurs. But they are limited. Because of that, most of the cultural managers in our region are looking for jobs in Bremen, which is nearby, and Hamburg, which is a hundred kilometres away. For myself, I think a cultural professional has to invent their jobs and positions, so am I. I hope the voluntary work for “Freifeld” will be worth the effort and we can professionalize the association „Freifeld e.V.“ and create payed jobs in a few years.I think the next five years will be very exciting for young cultural professionals in Oldenburg. There will be more jobs, because of the change of generations from the socio-cultural field.
Furthermore I think more projects in the industries will be created, based on interdisciplinary working groups. The cultural worker can play an important part as a bridge builder, networker and translator of society developments. So I am confident: there will be more jobs in interdisciplinary contexts.
Are there initiatives in your country that help cultural professionals/artists at the beginning of their career?
There was no personal support at the beginning of my career, apart from the carrier service from the universities.
I like to catch up on news from the network “Kulturmanagement.net”. There is an active community and a good job market.
Did you do residency/internship/studies outside of your country? If yes, what differences did you see?
What tips can you give to other young cultural professionals?
Networking, Networking, Networking
Stay in contact with actors of politics, industries and cultural institutions.
Take heart! And break open old habits. Be a visionary of your generation.
Thanks a ton Alexandra!