Picture: Philip Morris GmbH
On the occasion of the Forderpreis "The power of the arts" for projects for the cultural integration of refugees and migrants
Philip Morris, the largest cigarette company outside China, is proud of its commitment to improving the world. That was made clear at a ceremony last Tuesday at the Berlin Academy of the Arts. On three floors of the Academy building on Pariser Platz, the Marlboro manufacturer celebrated the awarding of its Forderpreis for projects for the cultural integration of refugees and migrants. "The power of the arts" – This is the motto of the program, which was made public via a website of the same name.
For the prize money in a total amount of 200.000 euros, some 150 projects from all over the country had applied. The selection of the award winners was made by a prominent jury. The ceremony was attended by Hans-Jorg Clement, head of the cultural department of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Ralf Fucks, long-serving chairman of the Grunen-affiliated Heinrich Boll Foundation, as well as the new Volksbuhnen artistic director Chris Dercon, publicist Kubra Gumusay and art collector Erika Hoffmann. Only the jury members Lamya Kaddor and Nikeata Thompson were unable to attend.
After the reception with snacks and champagne, the winners of the 50,000.50,000 in prize money were introduced in short films. In the trailer of the Label M initiative, four young men in brand-name clothes can be seen jumping down a wall and entering an empty concert hall via a side door. On the stage they then do the jumping movements they know from rap videos on Youtube. In Saarbrucken, the initiative’s hometown, young people with an immigrant background were allowed to spray graffiti on a freeway pedestal and on other surfaces cleared by the authorities.
In the trailer of the award-winning Foundation Class, ten participants of a demand class at the Weibensee School of Art hold their cameras up to the camera. Refugees who consider themselves artistically talented are prepared here for application to a German art academy. Team leader Ulf Aminde wanted to change the art world in this way and ensure that "feminist positions and those that question the colonial canon will be" are given even more space than they already occupy.
Award winner 2017 – *foundationClass. Screenshot from YouTube video Power of the Art
The one shot film of the Kolner Initiative Un-Label was filmed in the garden of the Georg Kolbe Museum. You can see a couple from abroad who are blowing on each other. Behind the two stands a German with Down syndrome and gestures. This is to express that the project is equally concerned with the integration of migrants and the inclusion of the disabled. In the program booklet, participants report on their successes: "When we toured Turkey, we were driven by a grim bus driver, as you know how it goes. After a few days he became totally friendly …".
The name "Un-Label" indicates what will be emphasized several times during the course of the evening: The awarded projects show the label "Escape art" vehemently from themselves, they want to be "correct art" be recognized. The problem is that the performances documented in the program booklet and the trailers show less creativity than the performance of any theater group at a Berlin comprehensive school.
Perhaps the impression of arbitrariness is also created by the fact that refugees and migrants hardly get a chance to speak at the awards ceremony, although they sit in the front row and sometimes stand on the stage. Apparently, their German language skills are not sufficient to put their art concepts into words. Instead, the German supervisors speak. They represent a class of functionaries that has grown rapidly in the last two years in this country, and whose reputation and. Income depends on selling the integration of refugees as a success story. Who gets how much of the prize money, the supervisors leave open.
"So I have NO bad conscience"
The most vivid attempt to make the jury’s selection decisions plausible is made by juror Kubra Gumusay. But on closer inspection, her praise of the award winners turns out to be a staccato of empty decorative terms such as innovation, openness, appreciation or respect. Only once does the headscarf wearer, who owes her media presence to the claim that headscarf wearers have been discriminated against, slip the hateful word "respect "Capitalism" out.
But that doesn’t seem to bother Jorg Waldeck, who is visibly taken with Gumusay’s chirpy chatter. As "Director Corporate Affairs" he is one of the top lobbyists for Philip Morris in Germany. If you want to make a career as a manager in the multinational tobacco company, you have to accept being transferred to another country every few years. Maybe that’s why Waldeck can understand better than the average citizen the feeling of being uprooted that many migrants suffer from.
Waldeck is also visibly impressed by the way his colleague Elfriede Buben masters the evening’s most delicate moment. Presenter Tina Gadow has heard the criticism that the tobacco industry only awards such high prizes because it has a guilty conscience. "So I do NOT have a guilty conscience", counters Buben, which is acknowledged by the 200 or so guests with hilarity and relieved applause.
Elfriede Buben heads the Corporate Responsibility department of Philip Morris Germany, which calls for social and artistic projects at the cigarette manufacturer’s sites. This is intended to strengthen employees’ ties to the company. The Marlboro Group’s list of recipients includes.A. The Kunstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, the Dresden Art Academy and the Gasteig Cultural Center in Munich.
In addition to the company’s own employees, politicians, journalists and other public figures are among the target groups of the benefit programs. In a strategy paper published by the Corporate Affairs department in 2014, donations for charitable purposes are described as an important instrument for the "normalization" of the company and its products. The reputation of not running a normal business has been well earned by the market leader of the tobacco industry: for decades Philip Morris was able to make record profits because its management systematically downplayed the addictive potential and health hazards of smoking, which was done in close collusion with the other companies in the industry.
The health hazards of smoking have not changed fundamentally: Even today, around 40,000.000 people in Germany still die every year because they have consumed Philip Morris products. And the company’s lobbyists are still busy trying to defeat legislative initiatives to curb tobacco consumption. What seems to be changing fundamentally lately, however, is the attitude of the public: at least in the Berlin Republic, hardly anyone is interested in the dark sides of the tobacco industry anymore.