The Bare Essentials: Independent Art Spaces

It is no secret that Berlin is an art mecca. An estimated 5,000 artists swarm to the city each year to set up camp and pursue their creative dreams – and with the hundreds of galleries and art venues in the city, who can blame them? Whilst plenty of commercial galleries exist in Berlin, the city is also home to a large network of "Independent Art Spaces"––over 150 of them, in fact. This got me thinking: what the hell is an independent art space? Is this moniker mere PR propaganda? We traveled to the (often overlooked) district of Wedding to find out.

Trudging around in the March-time snow, our search of independent project spaces was harder than expected. Despite compiling a list with the the help of the Kolonie Wedding initiative, many of the places we visited were closed or unmarked and elusive––seemingly non-existent. After trailing down multiple streets, the feeling in our extremities long gone, we finally found a lead in the form of independent art space: Rosalux. According to its founder, Tiny Domingos, our unfruitful search was to be expected. Of the places' invisibility, he says, “This is absolutely normal. There is no funding, no advertising, no money––no nothing! But still, we exist.”

Independent Struggles

I quickly witnessed that for many, managing an independent art space is a labor of love. People who run the spaces may have to juggle jobs in order to sustain their projects as there is no government funding available for their plight. Tiny (who translates texts to support his own project) says “We do it for passion, we love it. That's the paradox of Berlin: it's a city with the most project rooms in the world and no funding, and in a time when the city is becoming more expensive.”

Does a photoautomat constitute an independent project space? Photo: Chris Phillips Does a photoautomat constitute an independent project space? Photo: Chris Phillips 

Despite this current lack of funding, things have began to change. Last year, the chief of the department for contemporary art funding in Berlin, Ingrid Wagner, recognized that there was a need for funding such project spaces. As a result, a prize was established to award seven different project spaces cash funding in order to "assist them and preserve the existing diversity" of their programs and make the activities of art spaces and initiatives "more visible."