Businesses in Leipzig provide practical support for the city’s vibrant cultural and arts scene.

“We searched long and hard for a new way of supporting cultural activities – one which didn’t involve government funding or cultural sponsorship by major companies. We wanted something new that would be easy to organise and would provide hands-on help for the cultural sector. It also needed to be open to small organisations.” Jörg Müller, 37, is an entrepreneur with a strong interest in the independent art and cultural scene. He knows where support is typically needed and says it often involves very basic matters such as accounting, publicity and legal advice. In 2008, Müller assembled a group of committed individuals from the worlds of culture, business and politics to address the problem. He had originally encountered “Kulturpaten” cultural partnerships in Cologne. The concept – which means “cultural godparents” – encourages members of the business community to provide practical help and support to cultural organisations. “It was exactly the model we’d been looking for,” says Müller. The Leipzig team adapted the concept to meet the needs of their own city and were up and running after just seven months of preparation. “The response from both the business and the cultural side was fantastic,” recalls Müller. Some 134 partnerships have been created since then.

KulturPaten comes to the rescue

One such partnership is between VisionBakery and Leipzig’s “Buchkinder” book initiative. At Buchkinder, children can tell their own stories in books they create themselves, from the initial concept right through to design and printing. In 2013, the organisation faced a major problem when the lease on its existing premises was terminated. Although Buchkinder quickly found a new home in the creative western part of Leipzig, their problems got bigger rather than smaller. “We needed 10,000 euros to cover the renovation and moving costs. But we had no idea how to raise that kind of money,” recalls Birgit Schulze Wehnick from the organisation’s management board. “The help we received from Leipziger KulturPaten was fantastic.” Leipziger KulturPaten put them in touch with VisionBakery, a recently established Leipzig company specialising in crowdfunding. They hit it off immediately and a new cultural partnership was born. “We fund creative ideas via our online platform. Anybody can donate any amount of money in exchange for a reward,” explains VisionBakery’s director Stephan Popp, outlining their business concept. “We presented the project on our website under the title ‘A new home for Buchkinder’ and also provided help and advice to Buchkinder. Effective use of social media is crucial with this modern form of financing.”

The plan worked, with over 200 people donating around 16,000 euros in one month. “We simply couldn’t believe at first that we’d managed to collect so much money,” says Birgit Schulze Wehnick. “The cultural partnership made it possible for us to renovate our new premises and move in.” It was also an excellent result for VisionBakery: “As a start-up, we couldn’t afford to provide significant sums in sponsorship, but social commitment is very important to us. The cultural partnership made it possible for us to deliver that support,” says Popp.

A Saxon idea spreads across Germany

The concept of cultural partnerships as practiced in Leipzig has now spread throughout Germany – to Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden. Meanwhile, the strong commitment of the Leipzig team has earned them several awards. In 2011, the cultural partnership scheme received Saxony’s Art and Culture Initiative Award; in 2012, it was selected as a landmark in the “Land of Ideas” competition, and in 2014 it won the Agenda 21 sustainability award presented by the city of Leipzig.