7.3 Status and partnerships of public cultural institutions
The debate over the status of major cultural institutions has been going on since the second half of the 1980s. A great number of initiatives and demands to grant more autonomy to the cultural institutions and to relinquish state agendas were proposed. The restructuring of the "Association of Austrian Federal Theatres" is an example which demonstrates moves towards greater partnership or "divestment" between the public and private sectors.
A Federal Act on the Reorganisation of the Federal Theatres in 1998 created the Theaterholding GmbH, a holding company owned by the federal government, which has four subsidiaries organised as private limited companies: Burgtheater GmbH, Wiener Staatsoper GmbH, Volksoper Wien GmbH and ART for ART Theaterservice GmbH. The holding company has shifted its operative tasks and financial management to the subsidiaries, which can use their respective property free of charge. With this change, theatre directors are fully accountable for their financial management. The ART for ART, Theaterservice GmbH is an enterprise offering services in the fields of stage and costume design, storage and transport, building maintenance and stage engineering, ticket sales, as well as services in information technology (data processing). Since 2004, Burgtheater GmbH, the Wiener Staatsoper GmbH and the Volksoper Wien GmbH have each had a 16.3% holding in ART for ART. Arts matters are decided upon by the art directors who run the stages jointly with the commercial directors. The companies are supervised by a board, an arrangement which in turn involves the risk that the directors might be limited in their artistic freedom.
Severe budget cuts since the end of the 1990s have led to an intensified discussion on developing new forms of partnership. Some steps towards public-private partnerships have been made in the fields of audiovisual media, music, theatres and museums.
The opponents of privatisation in the cultural sector argue that, in diverting their responsibilities to the private sector, public authorities will decrease their financial support and more importantly leave "public responsibilities" in the hands of marketplace demands. The growing dependency on private funding is feared to have negative consequences on cultural development as economic motives and profit expectations would be placed above artistic and cultural goals. Most of the cultural institutions, of course, cannot live up to such economic conditions.
Further arguments against privatisation include the threat of negative financial, economic and professional consequences in the course of privatisation (e.g. the loss of job guarantees for civil servants, reduced salaries, reduced staff, etc.).