The debate over the status of major cultural institutions started in 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 Bundestheater Holding GmbH, owned by the federal state, which has four subsidiaries organised as private limited companies (Burgtheater GmbH, Wiener Staatsoper GmbH, Volksoper Wien GmbH and ART for ART Theaterservice GmbH).
The Bundestheater Holding GmbH has shifted its operative tasks and financial management to the subsidiaries, which can use their respective property free of charge and the theatre directors are fully accountable for their financial management. The ART for ART Theaterservice GmbH offers 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 and data processing. The subsidiaries each have 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 (of Burgtheater, Staatsoper, Volksoper) might be limited in their artistic freedom.
The federal museums also have been undergoing a process of change with regard to their organisational, juridical and economic structures. The most crucial reform has been the decision to grant full legal status to the federal museums and transform them (and the Austrian National Library) into scientific institutions under public law in 1998 – an important step towards more autonomy.
Since 2010, a debate on the national museum policy, planning and collection policy and governance started. The museum regulations were revised and reformulated, and framework objective agreements came into force, setting priorities and sharpening the profiles of the individual institutions to achieve better transparency of the collections and to promote digitalisation. Following an evaluation and the Weißbuch Museumsreform (2017), the Federal Minister for the Arts and Culture announced the establishment of a secretary-general for the federal museums in 2020 to support the chairperson of the museum directors conference. Furthermore, a Bundesmuseen Service GmbH is to be established of which the secretary-general will be the managing director. Due to the government crisis in 2019, this process is currently put on hold and is postponed.
A trend towards outsourcing cultural institutions can also be observed in the federal provinces and municipalities. For example, the Niederösterreichische Kulturholding (NÖKU) brings together more than 30 artistic and scientific institutions under common strategic objectives. Another example is Theaterholding Graz/Steiermark GmbH, which has been responsible since 2004 for the group management of Graz theatres and the strategic management according to the long-term cultural policy and economic objectives of the companies.