Solving the mystery of Kulturmasche

So, you ask, whatever does „Kulturmasche“ mean? And what does it have to do with community engagement? I had promised answers and admittedly I have been pondering over these questions since I first started this venture called blog.

When I started my new job as an Outreach Officer for a local Museum in England, fresh out of uni, I had quite a few discussions with friends and colleagues about the purpose of my work – isn’t outreach about luring people into museums?

Museum education, the argument went, is about developing tailored learning programmes for people who (mostly) enjoy vising museums and would like to find out more. Programmes for schools and other groups are enjoyed by the teachers if not all of the students. Targeted yes, special projects rarely.

Outreach is about tailored learning aimed at luring people into museums who would never dream of putting a foot over the threshold – a ploy, a scam, manipulation (these are all synonyms of the German word “Masche“. “Kultur” means culture, by the way). Always as a project, always different, always very few participants. A lot of work. Ineffective. Why bother? If they don’t want to, leave them.

Is this really the case?

In Germany, the term “Kulturelle Bildung“ accumulates a lot of methods and approaches similar to the notions of outreach and community engagement in the UK. It’s a very broad and highly differentiated term, I’ve gathered that much.

But could these approaches also be reproached of being a ploy (scam, manipulation – that is, a “Masche“)? I am intend on finding out:

What sort of outreach and community engagement in the arts (and especially in museums) is going on in Germany? What are they aiming to do? How do they do it? And how does this compare to my work in the UK?

I shall report here.

By the way, I don’t actually believe outreach – or “Kulturelle Bildung“ – to be a “Masche“ in the sense of a ploy, or a scam. I think it’s an approach to learning with a difference – and that’s a way to interpret “Masche“ in German as well.

In the end, for me it’s not about raising visitor numbers but about the people I help to discover culture for themselves – in whatever shape or form. And to encourage them to make it part of their daily lives. For the sake of getting goose bumps when listening to a great concert, the fun to be had when visiting a museum with the grandchildren or the Saturday afternoon gone by in a blink while dabbling in painting.

That’s what I call success when applying the cultural „Masche“.