Aarhus, capital of culture…and business

Cultural centers in the city claim to be non-profit organizations. Yet, in terms of making money, they are doing quite fine

The performance of Les Misérables attracted broader audience to the theater. Photo:Isak Hoffmeyer/Aarhus Teater

The performance of Les Misérables attracted broader audience to the theater. Photo:Isak Hoffmeyer/Aarhus Teater

By Julia Mandil

Something is profitable in the state of Denmark. More specifically, in the city of Aarhus, where art centers experience a good moment in business, with increases in audience and in ticket sales. As the city prepares to be the European Capital of Culture in 2017, institutions seize the moment to invest in new and experimental projects — but challenges lay ahead.

Aarhus Teater‘s communication team has reasons to celebrate. Last season’s results include a profit of 8.5 million kroner, as well as an increase in the average of people attending the theater in comparison to the previous years, ranging from 60 to 80 percent. Popular shows like Gasolin’, which had songs from iconic Danish band from the 70’s, and Les Misérables, a classic from Victor Hugo, were successful in attracting a broader audience.

Head of the Teater’s press, Morten Daugbjerg, praises the good moment, but highlights that profit is not the aim of the theater. He stresses that the mission is not to make more money, but to invest in new and different shows. Popular performances in the main stage are also a way to gather money that will be further invested in more alternative shows. According to Daugbjerg, during the last season even performances in smaller stages had a larger public.

99 problems, but money ain’t one

A common aspect among art venues in the city is the investment received from the government. While 80 percent of Teater’s account comes from the Ministry of Culture, Aarhus city hall spends 1.5 percent of its budget to culture, supporting approximately 50 institutions.

Being largely funded by the government has its compromises. Most of the institutions refuse to be called “commercial”, and want to reinforce their mission to use money in order to create opportunities for artists and companies.

In Djaubjerg’s opinion, money from the state implies in greater responsibility to invest. He says that the Teater already bought 16 new pieces to be performed in the next three years, as a way to give opportunity to new performances. “This is not a commercial theater”, he states.

Despite the ability to get funding from the government, there are some downsides in this relation for both artists and companies. At least that is the view of Ole Jørgensen, who works at the multicultural center Godsbanen. According to him, the lack of commercial spirit and competition can sometimes makes people and institutions not feel challenged – or free – to do what they want. But the fact that they can receive regular money does not stop people from wanting more money, he says, as everyone wants to continue putting projects into practice.

Students at the center stage

Getting money might not be a problem, but there are certainly challenges, especially when it comes to attracting audiences. According to the Program Manager of the Musikhuset, Mette Kier, an ongoing plan aims at structuring a program that is attractive for people all around Jutland, not only Aarhus.

Known as a ‘University City’, a large percentage of the Aarhus population is comprised of students, which can often signify young people on a tight budget. This group represents a significant audience for cultural centers and Morten Daugbjerg is aware of that. He wants people to see that, behind a fancy building that reminds one of a classic opera house, lies a cool and experimental theater. Next year, the center is planning to invest 1.5 million kroner to lower prices for students and youngsters.

The young students also represents a challenge in Ole Jorgesen’s perspective. He claims that, because many people leave town after graduating, it is hard to maintain business for a longer period. “It is a challenge to keep people here”, he concludes.

Julia Mandil is a journalist from Brazil. She is a contributor and the Business Editor for Jutland Station.