OPEN LETTER TO THE CITY OF VIENNA

Regrettably, these efforts of the Austrian Ombudsman Board [to investigate a complaint of the Jewish Theater of Austria] have been fruitless. Next, the Mayor simply alluded to the expertise of the responsible board of trustees, but refused to address more closely the problems associated with evaluation. Even when, at a later phase in the case, the Austrian Ombudsman Board insisted on a more detailed and precise explanation, he held to this line and merely referred to the difficulty of objective assessment of the quality of works of art: “These difficulties concern not only the measurement of quality in artistic achievement, but also the very quality and mystery of art. The measurement of quality is more difficult than the timing of a Grand Prix race or a great ski slalom.”
– Ombudswoman Terezija Stoisits,
Austrian Ombudsman Board, April 8, 2010

Dear Mr. Mailath-Pokorny,

For years, I have repeatedly requested the opportunity of a personal meeting with you. Having recently been assured by your spokesman that no such meeting will be granted, now or in the future, I am writing this in the hope that my concerns may still reach your attention.

For the eleven years since its founding in 1999, the Jewish Theater of Austria has been producing theater, above all, in Vienna, where the company has been based for nearly a decade. The first Jewish theater company in Austria since 1938, it is still neglected by the Office of Culture, despite its long-standing reputation for critical, quality contributions to our city’s artistic and cultural life. Given its proven dedication, resourcefulness, and the ability to produce professional non-profit theater, even without the government support that is normally prerequisite in Vienna, the position of your office is puzzling.

It is also troubling to think that our work, which emphasizes, among other things, reflection on the past and its meaning in our lives has been so firmly and consistently ignored by the government, especially considering Austria’s prominent role in the destruction of Viennese and European Jewry in the 20th Century, and the fact that the last surviving witnesses of that calamitous era are now few.

We have often voiced critical views regarding the myriad problems associated with political monopolization of centralized theater arts funding. In vain, we have sought discussion, resolution, and even legal recourse concerning questionable practices of the Office of Culture. In the process, we have learned some hard lessons about culture-political intolerance, prejudice, and secrecy.

Our experience has been unusually harsh. Without exception, every one of the many applications for support that we have submitted over a period of more than ten years has been rejected (on two occasions, the decision was later reversed), while some applications were rejected without even reaching the appointed committees. Objections have been voiced concerning the inclusion of the word “Jewish” in our company’s name. The Office of Culture has freely appropriated our ideas without reward or even acknowledgment. We have learned that punishment can be severe for criticizing “culture politics,” for addressing sensitive themes, and for exercising artistic and interpretive freedom, in particular, in the examination of the connections between “Jewish” and “Austria”.

It is of course unlikely that our company is the only victim of the callousness, prejudice, intransparency, and censorship that have been trademarks of “culture-politics” over the past decade. Although our company’s existence is threatened every day by the pointedly negative treatment of the government of Vienna through the Office of Culture, the Jewish Theater of Austria remains willing and insistent on the need to discuss these matters at this time.

Respectfully,

Warren Rosenzweig
Jewish Theater of Austria

Vienna, March 21, 2011

The Jewish Theater of Austria
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The biased neglect of the Office of Culture (Kulturamt), which effectively decides which artistic companies may or may not perform in Vienna through its control of the centralized budget for theater arts funding, makes us needful of your assistance.
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