Guide to Public Project Funding in Germany

A guide by field notes Berlin

13 April, 2023 | Lisa Benjes

Grafik zum Thema

This introduction to public funding in Germany is part of our series on funding and the application process. Our guide provides an overview of the background and general framework for cultural funding in Germany, the specifics of German funding law and, in the final section, practical issues such as the application process itself, the procedures and where to find information on calls for proposals.

1. Public Cultural Funding in Germany
2. Culture and State Sovereignty
3. Federal Cultural Funding
4. Cultural Funding in Berlin
5. Institutional Funding vs. Project Funding
6 Types of Financing
7. Co-financing / Prohibition of Cumulation
8. Deciding on Funding Source(s)
9. Application Process
10. Who Decides and on What Basis?
11. Contact with the Institutions
12. Calls for Proposals
13. Sources

Public Cultural Funding in Germany

Public cultural funding provides financial support for non-profit, non-commercial, artistic and/or cultural projects. The autonomy of artistic work is considered a valuable asset in Germany, the legal basis for which is Article 5 of the Basic Law: »Art and science, research and education are free.« The principle of artistic freedom is intended to protect art and culture from state interference and ensure their independence from the free market.

These are the different focal points of cultural funding:

  • Maintenance of public institutions
     that primarily serve to promote culture (e.g. theatres, museums, libraries),
  • indirect cultural funding
     by creating favourable legal and social conditions (e.g. in tax, social and media law, through reduced admission prices, etc.),
  • direct economic aid in the cultural and media sector
     (especially in the production and distribution of films, through printing cost subsidies, for the establishment of cultural businesses, through rent aid)
  • promotion of »free« cultural activities
     (e.g. through awards and scholarships for artists and writers, support for private theatres or assistance for amateur associations, art associations, etc.).

Culture and State Sovereignty

Unlike in many other countries, funding for art and culture in Germany is primarily a matter for the states and local authorities (»cultural sovereignty of the federal states«). This means that German federalism is also reflected in cultural funding, which is intended to contribute to a broad artistic and cultural infrastructure in all regions across Germany. Public cultural funding is one of the few policy areas that can be organised by the respective levels of local, state and federal government with a high degree of sovereignty, according to their own objectives.

The cultural sovereignty of the federal states is laid down in Article 30 of the Basic Law: »Except as otherwise provided or permitted by this Basic Law, the exercise of state powers and the discharge of state functions is a matter for the states.« Article 28, paragraph 2 of the Basic Law also states: »Municipalities must be guaranteed the right to regulate all local affairs on their own responsibility within the limits prescribed by the laws.«

The responsibility for funding culture is enshrined in the states' constitutions. In Berlin, for example, Article 20 states: »The state shall protect and promote cultural life.« From a legal perspective, however, this does not imply an obligation to fund culture. Due to this lack of specificity, this is merely a voluntary undertaking. In North Rhine-Westphalia there is already a cultural funding law, and in Berlin, the Landesmusikrat (»State Music Council«) association is currently campaigning for one (information on the campaign, in German).


Federal Cultural Funding

Federal cultural funding is focussed on projects with a national or international scope. With around 2.3 billion euros, the federal government covers 17 percent of the total expenditure on art and culture. Instead of a Ministry of Culture at the federal level, Germany has a Commissioner for Culture and the Media with a wide range of responsibilities:

  • To continuously develop and improve the legal framework for the cultural and media sectors through federal legislation,
  • to promote cultural institutions and projects of national importance
  • to ensure the cultural representation of the state as a whole in the federal capital of Berlin,
  • to represent Germany's cultural and media policy interests in various international committees,
  • to promote nationally significant memorial sites dedicated to the victims of Nazi terrorism,
  • to commemorate injustice in the former GDR in co-operation with memorial sites and institutions.

Cultural funding in Berlin

Berlin's Senate Department for Culture and Social Cohesion supports the cultural landscape with around 600 million euros per year (as of 2020). Around 95% of the budget goes to over 70 cultural institutions that receive permanent institutional funding, and only around 5% to actors and organisations in the independent scene through funding of individual projects (including the Capital Cultural Fund).

In general, only non-profit projects and institutions are eligible for funding. Commercial cultural providers and projects can apply for economic promotion. In Berlin, projects are supported on the basis of the State Financial Regulation (Landeshaushaltsordnung – LHO) in the form of grants and subsidies.

Besides institutions and projects in the independent scene, Berlin's government also funds structures to improve the general conditions for the production, mediation and appreciation of art and culture (e.g. a studio programme, project funding for self-organised entities, and structural funding for marketing or qualification programmes). These structural funds are aimed specifically at benefiting the independent scene.

Institutional Funding vs. Project Funding

The state financial regulations distinguish between artist funding and project funding on the one hand and institutional funding on the other. Traditional individual project funding is used to support one-off artistic projects. In order to provide independent projects with some planning certainty, basic funding and venue funding offer groups and venues a planning horizon of up to two years. Concept funding (in the performing arts) generally even offers four years of planning certainty and is considered temporary institutional funding. Open-ended funding for series and festivals is also designed for periods of one to two years or four years.

Although there are individual efforts to create longer planning horizons, an overwhelming majority of independent artists and groups realise their projects exclusively through project funding. Acquiring project funding is therefore part of the core business of those involved in the independent scene. The pressure to constantly come up with new ideas and concepts for project applications is exhausting for everyone involved, and moreover, it hampers sustainable, long-term artistic development.

Types of Financing

Funding must comply with the principles of economic efficiency, frugality and expediency. Public funding is subsidiary to private commitment. The type of financing determines the extent to which a project is subsidised (in full or in part).

These are the main different types:

Partial funding:
The grant only covers part of the eligible expenditure. The funding for the remaining part must be provided by the grant recipient themselves or by a third party.

Partial funding is subdivided into:

  • Proportional financing: The financing is calculated according to a certain percentage (share) of the eligible costs. The grant may only be utilised in proportion to any grants from other funding providers and/or the grant recipient's own funds. The project's accounting is to be settled in accordance with the proportions determined in each case.
     e.g. 40 % of the eligible costs
  • Shortfall financing: The grant covers the remaining amount if recipient is unable to cover the full costs with its own funds or third-party funds. The grant may only be utilised once the grant recipient's own funds and/or any third-party funds have been used up.
    e.g. 100% - 50% (30 % own funds + 20 % third-party funds) = remaining amount

Fixed-amount financing
The grant covers a fixed amount (which cannot later be increased or decreased) towards the eligible costs. When the project's accounting is settled, the share of the public funding remains constant if at least this amount of eligible costs is proven (i.e. only the planned contribution from the project's own funds is increased or decreased). 
 e.g. 10,000€

Full financing
The grant covers all of the eligible costs. Neither the recipient nor a third party contribute funds.
The grant may be utilised as soon as it is required for payments due as part of the grant's objectives.
e.g. 100% of the costs incurred

Co-financing / Prohibition on Combining

The prohibition on combining means that a specific recipient may only receive a single grant from one state budget for a specific project. Funding must be categorised according to the foundation, state, federal and EU funding levels, whereby public funding programmes must be distinguished from private forms of financing.

For example, it is not possible to receive grants from two state funding programmes for the same project. However, as full financing of projects is the exception rather than the rule, most projects require co-financing from different funding sources.

Less experienced applicants are advised to combine only two sources of funding in a project, if possible, in order to reduce project management costs, e.g.: federal government + foundation, or federal government + state, or foundation + EU.

Example with two sources of funding plus income:

In practice, more complex combinations are also common. If in doubt, you can always contact the funding institutions with questions, especially as each funding level has specific characteristics and its own »rules of the game«. For larger projects, it is worth creating a plan with scenarios from several funding bodies: »If A doesn't approve funding, I'll apply to B…«.

Example with federal funding, state funding and a foundation:

In rare cases, an exemption from the prohibition of cumulation is possible. For example, if there are two distinct purposes that are being fulfilled, a project may be eligible for funding from two federal funding programmes.

From a strategic point of view, foundations offer the partial funding options that are easiest to combine with all other state, federal and EU funding programmes.

Please note: Some funding organisations require a project to contribution its own funds. Institutions must contribute their own funds especially if they wish to raise additional funds for special projects. Own funds, not to be confused with private funds, must come from the project itself (e.g. income from ticket sales).


Transparency for parallel applications

Proportional funding requires projects to acquire funding from different sources. However, it is important that projects submit the same budget to all funding organisations and inform all funding institutions about applications to other funding programmes. This holds true especially when applying for funding that is mutually exclusive. If an approval for funding is received, a parallel application to another funding body must be withdrawn immediately. A non-transparent procedure may lead to the funding being revoked. In general, the various funding institutions are well networked with each other, so violations of the obligation to notify are easily noticed. On the other hand, the organisations cannot be expected to obtain information on the individual funding sources of all projects themselves.

Deciding on Funding Source(s)

A lot of time and effort can be saved by selecting funding pots carefully. Each organisation provides funding under a specific cultural concept and has their own approach when it comes to funding art and culture. Before the actual application is submitted, it does not hurt to consider where a concern is best placed, or which aspect fits beset with which funding body (e.g. artistic excellence, education, inter-/transcultural aspects).

Is there a sponsor whose funding purpose matches my intentions exactly or can I formulate my intentions in such a way that they – credibly – correspond to the funding organisation's concept and approach without compromising the artistic idea?

A rough orientation is also provided by the breakdown of the different levels of funding, from foundations, to state, federal government and EU, each of which has different tasks:

Application Process

Application procedures can have either one or two stages, with one-stage procedures being the standard for cultural funding. In two-stage procedures, the first stage involves submitting an outline. The full application is only submitted once this has been evaluated and accepted. In one-stage procedures, the application is submitted immediately. The respective programmes or guidelines determine the corresponding procedure in each individual case.

The process is usually the same: The project concept is the starting point, followed by a search for suitable funding programmes, and then a review of all funding criteria (see also our articles on the subsequent steps »Writing an Application« and »Accounting«). In some cases, calls for proposals that focus on specific topics also provide inspiration for concepts.

It is very worthwhile not to wait until the last minute to write applications. The more detailed the artistic concept is presented, the higher the chances of success. An official venue confirmation, which is often time-consuming to obtain, is often a necessary formal requirement for submitting an application. The list of participating artists should also already be known (and requested). Only in rare exceptions will juries appprove a carte blanche. Agreements with the artists and partners almosy always take longer than planned.

Who Decides and on What Basis?

In Berlin, independent advisory boards and expert juries assess the applications. These are assembled by the cultural administration (occasionally including suggestions from the relevant advocacy groups) in as balanced and diverse a manner as possible, according to professional suitability, and they are reappointed at regular intervals. All decisions are published and recorded in the state's central grants database.

The initiative neue musik berlin e.V. (inm) is an exception in the Berlin funding landscape. On behalf of the Senate Administration, it annually awards the state of Berlin's project funding for independent musicians and ensembles in the field of contemporary music. inm's membership, which comprises large sections of Berlin's contemporary music scene, decides on the composition of the jury itself. The independent jury is elected for a two-year term and decides on the distribution of funds for project funding, subject to the decision on the respective budget of the state of Berlin.

The Senate Department for Culture and Social Cohesion in Berlin describes the basis for the selection of projects as follows: »Funding decisions are based on the principles of transparency, procedural fairness and equal treatment. Decisions on project funding and scholarships are made according to the application principle and on the basis of comprehensible criteria, in particular of artistic quality.« Opinions differ on the question of how comprehensible the criterion of artistic quality in particular is. In addition to artistic quality, issues relating to financing, the plausibility of the project, the level of professionalism in implementation and, of course, formal aspects are also key factors in the assessment. Further criteria or recommendations can be found on the websites of the respective funding organisations. In addition to the usual criteria, aspects of diversity, accessibility and sustainability are increasingly taken into account in the assessment of applications.

In the case of permanent institutional funding, the House of Representatives in turn decides as part of the preparation of double budgets. In recent years, most of the former state cultural institutions have been made legally independent so that operational responsibility could be transferred to the respective foundations, limited liability companies and LHO establishments. As part of its management role, the cultural administration ensures that the requirements for the use of public funds and the purposes of funding are continuously monitored.

Contact with the Institutions

At first glance, many funding organisations seem strict and inaccessible with their bureaucratic language and regulations. However, most funding organisations, including the Senate Department for Culture and Social Cohesion, are staffed by people who have strong personal ties to cultural life, who want to make projects possible, and who want to help applicants avoid the pitfalls of funding law. The organisations are happy when applicants see them as partners and seek dialogue. Solutions to problems can usually be found if agreements are made in advance. However, it is difficult to iron out mistakes that have already been made.

Calls for Proposals

Calls for proposals can of course be found on the respective websites of the funding organisations. Furthermore, there are also numerous counselling centres that gather and publish information on various funding opportunities.

In our newsletter for professionals, we also share announcements on current calls for proposals.


  • Die Bundesregierung: Staatsministerin für Kultur und Medien. Kunst- & Kulturförderung (2023), ULR: (Stand: 13.02.2023)
  • Die Bundesregierung: Staatsministerin für Kultur und Medien. Staatsministerin Claudia Roth - Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien  (2023), ULR: (Stand: 13.02.2023).
  • initiative neue musik berlin e. V.: Förderung (o.D.), URL: (Stand: 13.01.2023).
  • ptJ: Basiswissen Projektförderung (2023), URL: (13.01.2023).
  • Senatsverwaltung für Kultur und Europa: Berliner Kulturförderung (2020), URL: (Stand: 13.01.2023).
  • Qualitätswerkstatt Modellprojekte: Arbeitshilfe. Strategische Fördermittelakquise und Kofinanzierung (01.02.2019), URL: (Stand: 13.01.2023).
  • Wissenschaftliche Dienste des Deutschen Bundestags: Formen und Instrumente der öffentlichen Kulturförderung in Deutschland einschließlich Hilfen der Europäischen Union (31.05.2006), URL: (Stand: 13.01.2022), S. 3.
  • Projektförderung

For further reading

Marta Stankevica, CC BY 4.0 Woman_Writing_a_Letter

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