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An Arts Centre on the Move: Interview with Gasteig Director Max Wagner

Culture without borders, the joy of his work and the opportunities presented by a relocation: In an interview, Managing Director Max Wagner tells us what Gasteig München GmbH (GMG) means to him and what the future will hold.

Employees of the Gasteig walk down steps from the Gasteig in Haidhausen
Copyright: Benedikt Feiten/Gasteig

Off to new shores!

Max, why does the Gasteig need the GMG?

As the Gasteig’s operating company, we are the landlord and caretaker of the Gasteig and are tasked with ensuring the right ambience. On one hand, we provide a home for our resident institutions – the Munich Philharmonic, the University of Music and Performing Arts, the Münchner Volkshochschule adult education centre, the Munich Public Library and the Munich Chamber Orchestra – and on the other, we play host to the whole city, including the independent scene and everything that’s current right now. Our task is to provide a platform for art and culture and to make this as accessible as possible to everyone. I find that incredibly important.


So GMG stands for …?

… the big picture. GMG represents the Gasteig’s ideals. What makes the Gasteig so special is its diversity. Its mix of cultural offerings is second to none anywhere in the world. The GMG stands for the whole, including the big events that we organise ourselves, such as “Tanz den Gasteig” and “Der Gasteig brummt!”. Here we can bring formats that appeal to broad sections of the population and aim to also draw children to our venue. An important topic for me is cultural education. At the Gasteig, we have a unique range of resources in this area, as our institutes and the independent scene together shed light on different aspects of art and culture. That can be incredibly enriching.

Portrait of Max Wagner, Managing Director of Gasteig München GmbH
Copyright: Robert Haas/Gasteig

GMG has “Culture for Munich” as its motto and, as an employer, places great store on corporate culture. Internally, for example, we are all on first name terms. What counts?

I think that we can learn a lot from Eastern traditions about corporate culture. People only like going to work if they find fulfilment in both big and small things, feel respected for their strengths, and are allowed to take on responsibility to whatever extent they feel comfortable with. We want to flatten the hierarchies as much as possible so that we can focus on our purpose rather than getting lost in structures and procedures. I think that’s a route to happiness, and that’s a vital point for me.


How can we ensure that meaning and happiness do not fall by the wayside in our everyday work?

Very important is the “how”, i.e. how we interact, both with ourselves and as a team. That’s why we offer strengths and talents workshops to our staff, where they can discover their unique personality and practice the methods of non-violent communication. Feedback and honesty are important but should not be hurtful. What I would welcome is more personal initiative, mutual respect and thus more meaning and enjoyment on the job.


Talking of personal initiative: Two GMG employees recently travelled from the Gasteig all the way to Uganda to take the “Lab Uganda” multimedia culture truck to a refugee settlement. How did that come about?

It was a pure coincidence: I was on a walk when I met an acquaintance who told me that they were converting a truck into a cultural centre, which they planned to take to the BidiBidi refugee settlement in Uganda. I was immediately taken in by the idea – a mini-Gasteig that promotes culture and education, just like us, and that also connects us with the world. We allowed the project to present itself, complete with the truck, in front of the Gasteig in order to garner media attention. Two GMG stage technicians, Matthias Aull and Anton Hartmann, then accompanied the truck on their own initiative. I very much wish that we make Lab Uganda our social project and take care of the truck on location. Because it fits in perfectly with what I see as our task right now: to make people understand what culture is all about. Culture is what makes us human, it touches us and sets change in motion.

Gasteig employees and interested parties exchange ideas about technology and music in Uganda.
Gasteig technician imparts technical knowledge to interested parties at Lab Uganda.
The team of the project "Lab Uganda" together with Gasteig employees

Let’s take a look into the future: Where are the Gasteig and GMG heading – within the next few years in Sendling and after the return to the renovated building in Haidhausen?

The move allows us to break out of well-worn paths and take a close look at what is really important right now. We want to be ambassadors for culture and open up a lot more, get in touch with people, foster fellowship with each other; not impose and lecture, but ask: What can you offer? Come to us with what you already have, if you want. The process will take time; building trust takes time. I think it’s good to do unusual stuff, to grab opportunities whenever they arise. If we succeed, the Gasteig will reinvent itself and can then fill the newly refurbished building with all that we have developed in our interim premises at Gasteig HP8. The added value we bring is our community of the various Gasteig institutes. Networking and opening up – that’s our opportunity!

Interested in Lab Uganda?

Find out more on the project’s website