"A conversation that knows no end"


Writer, literary and cultural scholar and university lecturer Thomas Ballhausen has been head of the Inter-University Centre for Science & Art since October 2023. A conversation about his new role at the "interface".

Since October 2023, you have been the new head of the Inter-University Science & Art Centre, a cooperation focus of Mozarteum University and Paris Lodron University Salzburg - how was the "new beginning" for you in an institution that is the "intersection" of two universities, not least in terms of personnel?

It was indeed a big, but very pleasant change for me. I experience the management of Science & Art (W&K) as an organic extension of my other academic and artistic activities, which I continue to pursue. I was also able to familiarise myself with this immensely exciting institution, a highly competent, committed team and all the tasks associated with W&K several months before I took up my position as deputy to my predecessor Elisabeth Klaus. That was ideal and made my start much easier. I see the management role as a great responsibility and it was always clear to me that I would only take on this role with the broad support of the team working there. I want to live up to the trust placed in me, not least because the many important tasks there can only be accomplished in good co-operation. For me, this change also means concentrating more on creating the best possible framework and shaping the conditions for success. Working at the interface between science and art has always been important to me in my career to date, and now I can advocate for this even more strongly and hopefully also more visibly.

You have taken over the agendas from sociologist and communication scientist Elisabeth Klaus and have a background in literature and film studies - how will your background influence W&K?

My background and research interests will certainly play a role, as was the case with Elisabeth Klaus - albeit a rather subordinate one. As director, I want and need to keep an equal eye on all areas of W&K and pay close attention to all the needs within the organisation. And in the three distinct programme areas and the newly established, also clearly interdisciplinary doctoral college, which should definitely continue to work as autonomously as possible, I am pleased to find many topics that correspond with my questions and concerns. I will therefore also be able to actively organise my role as director thematically, but I am also aware of the necessity and value of a manager who literally has his or her team's back and acts with a strong awareness of the structural work that is often perceived as unpleasant but is urgently needed. I see these as central and, not least, enriching aspects that are not contradictory for me. I see opportunities here to shape and further develop an organisation that is unique in its thematic and methodological diversity, based on a joint, honest negotiation process. This is a dialogue that knows no end and therefore produces results.

You teach at the Department of Scenography at Mozarteum University, you are a writer, together with Elisabeth Klaus you received the International Main Prize for Science & Research of the City of Salzburg last November, you are an editor, literary scholar and cultural philosopher - against this background, W&K seems to be made for you.

Within the very diverse activities at W&K, we facilitate constructive encounters between disciplines, approaches and, above all, people who contribute their expertise so that we can explore the questions arising from these connections - within the framework of academic interdisciplinarity, but, what is also very important to me personally, also with an impact on society as a whole. We have the wonderful opportunity to pose and contextualise questions about the challenges we face today and bring them into interdisciplinary contexts. With W&K, we have something to offer, not least a wide range of event formats, study supplements, an interdisciplinary doctoral programme and general participation in a wide variety of discourses. Partly because of my artistic and scientific background, I am convinced of the necessity and appropriateness of agonal discourse participation, a competition of ideas. This is also how I see the prize awarded, which is clearly an honour for the entire team and the important work being done here. In addition to honouring Elisabeth Klaus and our collaboration, I also see this prize as a mandate to continue on W&K's path and initiate innovations. The prize money can be used to finance sustainable developments for W&K, such as projects in the areas of diversity, artistic research or support in the development of submissions.

"Cultures in transition" is the guiding theme of W&K 2024 to 2028, what aspirations, projects or ideas are behind this theme? What wishes do you have for the future of W&K?

We start the new programme area period in October and I think it's a very fitting title. In line with this motto, on the one hand we will continue to pursue a course of practised methodological diversity, critical discourse and active, sometimes even resistant, engagement with current challenges. On the other hand, we will continue to develop and change as an institution, precisely because the programme areas are opening up to new forms of cooperation, formats of knowledge production and knowledge transfer according to self-defined rules. W&K can contribute to an overall social impact, especially in Salzburg, without simply making itself subservient. This is also a reality of global perspective and local activity. I see myself as a bridge builder and therefore I hope that we can continue to create spaces for encounters, the development of new knowledge and, above all, dialogue, even in a present characterised by radicalisation and exclusion. For me, art and science are not a luxury, rather they are indispensable necessities of life for true democracy. This is what I want to work for and stand up for - in other words, for contemporary work that is diverse in the best sense of the word, at the interface between an awareness of tradition and a forward-looking approach. With all these demands, however, I am also aware that the unconditional will never be the unconditional. In this respect, I therefore maintain a sense of humour, humility and tolerance of ambiguity.


(First published in the Uni-Nachrichten / Salzburger Nachrichten on 8 June 2024)

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