20 Years After German Unification – Critical Perspectives of Berlin Artists


Background: This project will engage American students, artists, and leaders from the business, government, and non-profit sectors in enlightened conversations with a select group of 10 artists from Berlin, Germany. All of the selected artists lived on both sides of the Berlin Wall and suffered disadvantages -- some were even imprisoned -- as a result of their free expression through art in former East Germany.

Universal values such as freedom of expression, courage, optimism, endurance, commitment, risk-taking, and others will form the basis of the interaction with the art and the artists.

The artist group is comprised of 1 sculptor, 7 painters, and 2 photographers. Each will display art in an exhibition that will travel to 5 metropolitan cities across the USA. Co-curators of the exhibition and dialogue are Jeff Thinnes and Professor Helen Frederick. In 2009 Jeff Thinnes formed the Breakthrough Art Organization, inspired largely by his experiences while living in Berlin during a time of historical change (1990-93) and the insights he gained through his association with artists from former East Germany. Professor Helen Frederick, a highly-recognized Washington, D.C.-based artist and a Professor of Art at George Mason University, will help lead the ultimate design of the exhibitions and catalog.

The primary sponsor of the “Breakthrough!” program is the Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany from funds of the European Recovery Program of the Federal Ministry for Economy and Technology (ERP). Additional support has been provided by a variety of foundations in Germany and the US.

Five cities will be selected to serve as hosts for the Breakthrough program based upon their willingness and ability to assist with local costs, provide quality space for the exhibitions and discussions, assure strong community interest, and provide contacts to schools and universities, local government officials, business leaders, local media and to the German-American community. So far, four cities have been selected. In Nashville, Tennessee Breakthrough Art Organization is partnered with the First Amendment Center and focused on basic freedoms such as free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, etc. In Aspen, Breakthrough is partnered with the Aspen Institute to host the exhibit from mid-July through August. Washington, D.C. will host the exhibit from late September through most of October to coincide with celebrations of German Unity day on October 3rd. In Washington, D.C., Breakthrough Art Organization is partnering with the world-renowned Newseum for the educational outreach aspect of the program and with the beautiful Edison Place Gallery in central Washington for the art exhibit. In San Antonio, the University of Texas at San Antonio will host the exhibit where one of the focuses will be on the presence of walls and the effects of those walls on our society.