INTERVIEWS The Man with the Giving Hand

It is not just a matter of money for Kay Dam Steffensen, who is director of the Bikuben Foundation. The focus should always be on the project and its social ramifications, he believes. But he can never entirely ignore the money.

By Mikkel Stjernberg - - 01 October 2002

Kay Dam Steffensen does not like being called the man with the money. It takes the focus away from what it is really all about and, as managing director of the Bikuben Foundation, he would rather talk about the various projects in which the foundation is engaged than the checks it writes.

"The purpose of the Bikuben Foundation is to make it into the history books. It is that simple.  We are not interested in hoarding money forever. The whole idea of the foundation is to consume itself over the next 15-20 years by initiating projects that may lead to social change and development for the better," he says.

These projects are close to the heart of the 63-year old director, and the Bikuben Foundation places a great deal of stock in reaching beyond mere economic interest - including taking the initiative in projects, which is unusual for a foundation.
For example, it was the Bikuben Foundation that four years ago took the initiative to establish the Reumert Prize for theatre in Denmark, which is now well recognized by artists and the public.  Kay Dam Steffensen himself was typing away at the keyboard, when the introductory and concluding ideas on the prize were being committed to paper, and the Reumert Prize illustrates quite well how the Bikuben Foundation works.  Hard work and soul go into all its activities.

Not always checks
That is why, among other things, people do not necessarily always walk out of the Copenhagen headquarters of the Bikuben Foundation with a check in hand.  In fact,  Kay Dam Steffensen uses most of his time in quite ordinary conversations with many of the artists to whom the Bikuben Foundation has committed itself.
"They stop by regularly.  For example, if they need to chat about where they are in their careers and how they can move forward.  It is not as if I am their guidance counsellor.  We just talk about things like regular people and I think it is fantastically rewarding that they can use me in this way," says Kay Dam Steffensen.

On the other hand, he recognizes that it is impossible to avoid the topic of money completely, since, when it comes down to it, that is what gets the projects on their feet.  As former bank employee, he does not hesitate to speak his mind, when it comes down to dollars and cents.

"Money is a necessary evil for the realization of these projects and, of course, we look at how it is going to be used.  Like any other financial institution, we are interested in ensuring our investment," he says.

Hans Christian Andersen 2005
Hence, it is also inevitable that Kay Dam Steffensen must assume the role of the man with the money in a wide range of contexts, and he has accepted this as a natural part of the work.  This was also the case with the Hans Christian Andersen 2005 project for which he in May 2002 had the pleasure of writing a check for 80 million Danish crowns on the condition that the money was be used with no requirement for any economic return.

"We are not interested in holding on to money at any price, if it can be used to instigate a healthy and creative development in society.  Cultural life has a special place here at the Bikuben Foundation. A society cannot function without culture. That is what makes us whole human beings and binds things together, and the way for cultural life to grow is every so often to provide talented people with opportunities they otherwise would not have had."

With its massive financial support for Hans Christian Andersen 2005, the Bikuben Foundation hopes to create a platform for a series of artistic productions and experiments that may become cultural turning points and give the celebration of Hans Christian Andersen an international resonance. The 80 million Danish crowns are also dedicated to artistic projects.

"Hans Christian Andersen has a special magic that speaks to the whole world, and we imagine that we will be going to turn him this way and that way in an attempt to see him in his entirety both through classical and modern eyes. Using Hans Christian Andersen as a lever and a source of inspiration for living artists is for os a natural way of doing it."

Good Old Hans Christian Andersen
Kay Dam Steffensen himself would like to see the good old Hans Christian Andersen as a part of the project. Perhaps in modern dress, but fundamentally a Hans Christian Andersen that retains a sense of nostalgia.

"I'm OK with the fact that some may deride his sex life and other aspects of his life that are not so well known, but for me, it does not matter whether he was this way or that way, and I would be very sorry if such perspectives were to characterize Hans Christian Andersen 2005 too much.  It is the author and writer of fairy tales we should focus on and preserve."

Kay Dam Steffensen says this particularly because, through the project, he has become aware of how great a body of work Hans Christian Andersen has left behind and how many different artistic and philosophical facets may be found in his works.

"Hans Christian Andersen would have been pleased with this celebration, and undoubtedly proud of all the attention he will receive over the next three to four years. That is why it is so important that we carry out the project in his spirit and look at him from every angle in such a way that he himself would nod in recognition. One thing at least is certain: There will be no lack of goodwill on our side in achieving that goal."