Switzerland/ 3. Competence, decision-making and administration  

3.2 Overall description of the system

The current constitutional basis confines federal involvement in cultural policy to a small number of sectors, such as film (funding of film production and distribution, festivals, professional training), nature and heritage conservation, languages, and educational and cultural activities of national interest including foreign affairs. There are 26 cantons and more than 2 352 cities / communes in Switzerland. These are the major players in cultural promotion, and they set their own priorities and act mostly independently from one another. The five major cities (Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne) play a particularly important role and determine the public debate and discourse on culture. Altogether, they provide over 80% of cultural funding at city-level.

The great heterogeneity among the cantons, cities, and communes only allows for an outline of the wide range of activities undertaken with more or less emphasis subject to the financial situation, the number of inhabitants, cultural traditions, and several other factors:

  • definition of cultural policy programmes;
  • support for institutions, organisations, programmes, and individuals;
  • operation of their own programmes and institutions; and
  • awarding of prizes and honours.

The main federal players, however, can be described in a more direct way:

The Swiss Federal Office of Culture (FOC) actsunder the responsibility of the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA). The FOC is the expert authority of the Swiss Confederation for cultural policy, cultural promotion, and the preservation of culture. It supports the development and implementation of cultural policy on the federal level, and prepares decisions to be taken by Parliament. It also plays an important role in areas of general interest like language policy, minorities, etc. Its promotion activities comprise three areas: cultural heritage (national heritage protection and conservation, transfer of cultural assets, museums and collections), cultural work (film, honours and awards, supporting cultural organisations), and the grassroots promotion of culture (language and communication policy, music education, reading promotion, transient populations, and Swiss schools abroad).

The Pro Helvetia Foundation, otherwise known as the Arts Council of Switzerland, is 100% funded by the federal government. It acts independently in a wide range of cultural sectors, including the visual arts, music, literature and the humanities, theatre, dance, culture, and society. Article 32 of the new Culture Promotion Act describes Pro Helvetia's tasks as follows: "The [Pro Helvetia] Foundation shall promote the diversity of artistic and creative work, make known Swiss art and culture, foster popular culture, and nurture cultural exchange." Pro Helvetia supports projects in four different ways: applications for support (which amount to approx. 70% of the financial resources at its disposal), within its own programmes (approx. 10%), via its network of cultural centres and liaison offices abroad (Cairo, Cape Town, New Delhi, and Shanghai). Further, it maintains a cultural centre in Paris (CCS), and is the principal financial backer of the Istituto Svizzero di Roma (ISR) and the Swiss Institute in New York (SINY) in partnership with the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI); approx. 17%). Also, it provides information and promotion materials (approx. 3%).

For the last few years, Pro Helvetia has been undergoing structural reform. The recently enacted Culture Promotion Act (2009) determines that, with immediate effect, the Federal Council (i.e., the Federal Government) – and no longer the board of the Pro Helvetia Foundation – should define the strategic aims to be pursued by the Foundation. The possible effects of this change will become evident in the next few years.

Within the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), Presence Switzerland (PRS) promotes the image of Switzerland abroad. PRS is also responsible for implementing the FDFA's cultural foreign policy and for realising cultural projects in cooperation with Swiss delegations abroad. PRS also works on a project-basis, in partnership with the Federal Office of Culture and the Pro Helvetia Foundation.

Within the FDFA, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supports the promotion of the arts and culture of developing countries, both in Switzerland (mainly film and music) and in the respective countries.

Private players like sponsors, foundationsetc., play a major role in the Swiss cultural sector as compared to other European countries (see chapter 3.1 and chapter 7.3). It is estimated that private foundations disburse between CHF 1-2 billion per annum; between CHF 300-500 million of this sum is used for cultural purposes. Due to the tradition of private involvement in cultural promotion (see  chapter 1), as well as the system of subsidiarity, whereby the allocation of public funds is in practice considered contingent upon the inclusion of private involvement, it is fair to assume that a very substantial share of contributions are made by private enterprise. However, no current figures are available.


Chapter published: 12-11-2014


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