The 26 Cantons are responsible for cultural policy initiatives and their funding. Alongside the municipalities, they are significant players in cultural promotion within Switzerland, holding power to set their own priorities and act mostly independent of one another. In the 1960s, the first cultural laws were drafted and voted on in various cantons. There is also regional intercantonal cooperation in the context of cultural promotion: in 2017, for example, the Conference of Cultural Representatives of the Cantons of Eastern Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein (KBK Ost) launched the four-year pilot funding programme “Buch und Literatur Ost+” (framework credit of 400 000 CHF) to strengthen books and the literature network through cross-disciplinary research and collaboration.
The five major cities (Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Bern and Lausanne) play a particularly important role in driving public debate and discourse on culture. Altogether, they provide over 80% of cultural funding at city-level. They also act as members of the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Culture (CCDC).
The great heterogeneity between the cantons, cities and municipalities only allows us to give an outline of the diverse activities here. Their action is subject to the financial situation, the number of inhabitants, cultural traditions, and several other factors. Some of their competences are to:
- define cultural policy programmes;
- support institutions, organisations, programmes, and individuals;
- operate their own programmes and institutions;
- award prizes and honours.