The communes and cities (over 2 500) play an essential role in the policy-making level. The biggest cities count as well with their own cantonal parliament, making them autonomous articulations in the complex Swiss political structure.
On the municipal level, cultural affairs usually fall under the responsibility of a Head of Culture Department, implementing the cultural policy of the corresponding government council. Cultural administrations on the city level usually consist of very small teams with a broad portfolio of tasks, whereas the cultural offices of larger cities distribute responsibilities and areas of expertise among several employees. Tasks include:
- Support of cultural institutions that receive recurring contributions on the basis of temporary or permanent legal foundations;
- Promotion of groups and individual projects with production and deficit coverage contributions, as well as support of cultural workers via work contributions, scholarships, prizes and honorary gifts (often awarded based on recommendations from cultural commissions), with the provision of studios at home and abroad and the purchase of works of art;
- Development of cultural strategies, general cultural tasks and communication; organising cultural events.
One crucial committee is the Municipalities’ culture conference (Städtekonferenz Kultur, SKK, since 2010 (formerly: Conference of Swiss Cities for Cultural Affairs (KSK; 1984-2009)).Within the SKK, the cultural policy delegates of the member cities usually meet twice a year to determine strategies for Swiss cultural policy, pass resolutions, or issue statements. Cultural policy and the promotion of culture in Switzerland is undertaken jointly by the Swiss Confederation, the cantons, and the communes. The SKK, therefore, cooperates with the Swiss Federal Office of Culture (FOC), the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, and the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Culture (CCDC).
The current 32 members of the Municipalities’ culture conference are bigger and smaller cities – in relation to the total population: around half of the member cities have less than 35 000 inhabitants, and in addition to the largest Swiss city, Zurich (over 420 000 inhabitants), all five larger cities with over 100’000 inhabitants are members. Eligible for membership are all Swiss municipalities with a resident population of more than 10 000 people that perform a “central function” and promote culture at a professional level. SKK is the lobbying body of the cities to the cantons and Confederation in terms of cultural policy-making. On the international level, the Conference manages artists’ ateliers in countries such as Egypt, Italy, Argentina and Serbia (since 2020).