Switzerland has four official languages and consists of four distinct cultural regions. At over 25%, the proportion of the country’s foreign population is high by European standards. The principle of cultural diversity is of great importance in Switzerland, given the coexistence of diverse languages and cultures in what is a relatively confined geographical area. Fostering cultural diversity is integral to the self-image and core remit of all the country’s cultural institutions.
Article 1 of the Culture Promotion Act, which came into force on the 1st of January 2012, stresses the need to foster cultural diversity: it emphasises both exchanges between cultural and linguistic communities in Switzerland as well as cultural exchange abroad. The definition of aims in Article 3 of the same Act highlights the strengthening of cohesion and cultural diversity in Switzerland, as well as providing its population with access to culture, and facilitating such access. Accordingly, Article 8 prioritises especially those projects which enable or facilitate access to culture, and that contribute to the safeguarding or development of cultural or linguistic diversity.
In 2008, Switzerland ratified the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions of the 20th of October 2005 and the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the 17th of October 2003. Both conventions are reactions to the tendency toward the standardisation and impoverishment of cultures as a result of the influence of globalisation. They commit the signatory states to foster cultural diversity and safeguard the intangible cultural heritage even more strongly than before and call upon them to engage in enhanced international cooperation, specifically by supporting the UNESCO funds.
The Federal Office of Culture plays an important part in integrating cultural minorities into Swiss society. For this reason, it has played an instrumental role in developing a Languages Act (2010), which has been enacted to give precedence to the fact that Switzerland is a multilingual and multi-ethnic society (see chapter 2.5.4). The Section for Culture and Society of the Federal Office of Culture is among other activities dedicated to promoting and safeguarding cultural diversity by supporting cultural organisations of national importance.
Pro Helvetia’s mandate is to support those activities which promote mutual understanding among the different cultural communities. The Swiss Arts Council supports not only artistic works and creation but also cultural projects with social and political contexts and projects that further understanding between different regional, linguistic, and ethnic communities in Switzerland. In the areas of cultural outreach, every day and folk culture, and interculturality, Pro Helvetia provides financial support to pilot projects by application but also initiates projects in close cooperation with other cultural institutions. In the area of diversity and equal opportunities in the cultural sector, the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia has defined these targets for 2021-2024:
- support cultural institutions and provide them with active guidance in the development of diversity-oriented processes;
- eeduce barriers for cultural practitioners from marginalised population groups to the Swiss cultural sector and to opportunities for grants;
- promote knowledge transfer in the areas of diversity and equality and provide practice-oriented guidelines for cultural institutions; and
- collect and disseminate data and facts on diversity in the Swiss cultural sector.
While the Swiss Federal Office of Culture mainly supports cultural (umbrella) organisations, an enormous number of amateur arts associations and cultural houses are financed on a private basis or supported by the cities and communes, often by monies generated by state lottery funds. In Switzerland, the significance of the country’s intangible cultural heritage for social cohesion, for the country’s cultural self-image, and its image and appearance abroad, as well as that of its various regions, is firmly acknowledged. By ratifying the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the 16th of July 2008, Switzerland has formally accepted and become part of the international legal framework for the promotion of cultural diversity (see chapter 4.2.1). For the period 2012-2015, the principal focus was on amateur arts and popular culture.
Both active and passive access to art and culture is an important element of social integration and a prerequisite for social Participation. Switzerland has a highly developed cultural infrastructure.
Cultural diversity, access to culture, cultural exchange, and the promotion of culture, in general, are increasingly understood as joint, partnership-based tasks of the federal government, cantons, communes, and private bodies. The federal government focuses on close partnership given that the cantons and communes meet the lion’s share of public funding for culture and given that the federal government only has partial and subsidiary constitutional powers. This explains why the federal government has initiated the National Dialogue on Culture (see chapter 1.1).
In most of the larger cities, special departments and public-private initiatives attend to cultural minorities in a variety of ways. They consider the most diverse forms of integration instrumental to sustainable, urban social policy. Socio-cultural services in various city districts play a key role in this respect.
For Traditions, see chapter 3.1.
Switzerland is a multilingual and multicultural country, providing grounds for a strong link between intercultural dialogue and social cohesion between linguistic regions and different cultural encounters; it both reinforces mutual comprehension but also provides great potential for artistic development. A national cultural dialogue is thus central.
Discussing national cohesion, including the coexistence and mutual understanding of the different cultural communities – both Swiss and foreign -, is a matter of permanent cultural priority in Switzerland. Accordingly, cultural projects are particularly useful in opening dialogue, organising productive meetings, and strengthening mutual respect. Along this line, culture is called upon to reinforce national cohesion – expressed in the form of well-defined exchange projects. Pro Helvetia and other organisations support the translation of literary and non-literary works from one national language into another.
Here, reference can be made to the language policy of the federal government, which is partly implemented by the Federal Office of Culture and Pro Helvetia (see chapter 2.5.4). In this frame, many festivals outside urban areas were supported, specifically theatre, dance and music, a measure that will follow in the period to come.
The funding criteria set out by Pro Helvetia can be seen as a practical example of many other institutions. Pro Helvetia promotes pilot projects in Switzerland and abroad, especially projects deepening the debate on art and society in the force field between global, national, and local cultures. Efforts also include the funding of related events, networks, publications, and exhibitions.
Cultural Participation as a pivot of the upcoming cultural policies is per se a strategy to continue actions already taken during the last period. Addressing interculturality, contributing to cultural policies debates on diversity, promoting cultural participation from migrant communities, and consider their cultural potential (mainly via Pro Helvetia).
Folk culture and amateur practices also contribute to this cultural weaving. Along with policies of cultural exchange inside linguistic regions in Switzerland, these dialogues are cherished as they contribute to a better social cohesion. The Confederation, for example, encourages amateur events and associations (art. 14 and art.16 of the Culture Promotion Act).
Courses and programmes developing intercultural skills are enjoying ever-increasing popularity. Regio Basiliensis, for instance, is a transnational organisation, which offers intercultural educational training to teachers. Schools abroad are also increasing their provision in this area, often in combination with language courses. This striking development has reached as far as Asia and, more specifically, China. This has to do with the fact that Switzerland is increasingly interested in these regions of the world, not least for economic reasons.
For other international programmes, see chapter 1.4.