Heritage issues and policies
Many different parties are involved in heritage development in Switzerland. Cantonal offices cooperate with federal ones on almost all issues. The Culture Promotion Act governs cooperation between the federal government and the cantons. The Confederation may support museums, collections and third-party networks for the preservation of cultural heritage. (Article 10 of the Culture Promotion Act). All the financial effort for conservation of historical monuments and archaeological interventions, as well as any state building, is determined by article 13 of the Federal Law on Nature and Landscape Protection.
With over 1100 Museums and 13 million visitors per year, the Confederation has as well an important task regarding conservation, mediation, and study of both the tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
A further institution involved in heritage development in Switzerland is the National Information Centre for Cultural Property Conservation (NIKE), which was founded in 1988 as an association concerned with the maintenance of cultural goods. It is responsible for the collection, exchange, and distribution of information on the maintenance of cultural goods and is an umbrella organisation with 39 professional associations and public organisations from the field of cultural heritage conservation.
A topic of high priority regarding heritage and conservation matters is the work related to the looted art from the Nazi period, and the international transfer of cultural goods; important measures are taken against illegal commerce of stolen or looted art.
Rich and varied landscapes, historic towns, villages, districts, individual buildings, and archaeological sites are of outstanding importance for Switzerland’s identity and quality of life. Monuments are an essential part of history. Preserving the country’s monuments, townscapes, and archaeological sites has great economic significance, not least for maintaining the unbroken success of Switzerland as an attractive tourist destination. Measures such as the campaigns “Historical Switzerland” and “The magic of beautiful places” launched by Switzerland Tourism, demonstrate Switzerland’s desire to promote heritage sites, including those that are not well known.
The Federal Office of Culture (FOC) ensures that the concerns of archaeology, monuments’ conservation, and townscape protection are taken into appropriate account on a federal level. For example: The Federal Inventory of Sites of National Importance (ISOS), compiled by the BAK, classifies around 1200 sites (2020) as worthy of protection and of “national importance”. It provides the federal government, cantons and municipalities with a planning basis for high-quality settlement development.
The FOC lays the necessary foundations, assesses building plans and projects, and grants financial assistance. The FOC has faced three key challenges that are to be considered along with the current heritage policies: changes in energy and land use policies; the shortage of financial resources to ensure sustainable conservation policies; lacking social awareness of the concerns of archaeology and monuments conservation.
Since the 2016-2020 Culture Dispatch, Baukultur was further developed as an important topic for cultural policies. This important notion is defined by the Baukultur policy as “(…) multi-faceted. It refers to the past, present, and future. Baukultur starts with the open landscape and includes the built and unbuilt environment plus everything in between.” We can then say that this holistic view on heritage allows a more sustainable view both in terms of protection and creation of a “material” Swiss identity.
This theme is also one that Switzerland takes a lead on internationally. In January 2018, the Confederation organised an informal conference of Ministers of Culture around this theme in Davos. Since then, Switzerland occupies a leadership role in this domain, especially through the publication of a Davos Declaration on Baukultur, approved by all participants at the conference. The Confederation has committed to the theme as a priority for the upcoming 2021-2024 period. The measures defined by the FOC relate in particular to mediation and the promotion of competence in the area of Baukultur and contribute to a higher quality of building development in Switzerland.
Another international position concerning heritage that Switzerland takes a lead on is cultural heritage that is endangered, which concerns the Federal Department of Home Affairs (Federal Office of Culture), in partnership with the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The strategy has as a goal to position Switzerland in an international context where there are growing threats against heritage, whether because of armed conflicts or natural catastrophes.
Preservation of the intangible cultural heritage: Traditions
The Confederation published an inventory of the intangible cultural heritage in Switzerland (“List of living traditions”) in 2012 (updated in 2017) in cooperation with the cantons. To raise awareness among the population of the importance and social value of intangible cultural heritage, the Confederation supported various projects to communicate living traditions (through museums, centres of excellence, schools) and to deepen knowledge about living traditions. Encounters were promoted between contemporary and traditional culture, fostering regional cultural initiatives through the efforts of Pro Helvetia, hosting an exhibition on “Dialects” at the National Library, and cooperation between the Swiss National Museum and young craftspeople to help convey traditional craftsmanship to a wider audience.
For audiovisual archive conservation and documentary heritage, see chapter 3.2.