Cultural participation is one of the focal points of Swiss cultural policy. At the federal level, it is one of three central axes of action defined in the Culturel Dispatch 2021-2024 and was already set as a priority in the last funding period (2016-2020). With the help of the Working Group on Cultural Participation, the National Cultural Dialogue published a handbook on cultural participation in 2019, in which strategies and challenges are reflected. In the introduction of this central document, the field is described thus:
“Cultural participation strengthens coexistence and cohesion in a diverse and individualised society. That is why all people should have access to cultural life and cultural heritage. Cultural participation takes place locally, in the neighbourhoods and associations, in the cultural houses and social institutions of the country. In order to promote participation, various approaches and measures are needed that address different sections of the population – from cultural mediation and support for amateur culture to the removal of barriers for special target groups.“
Nationaler Kulturdialog [Hrsg.]: Kulturelle Teilhabe. Ein Handbuch. Zürich: Seismo. (2019), S. 5.
The “Cultural participation” action axis will be further developed in the 2021-2024 funding period in the areas of “musical education” (Youth and Music), “arts outreach” (Pro Helvetia) and “equal opportunities for women and men in the cultural sector” in all relevant areas (training, subsidisation, programming, representation in cultural institutions, etc.) (BAK and Pro Helvetia).
Three examples of the Federal Office of Culture’s promotion of cultural participation:
Swiss Youth Theatre Festival in Aarau: Youth theatre groups from all parts of the country meet annually in Aarau for exchange and networking.
“KulturLegi” (Caritas): Caritas’ “KulturLegi” makes cultural events offered by around 1000 organisations affordable for people in Switzerland who are affected by or at risk of poverty.
“Kultur Inklusiv”: The “Kultur Inklusiv” label is awarded to cultural institutions that are committed to promoting the holistic inclusion of people with disabilities as creators of culture, as audiences and as employees. The responsible agency is Pro Infirmis’ Kultur inklusiv as a centre of competence for inclusive culture in Switzerland. Started as a pilot project in the Canton of Berne in mid-2014, over 90 cultural institutions have now been signed up as label holders (as of 2021).
Many activities are planned and implemented at city or cantonal level, for example the “Museum Night” format, which is particularly popular with a younger audience and offers free admission to various museums and institutions for the duration of one night. The Museums Night Basel in 2019, for example, was attended by almost 38 000 visitors.
The “Swiss Museum Pass” is a programme which offers admission to over 500 museums all over Switzerland. Switzerland also participates in international programmes such as the “European Heritage Days“, launched by The Council of Europe in 1985.
Language is often a barrier to accessing public services and limits opportunities for (cultural) participation. In addition to the official national languages, Pro Helvetia also communicates in English, for example, thus opening up application procedures and funding instruments. The administration of the City of Geneva, for example, goes one step further: it adapts its communication to the multilingualism of the population and translates various programmes, flyers or ordinances into the five languages most commonly spoken in the city (English, Spanish, Arabic, Albanian, Portuguese).
Private Sector and historical perspective
As in other fields of cultural promotion in Switzerland, the private sector plays an important role with regard to cultural participation. The country’s largest retail company, Migros, has a particularly important role in supporting culture in Switzerland. Its founder Gottlieb Duttweiler suggested, as early as 1941, the idea of a cultural percentage (a fixed share of Migros’ annual turnover donated for cultural and social purposes), with the aim of making cultural offerings and cultural education accessible to the widest possible audience. He proposed that Migros should get involved “where the entrepreneur shows no interest and the state is no longer able to solve the tasks” (for more about Migros see chapter 7.3). While the early Swiss cultural policy focused on self-assurance and the preservation of cultural heritage, the demand for a “culture for all” as a guiding idea also found its way into Switzerland at the end of the 1960s with the corresponding debates in the Federal Republic of Germany. A basic cultural democratic approach along the “broad” cultural concept of UNESCO manifested itself in the so-called Clottu Report of 1975 (Eléments pour une politique culturelle suisse), which was commissioned by the Department of Home Affairs.