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Art and science How Swiss artists are joining in the climate change debate

Swiss glaciers are slowly retreating as average temperatures in the small Alpine nation rise faster than in the rest of the world. Here is a selection of works by Swiss artists trying to come to terms with the global climate crisis.

Switzerland’s identity, so closely tied to its climate, is changing as the country slowly warms. Whereas in the past, it was mostly scientists and journalists who told these tales, artists are now stepping into the mainstream debate.

The Swiss art scene wasn’t late in getting involved in discussions about the climate. Back in the 1980s, fashion photographer and artist Michel Comteexternal link was a key figure in the “climate change art” movement.  

Fast forward to 2019. ProHelvetia, the country’s arts council, has teamed up with the Swiss Polar Institute to launch a pilot project, known as PolARTSexternal link, that brings together artists and scientists.

So, are political institutions more willing to hand out grants for art projects if they focus on climate change? We asked Philippe Bischof, director of the Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia.

“There are examples of councils or organisations (like the Arts Council England in collaboration with Julie’s Bicycleexternal link) which are focusing explicitly on ecological projects and even prioritise ecological projects in the grant-making process or in their awards-policy,” he explained.

“It is too early for us at Pro Helvetia to say how exactly this will be defined, but we are exploring what policies to develop. One option would be to reward projects that reflect ecological issues as long as they are convincing in their quality whilst also having a low ecological footprint (e.g. if artists take the train instead of the plane).”


These are the major ongoing climate-related art programmes in Switzerland

SMArtexternal link: their programme, which receives federal and private sponsorship, aims to take climate-focused art out of the galleries and into schools to educate the next generation. Chosen artists participate in three-month residencies in cantons Ticino, Uri or Graubünden. 

ALT. +1000external link: is a photo festival in Switzerland for the "promotion of the culture and heritage of mountain regions", whose headquarters are based in Le Locle.

3-D Foundationexternal link: The non-profit organization is dedicated to creating contemporary art to promote environmentalism, education, and culture.

All the artworks shown are courtesy of the artists.

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