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Arts council to fly Swiss flag around the world

Pius Knüsel says he wants to take Swiss culture to new places Keystone

The Swiss arts council, Pro Helvetia, is to set up a global platform to defend and promote Switzerland’s culture abroad.

It will refocus much of its foreign activity on Asia and Latin America, and reduce its presence in eastern Europe.

Pro Helvetia, which relies mostly on public funding, said on Monday that it wanted to make a bigger impact outside Europe, in places where cultural differences with Switzerland were greatest.

Its new strategy includes dividing up the planet into ten cultural zones including sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

By 2007, Pro Helvetia plans to open new liaison offices in China, India and Latin America, regions where it believes there is a strong interest in foreign culture and which are attractive for Swiss artists.

The offices would be set up along the lines of those already operating in Cape Town and Cairo.

Each would have a budget of around SFr500,000 ($417,000) and would be attached to embassies or consulates.

EU enlargement

The arts council said it had no plans to open any new cultural centres in Europe, similar to those founded in Paris and Milan in the 1980s.

But it has pledged to maintain a strong presence in both France and Italy, where it will still have three representations.

Liaison bureaux in Budapest, Bratislava and Prague are set to close by 2005, while the Krakow office will be transferred to Warsaw.

Pro Helvetia said the enlargement of the European Union to include countries such as Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, meant its presence in these former Soviet bloc nations was no longer required.

“With the extension of the EU, we can afford to reduce our presence,” said Pro Helvetia’s president, Yvette Jaggi.

The Swiss arts council also announced that it would be closing the offices it runs in the Balkans on behalf of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). It will focus instead on subsidising cultural projects in Europe.

Pro Helvetia said it was looking forward to a new period of collaboration with independent cultural centres abroad.

It cited existing projects with the Swiss institutes in Rome and New York as proof of what could be done with limited funds and the right partners to promote Swiss culture.

Decision centre

Many of the changes have been prompted by a tighter financial situation for the arts council, which has been hit by federal budget cuts.

But it says it still wants to be the reference for Swiss culture abroad.

“The promotion of Swiss culture abroad is one of our strengths,” said Pro Helvetia director Pius Knüsel. “We want to be the decision centre.”

The arts council invests SFr14 million in foreign projects each year – around 60 per cent of its operating budget – and it has 40 employees based abroad.

But it is not alone in promoting culture in foreign lands. It shares the workload with the Federal Culture Office and faces competition from the SDC, Presence Switzerland – the government’s promotion arm – and the foreign ministry’s culture centre.

Knüsel told swissinfo that the various units were managing to work together, although it was not always easy.

“It is the most difficult part of our work because it involves political decisions,” he said.

“With our new foreign strategy, we should hopefully be able to avoid the creation of parallel structures and competing decisions.”

swissinfo with agencies

Pro Helvetia’s tasks include:
Preserving and maintaining Switzerland’s cultural identity.
Promoting cultural creativity in the cantons, linguistic regions and cultural groupings.
Encouraging domestic cultural exchange among Switzerland’s linguistic regions and cultural groupings.
Fostering cultural relations with other countries.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR