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Festival puts migration in positive light

Natacha Atlas will appear at the cultural festival

(Keystone Archive)

Organisers of a festival celebrating migration hope the event will change Swiss attitudes towards immigrants and lead to the creation of a permanent museum.

The world@zurich, featuring an art exhibition, an open-air cinema, a food market and live music, runs at the city's Toni-Areal centre until October 9.

The event is the biggest on this theme ever to be held in Switzerland, promoters claim. It is attracting artists such as Arabic singer Natacha Atlas and Fatih Akin, a German film director of Turkish extraction.

Films will be screened on the roof of the centre, including the Bollywood epic Lagaan, the Swiss debut of Akin's film Crossing the Bridge and other movies from Mexico, Bosnia, Senegal, Britain, Cuba and Argentina.

The central art and photographic exhibition features work from 50 artists from around the globe covering various aspects of migration in Switzerland.

Positive image

The aim of the festival is to present a positive image of foreigners coming to Switzerland to counter-balance a tide of criticism, according to project organiser Markus Hodel.

"Migrants are blamed for everything from crime to unemployment, but this exhibition aims to show that they actually enrich our society, and make valuable contributions to science, business and the arts," Hodel said.

He added that the whole debate about immigration in Switzerland was dominated by the rightwing Swiss People's Party and other negative voices with a rightwing agenda.

"But modern Switzerland is a multi-cultural society and has moved on from the era of William Tell. Of course, there are problems associated with migration, but these aspects should be dealt with in a rational way," he stressed.

Valuable contribution

Hodel formed the Migration Museum Association in 1998 after working with migrants in his former job as a lawyer for the Winterthur authorities.

The world@zurich will be followed by a similar exhibition in the United States early next year and other events, with the aim of raising support to build a permanent museum in Switzerland.

A SFr100,000 ($79,000) grant from the Federal Culture Office is going towards the SFr800,000 cost of the world@zurich, with additional support coming from the Swiss arts council Pro Helvetia, the Zurich-based National Museum, and private business sponsorship.

Funding challenge

Hodel admits that it will be a challenge to find the SFr10 million needed to realise his ambition of opening a museum by 2010.

"First we must engage with the public with events such as world@zurich and then we can work on securing sponsorship from public and private bodies," he said.

"We want to set up a multi-sensory, experience-oriented museum with permanent and temporary exhibitions which will also be a place for people to meet up and socialise. To do that properly would probably need an annual budget of SFr2-3 million."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

Key facts

The world@zurich exhibition runs until October 9 and includes an art exhibition, open-air cinema, live music and cultural markets.
The proposed migration museum would cost SFr10 million to build and up to SFr3 million to maintain annually.
Project leader Markus Hodel used to be a lawyer working with migrants at Winterthur council.

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