Fine arts museums under pressure

Switzerland's Fine Arts museums are feeling the pinch and are looking for ways to boost co-operation to ease their financial difficulties. Public subsidies are being cut back, at the same time as museums are finding their costs are being pushed up.

This content was published on January 10, 2000 - 15:35

Switzerland's Fine Arts museums are feeling the pinch and are looking for ways to boost co-operation to ease their financial difficulties. Public subsidies are being cut back, at the same time as museums are finding their costs are being pushed up by the need to do more than simply collect, conserve and display works of art.

Dieter Schwarz, director of the museum of Fine Arts in the eastern town of Winterthur, is proposing creating a forum in which the country's 15 leading public art galleries can meet to address issues of common interest.

"Museums are undergoing a lot of changes," he said. "New demands are being made on the museums, but also questions regarding the museums are being discussed in public, like sponsorship, how museums should change their function in society, but also specific questions like looted art which is in the collections, and so on."

"I think museums should find a common denominator to answer these questions, and not just ask a little bit confusedly and independently how they can be solved," he added.

Schwarz says the response he's had from his colleagues so far has been positive, and they have agreed to come together for a first meeting in March. The initial talks will be devoted to defining the precise scope and mandate of the forum.

If Schwarz has his way, it would go as far as discussing issues such as exhibition plans and collecting policies.

He feels Switzerland's museums are not well known enough, and that there is a need for more joint projects and public relations work.

His own Museum of Fine Arts in Winterthur is already part of a project linking public collections in Baden, Basel and Zurich: the four museums are promoting their joint collection of Impressionist paintings as the largest in Europe outside of Paris.

Museums worldwide are gaining in importance as tourist attractions, but this trend is more noticeable in Switzerland because the country is better known for its landscape than its cultural heritage.

One town in which this is particularly visible is Basel. The northern city has shaken off its image as a polluted industrial centre with some new museums that have propelled it into the position of the cultural centre of Switzerland. The main ones are the Tinguely museum and Beyeler Foundation, which opened in 1996 and 1997 respectively. They not only have first class collections, but are attractions in themselves having been built by the star architects Mario Botta and Renzo Piano.

"Gradually the number of visitors to the museums is growing," says Helga von Graevenitz of the Basel tourist board. "It's not just the visitors from abroad, but the people living here and people coming to Basel for the day."

Already, she says the museums are the city's number one attraction. "I think they are the attraction, and we have about 30 museums. The reason for coming to Basel is to see the old city and visit one of our museums."

From staff and wire reports





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