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New York festival offers fresh view of Switzerland

The Empire State Building was lit up in the colours of the Swiss flag

(Keystone)

A two-month festival which set out to present a modern, diverse and creative image of Switzerland is drawing to a close in New York.

Organisers have described swisspeaks as "a real success story", saying it has altered perceptions of the alpine nation in the United States.

However, out on the streets of the Big Apple swissinfo found that attitudes towards Switzerland had not changed a great deal.

Asked what images Switzerland brought to mind, people spoke of mountains, chocolate, Heidi, a regulated society and the scandal involving the dormant bank accounts of Holocaust victims.

Despite coinciding with the war in Iraq the festival, which acted as a showcase for Swiss artists, generated respectable attention with around 200,000 people attending during March and April.

Raymond Loretan, the Swiss consul in New York, said the event showed New Yorkers that there was more to Switzerland than chocolate, cheese and cuckoo clocks.

"Our goal was to show New Yorkers the contemporary side of Switzerland. And we have achieved this," he said.

Enthusiastic New Yorkers

Representatives of New York partner organisations were also very pleased with the outcome of the festival.

"I am sure this event has brought New Yorkers closer to Switzerland," said Joseph Milillo of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where the performance of the Theatre Vidy-Lausanne was one of the most successful events ever staged by the academy.

Gerard Wertkin, director of the American Folk Art Museum, was also surprised by the positive response to an exhibition of works by outsider artist Adolf Wölfli at the his museum.

"I am absolutely overwhelmed," he said.

Planting seeds

But despite the fact that many Americans still hang on to their traditional views of Switzerland, organisers said that the festival had planted seeds for the future, reinforced friendships and opened up channels between the Swiss and Americans.

"The undivided positive feedback from our New York partners and the extensive response in the press confirm that the swisspeaks festival was a huge success," they said in a statement.

The festival created an extensive network of contacts in the fields of business, art, education and lifestyle.

Cooperation between Swiss and American schools is due to be deepened in the future, and the film festival "SwissAm" will become a permanent event.

The festival's non-profit-making status and its partnerships with the national carrier, Swiss and US organisations meant organisers were able to pull it off for a modest $3 million ($2.2 million).

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Swisspeaks, a non-profit organisation, took two years to produce the two-months event in the Big Apple.
The SFr3 million ($2.2 million) budget for swisspeaks was split between public and private sectors in both Switzerland the US.
Over 600 American firms are located in Switzerland, employing over 70,000 people, while over 700 Swiss companies operate in the US.
Approximately 200,000 people visited the festival.

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