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Pro Helvetia president takes stock

Yvette Jaggi, the outgoing president of Pro Helvetia

(Keystone Archive)

The outgoing president of the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia, says she is leaving it "in very good shape".

Yvette Jaggi, who has been in the post since 1998, has presided over a radical reform of the organisation. She will be replaced on January 1 by Mario Annoni, a local government politician.

Pro Helvetia was at the centre of a row last year after it funded a highly controversial exhibition in Paris. It subsequently saw its budget slashed by parliament.

On stepping down as president, Jaggi, 64, said she was leaving pro Helvetia "in a serene state of mind".

Jaggi said her time as president would go down as one of the institution's most dynamic and lively periods. "The housework has been done from inside with a great zeal," she said.

But before she could hand over the baton, critics of Pro Helvetia attacked its operating costs, which take up a third of its SFr33 million ($25 million) annual budget.

Jaggi rejected the criticism. "Our book-keeping is very rigorous," she said.

The former parliamentarian added that certain costs are generated by the projects themselves, such as looking into the 4,000 or so requests that Pro Helvetia receives each year.

"Strictly speaking, general expenses represent less than ten per cent of the budget, which is quite reasonable," she said.

Controversy

Pro Helvetia is no stranger to controversy. Last December parliament cut SFr1 million from its budget for 2005 to punish the Arts Council for funding a controversial exhibition in Paris.

The exhibition, Swiss-Swiss Democracy, included an attack on Justice Minister Christoph Blocher, who is also the figurehead of the rightwing Swiss People's Party.

One of the more provocative elements was a theatre piece during which an actor lifted his leg and pretended to urinate on a poster of Blocher.

The show, which ended in January, drew 30,000 visitors – three times as many as the previous exhibitions at the Swiss Cultural Centre.

The row over the Hirschhorn exhibition and the latest cuts follow the acceptance of an initial cost-reduction programme, which foresaw a five per cent cut in staff and administration costs to be implemented by the end of 2006.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

In 2004, Pro Helvetia distributed some SFr24 million in funding for cultural projects - SFr11 million in Switzerland and SFr13 million abroad.
The organisation supported 4,190 projects in 2004, about half of them in Switzerland.
In spring 2005 parliament cut the annual budget by SFr1 million to SFr33 million, to indicate its disapproval of one of the council's funding decisions.

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In brief

Along with the Federal Culture Office, Pro Helvetia is the main federal channel for the encouragement of the arts abroad.

The board of the Arts Council is chosen by the government, on the recommendation of the interior ministry.

Jaggi, a former senator, has been in the post since 1998 and has to step down at the end of the year having served two terms.

She will be replaced on January 1 by Mario Annoni, a member of the Bern cantonal government.

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