Press releases, 27.02.2020

If a region is marked by conflict or a society divided as a result, art and culture can often build bridges and facilitate dialogue between opposing sides. Artists also come under pressure, especially in conflict-affected regions. The international 'Art at Risk' conference in Zurich from 27 to 29 February will focus on this area of tension. The SDC is providing financial support for the conference in order to highlight the potential of art in fragile contexts and to shine a spotlight on the risks that artists in such contexts face.

A group of young people sit in a circle in the inner courtyard of a building during the Dream City festival in Tunis.
The Arab Fund for Arts and Culture believes that culture is a means of shaping fairer, more open societies and building confidence in a society's creativity and young people. © Josef-Wouters / Pol-Guillard

In 2019 hundreds of violations of the right to free artistic expression were documented around the world. These violations against artists range from censorship to travel restrictions, threats, persecution, charges, arrests, prison sentences and even murder. Most cases of direct physical violence occurred in the Global South. In contrast, the majority of cases of censorship occurred in the Global North. The SDC promotes projects in various countries to support the work of artists in fragile contexts.

Culture helps to overcome conflicts and promote peace

In countries facing crises or conflict, culture and art create spaces for peaceful dialogue and social reflection that would not otherwise exist. Music, for example, can bring together people from countries that are in conflict with each other; a film can convey views that are not otherwise directly accessible in other countries; in theatre, members of different ethnic groups can act together. In this way, art and culture can build bridges in divided societies and help to deal with long-standing conflicts, breaking the spiral of violence.

As part of its mandate, the SDC is active in fragile and conflict-affected regions, often integrating cultural projects into its programmes. Take for example the SDC's cultural programme in North Africa, through which Switzerland helps to create a sense of purpose and identity, thereby helping to curb radicalisation and foster stability in the region.

"In these countries, support for a lively cultural scene helps to bring about peace. Where people's lives are characterised by conflicts and a lack of freedom of expression, art and cultural activities can provide a space for normality and for dealing with difficult issues," says Christian Frutiger, assistant director general of the SDC and head of Global Cooperation, summarising the role of art in fragile contexts at the 'Art at Risk' conference.

Sustainable development and democracy are the goals

Switzerland has a number of different cultures within its own national borders. The Swiss know from experience how valuable the cultural and artistic expression of contrasting social views is for a functioning democracy. Preserving cultural diversity is therefore an intrinsic part of Swiss policy both at home and abroad.

The SDC integrates this approach into its long-term development and governance projects. "In addition to freedom of the press, a free artistic and cultural scene is also needed for a functioning democratic society," says Frutiger.  "It can be of especial help to young people in gaining a hands-on perspective and participating in public discourse."

The 'Art at Risk' conference, which will run until Saturday, is organised by artasfoundation, a Swiss foundation, in cooperation with Zurich University of the Arts and the SDC. Taking part are about 150 artists and representatives of organisations involved in international cooperation and the creative arts from all over the world. This interactive conference promotes exchanges across borders and disciplines and enables mutual learning.

Further information:

Development assistance: culture creates spaces that foster dialogue
Art at Risk Conference (en)
Art and culture – drivers of social change
SDC Culture and Development Policy

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