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Pro Helvetia: enabling innovation and inclusivity in the Swiss cultural sector

Although cultural organizations are increasingly aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion, they often lack the right resources and methods. As a result, the potential that diversity presents goes untapped. How can cultural organizations change their structures more actively in the long term to reflect today’s diverse society?

Pro Helvetia, a government-funded Swiss Arts Council, has launched a dossier called Diversity and Equality in the Cultural Sector. It lists a number of concrete targets for 2021-2024, one of which is to collect and disseminate data and facts on diversity and equality in the sector and promote the transfer of the resulting knowledge. The project also aims to reduce barriers to cultural practitioners from marginalized population groups in the Swiss cultural sector. Another goal is to support cultural institutions and provide them with active guidance in the development of diversity-oriented processes in 2021-2024. Here we examine these targets in more depth.

Collecting and disseminating data

One of the topics about which Pro Helvetia tries to collect data is gender relations in the cultural sector. We asked Lisa Pedicino, project manager of the Diversity and Equality in the Cultural Sector dossier why this was the first subject they chose to examine. ‘The reason for the focus on gender, and in particular on equal opportunities between women and men, is that it has been defined as a clear objective of federal policy over the coming years. The role of women in the arts and culture had not been investigated before, so preliminary research into the different disciplines was urgently needed.’

The quantitative data in the preliminary study led to three findings:

  1. Women are under-represented in leadership positions.

  2. Female artists and their work have lower visibility and receive awards less often.

  3. Women earn less than men.

The lack of visibility for women in the cultural sector means that Switzerland is wasting significant potential in skills and abilities, in both artistic and management areas. Following on from this preliminary study, there is an urgent need to collect and examine data about gender relations in the Swiss cultural sector more comprehensively.

Pro Helvetia is not planning to limit its data collection to the subject of gender relations. ‘It is clear to us that diversity includes many other dimensions and that intersectionality is fundamental to understanding the data about diversity. For this reason, we aim to broaden our investigation in the future. We already work with a broader concept of diversity in our programmes, taking into account the different experiences of discrimination,’ says Pedicino.

Reducing barriers for cultural practitioners

What existing barriers are preventing cultural practitioners from marginalized population groups from participating in the Swiss cultural sector? According to Lisa Pedicino, non-inclusive personnel selection processes and strongly hierarchical working environments form invisible barriers. In addition, it is easier to access an artistic network if you have a standard educational background, grew up in Switzerland, or come from a wealthy environment. Having a different background or origin makes it much more difficult. Another barrier is childcare, especially for female artists. Professions that require evening appearances, weekend work or long tours often force parents to put their careers on hold.

Until a few years ago, the subject of diversity in cultural institutions was only rarely addressed from a more structural perspective. Important questions remained unasked. Who works in the organization? Who makes the decisions, and how? Which aesthetics are 'allowed'? And so on. According to Pedicino, many cultural institutions have started to address these barriers, but often without the necessary expertise or real awareness of the complexity of the processes of change required.

Supporting cultural institutions

So Pro Helvetia now offers active guidance to publicly supported cultural institutions and organizations in the form of a two-day workshop. It provides the participants with an opportunity to assess their structures. They are provided with personalized advice on how to develop a sustainable diversity strategy with the experts of their choice.

‘Each organization has a different path,’ says Pedicino. ‘A big theatre with multiple departments is not comparable to the structure of a festival. This is what makes the one-on-one approach so beneficial. We try to provide the participants with a general understanding of diversity and the kind of change that is required at all levels of the organization. At the same time, we give practice-oriented input and examples of good practice by other organizations.’

After the initial workshop, the participants have an opportunity to apply for support for their diversity strategy. Based on the recommendations of a specialist jury, a number of institutions are awarded a grant for two or three years. This should allow them to dive deeper into what they learned from the workshop and to develop approaches for enhancing diversity within their organization.

Although it’s too early to tell what the impact of this programme has been, we do have the results from the pilot phase in 2019, and according to Pedicino they are cause for optimism about the future. Some participating organizations are on their way to increasing skills within the team or at the management level, while others are working on inclusive communication systems or personnel selection processes, and others again have focused on community building and the expansion of artistic networks.

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