- Zurich is an international hub for the arts and sciences where tradition meets the latest trends in forward thinking.
- The City’s current strategy prioritises culture that reaches Zurich’s diverse mix of citizens, ranging across age, ethnicity and neighbourhoods.
- Zurich is a growing city, with unprecedented levels of urban density and the need for affordable workplaces for the creative scene in the city’s centre.
Zurich’s cultural vibrancy can be traced back to medieval times, when it was one of a small number of urban centres in the old Swiss Confederacy. Its streets and churches were the backdrop to key moments in the European reformation, and the city’s guild buildings still betray a history of advanced artisanal craft and design. During the two World Wars, Zurich became a place of exile and cultural production for artists and scientists alike. In 1916, for example, Hugo Ball initiated Dadaism as a radical avant-garde art movement in the Cabaret Voltaire, a small venue in Zurich’s historic centre, and numerous scholars continued their research in the protective environment of the city’s renowned academic institutions. Today, Zurich’s world-class galleries and concert halls present and nurture artistic innovation. The growth of the banking industry has also positively impacted this development by creating a well-balanced cultural and financial environment. At present, Zurich’s economy is highly diversified and the city is considered to be one of the most liveable in the world, profiting tremendously from a pulsating and open cultural scene.
Zurich’s cultural facilities are unravelled in Switzerland for their richness and variety, and the city has retained its reputation for being home to Switzerland’s avant-garde art scenes (both historic and contemporary). The Cabaret Voltaire still celebrates Dada for 21st century audiences. The Pavilion Le Corbusier (the last building that the Swiss architect Le Corbusier realised in his lifetime) is currently being refurbished and will be open to the public again in 2019. Zurich’s techno music scene was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. The former industrial quarter of Zurich-West, where turbines and machinery used to be manufactured, is now one home to many nightclubs. And the presentation of art in public space is an outstanding example of the City’s ongoing cultural commitment. In 2017 world-renowned artist duo Fischli/Weiss donated their sculpture “Haus (House)” to the city’s collection. It will be permanently on public view from May 2018.
The acquisition of “House” is timely, since housing and the availability of affordable work spaces for artists is a key challenge. Zurich attracts young and well-educated people from around Switzerland and abroad, which contributes to a flourishing creative economy and an ongoing increase in population. This positive development also produces more urban density. As a response to these changes, the City is transforming former industrial sites into ‘meanwhile use’ spaces for artists, writers, start-ups, etc. at affordable prices. Thus, the City avoids spatial marginalization, keeping the creative scenes right in the centre and maintaining their public visibility and impact.
Such infrastructural adaptations have proved to be a successful model of intervention in the city for more than a decade. The Löwenbräu-Areal (a former brewery) has undergone a major renovation to combine the historic structure with contemporary buildings. The new site displays both the industrial past and contemporary life in the city. It is now home to numerous international galleries, the Kunsthalle and the Migros Museum for Contemporary Art, uniting both private and public institutions in one cultural infrastructure. The Löwenbräu-Areal also attracted international attention as a major site of the 2016 Manifesta Biennial.
Recently, the City has commissioned internationally renowned architect David Chipperfield to build an extension to the Kunsthaus: one of Zurich’s main art museums. The extension is designed to be a combination of fresh and contemporary exhibition spaces with a central meeting place for public conversation and exchange. Thus, the institution will remain an open window to the city, while providing world-class art exhibitions. The extension will also host the collection of industrialist Emil G. Bührle (1890-1956), making both the museum and the city the prime European destination for the study of French Impressionism after Paris.
Other established venues in Zurich include its Opera House, the Tonhalle and Theater Neumarkt. Among the more than 50 museums, the Museum Rietberg, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, the Helmhaus and the Landesmuseum attract many visitors with up-to-date and innovative exhibitions. Their public programming is particularly geared towards an audience across the spectrum of social, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Zurich also supports temporary off-site spaces, which provide a cornerstone to the city’s alternative cultural scenes.
Every year in late summer the Theaterspektakel (an international theatre festival) settles at the Landiwiese: one of the most prominent and picturesque public spots on the shores of Zurich’s lake. The festival’s diverse and experimental programme attracts locals and visitors alike, and is a vital component of Zurich’s culture life. Since 2005, the Zurich Film Festival has gradually expanded and is now a major international platform for new experiments in film.
Being such an international and wide-ranging hub, immigration, diversity and multiculturalism are hot topics in Zurich and Swiss society in general. The City’s current cultural policy specifically aims to increase participation in culture by a more diverse group of citizens. It instructs cultural institutions as well as the cultural department of the City of Zurich to intensify their efforts to reflect and depict the diversity of the whole of the city at all levels. Globalization and the rise of digital culture have informed the City’s current approach to culture and its decision-making processes. By bringing more of Zurich’s many different populations into a shared cultural conversation the city hopes to expand and consolidate its reputation as a cultural and travel destination.
Cultural policy in Switzerland is formed at the federal, canton and city-level. Zurich is one of the members of the Conference of Swiss Cities on Cultural Matters. This helps determine Swiss cultural policy at the national level in concert with the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, Pro Helvetia, and the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Culture.