- 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.
City data: Key facts
- Geographical area: 92 sq. km
- Total population: 424,322
- GDP (PPP) million: $71,377
With a history stretching back to the Romans, Zurich can trace its vibrancy to the medieval period when it was the backdrop to key moments in the European Reformation. Guild buildings in its Altstadt reveal the period’s excellence in craft and design. Today the city is regarded as having one of the highest standards of living in the world, and embraces its ultramodern side through expertise in heritage and science, but also through culture. The former industrial area of Zurich West hosts for example many nightclubs and contemporary art venues. Zurich both stands for the place where Hugo Ball initiated Dadaism as a radical avant-garde art movement in 1916 and in which a century later, its techno scene was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Zurich has many established cultural institutions, including museums such as Kunsthaus Zürich, chamber and symphony orchestras including Tonhalle Zürich and several important theatres, such as Schauspielhaus Zürich, Theater Neumarkt and Gessnerallee. However, this spectrum has broadened over the past 25 years, with independent centres and spaces for the avant-garde and the unconventional. The city hosts the international Zurich Film Festival and the international contemporary theatre and performing arts festival, Zurich Theatre Spektakel. In the past four years, the 100 Years of Dadaism event, the 11th edition of Manifesta, and the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, underlined the City’s reputation and willingness to take part in cultural experiments.
Although it has a relatively small population of 435,000, Zurich is growing, and its population is becoming younger and more diverse. People from 170 countries call Zurich home. By 2040, it is projected that it will be grow by over 15%, many of whom will be very young: the fastest-growing age group in Zurich is ten to 19 year olds.
However, this growth means pressure on urban space, which in turn is a challenge for cultural organisations needing affordable rents for production and performance. There is also the risk that the diversity of the city is not reflected at a structural level – with only a few cultural institutions truly barrier free. These existing challenges were compounded by the social and economic aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic – with the financial vulnerabilities of freelancers made especially visible.
The Cultural Affairs Office, which leads on the City’s cultural policy and funding, believes that a high-quality cultural landscape needs constant care and attention. Its plan to 2023 is centred around interventions to make sure that its support keeps up with the pace of change. Through the Project ‘Kultur Labor Zürich’, it is turning a critical eye on itself, scrutinising its own funding, and trying out new forms and formats of funding for artists on the basis of experimental pilot projects. These aim to make sure that artists from diverse and migrant backgrounds receive funding, and that a new wave of artforms – including those driven by technology, are not overlooked. Similarly, two years of bridging funding for cultural freelancers is aimed to ensure that talent does not exit the sector in the aftermath of the pandemic. A major overhaul to funding for theatre and dance drives closer working between institutions and independents, and greater security for the large freelance workforce.
Zurich is subject to forces that are in operation globally – from the calls for greater social justice emanating from the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements, to the lasting consequences of the pandemic and the increasing challenges of the climate emergency. These issues are also manifested in public debates about whether some of the City’s historic monuments meet the standard of an inclusive society, or if they should be taken down. As well as which new monuments should go up. The City recognises it is crucial that its cultural offer has contemporary relevance to address these issues – and that, where successful, culture gives people insight into the lives of others and helps to create a civil society that evolves positively and accepts change.
As an innovative and increasingly youthful city, where embracing the future is itself a tradition, Zurich is now well placed to respond to the challenges of the coming decades.