A Burden-Free Minister A Ministry of Culture on the Web

Switzerland does not have an actual Ministry of Culture. Article 69 of the Federal Constitution stipulates: "The field of culture is a cantonal responsibility". However, since culture concerns society as a whole, p&s netzwerk kultur set up a Swiss cultural ministry on the Web, in spring 2005. is meant as a platform for politico-cultural debate and deliberation, and a mouthpiece for all those committed to creating a lively and colourful cultural scene in Switzerland. On the basis of Article 21 of our Constitution ("The freedom of art is guaranteed"), we took it upon ourselves to exercise that freedom in order, together with the virtual Ministry of Culture, to help ensure artistic liberty.

A ministry of course calls for a minister. Hence, our first action was to elect such a person. We announced the opening for a Minister of Culture on the Web, by flier and in the print media. Following an online campaign, a democratic election was held on the Internet and, in summer 2005, the position was filled by the winner - Heinrich Gartentor, the performance artist who hails from Thun. Since 18 September 2005, when he officially took up his new post upon the occasion of the BIENNE ARTISTS' FORUM, Gartentor has been serving as the representative of Switzerland's cultural players. His staff comprises two administrators, who keep track of his schedule, public relations activities and financial matters.

So far so good

Some will think: a showy art performance, nothing more. Beware - the matter is far more complex. For the year and a half that it has been in operation, has totally won over the public as a centre of competence and discussion. As such, the focus has been on various issues to do with current cultural policy and its prospects for development. During this initial period, Gartentor has made numerous appearances in order to encourage dialogue with both artists and politicians. The Minister of Culture's full schedule can be followed at Fortunately, too, his many speeches have elicited widespread notice in the press, extending the impact of the initiative far beyond the Internet.

Even if the powers of such a ministry remain virtual, to a great extent they are nevertheless rooted in the politicocultural reality of the day, and thus offer a new foothold for joining in on the current debates. The many appearances put in by the Minister of Culture bear witness to how great a demand - as much on an artistic level as well as politically - exists for the establishment of a position for mediating between art and politics.

A case in point would be the culture minister's semiannual invitations to a retreat in the little Jura Mountain town of Romainmotier. The two discussion sessions held in 2006 led to an intensive exchange of ideas over, on the one hand, the role of cultural news bulletins in the media and, on the other, current copyright issues. This sort of event is all the more effective given the intimacy of the setting, which is conducive to discussions in a more subdued and reflective vein.

The next election in 2007

Up to now, Heinrich Gartentor has been in office for eighteen months, or three-quarters of his term. In the interest of ever expanding the circle of cultural representation, he will not be standing for re-election. Yet, in his role as the first "ex" minister, he promises to remain at the culture ministry's disposal. Scheduled for summer 2007, the election will proceed in two phases: phase 1 for candidacy applications , and phase 2 for the actual voting process. Phase 2 itself will entail two rounds: all candidates will be invited to set forth their campaign arguments during a first round. A second round will offer the two winning candidates an opportunity to further develop and clarify their ideas on various politico-cultural issues. This two-ballot method should convey a strong real-life impression, thanks to the public platform and media speeches. On the website the voting will take place by means of a userfriendly "electronic ballot box". Registration of the votes will be guaranteed by simple means since, here too, the one-man, one-vote rule applies. As simple as the formal candidacy requirements may appear, to a great extent each candidate's chances will depend on the degree of enthusiasm he or she applies - both virtually and in reality - to the task of winning the election.

The current Minister of Culture, Heinrich Gartentor, has clearly demonstrated that someone who puts his heart and energy into the task can move mountains, but that this also takes the person's real-life presence. And, finally, there is a collateral reward to the position in the form of a positive impact on one's personal career, as Gartentor can attest from his experience as Minister of Culture since September 2005.

Thus, the kulturministerium. ch itself represents a form of cultural promotion, in the best sense of the term.

The three elected ministers were:
Heinrich Gartentor, artist, 2005-2007
Dominik Riedo, author, 2007-2009
Denis Beuret, musician, 2009-2011

Actually, the administration staff is minister.

(Source: Swiss Art 1-2007)

application/pdf Excerpt from: Swiss Art 1/2007