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Kulturbotschaft BAK / Swiss politics on art funding

During the process of Swiss legislation, the executive presents the public with a draft for funding guidelines for 2012-2015. The total amount to be spent on culture remains stable at 633m over these years (compare with e.g. 12,000m for the Swiss military over the same period!).

From reading that document, it seems legislators largely underestimate the role of digital culture in general and perceive the "digital" as a threat rather than an opportunity. Vast sections in the document speak of conservation and digitization of content in order to keep and store existing cultural value. This is important. However, when it comes to fostering innovation and the production of new works, digital culture remains poorly understood and a placeholder called "GameCulture" needs to stand in for a deep-rooted and fundamental shift in production technology in the arts. This is deplorable to say the least.

Im Schatten der klassischen Kulturformen hat sich die erste rein digitale Kulturform entwickelt: das Computerspiel. (p. 76)

It is not surprising that experts on conservation look backwards and worry about digitization. What is surprising is that the central document to justify the funding of the arts of an entire nation reduces the information and knowledge-based means of production to computer gaming!

What does this imply for the bodies that support art today? Ideally, funding institutions understand that contemporary art involves software and hardware, music is made of code and strings, sculpture with CAD and clay, visuals with graphics software and printers, and so on. However, from reading the Kulturbotschaft, this does not seem to be where we stand today.

Eight years ago, the Swiss government started an initiative to support media and digital art: sitemapping. During these years, experts from funding bodies have come to understand how art production works and built a network of committees and juries to evaluate and understand quality and how to support quality and ultimately, hopefully, focus funding on potential impact.

etoy has always been critical of these "experts" not least because they failed to understand that long-term orientation in the production of digital art is not an oxymoron but a necessity to quality, much like in every domain of knowledge creation.

Nevertheless, we find ourselves defending this initiative and their proponents today. Reading the suggested legislature reminded us that even semi-competent funding initiatives point into the right direction and dropping all of this in favor of a narrow sub-field (computer gaming) is wrong-headed and irresponsible.

Funding art is difficult and etoy is not simply advocating a centralized, top-down funding body. The structures to evaluate impact and judge quality, however, require investment over many years as well as individuals with large networks and experience. A country such as Switzerland that relies on knowledge, education, and innovation speed needs a deeper understanding of how culture is produced today than what emanates from this Kulturbotschaft. It is fine to conserve but the emphasis is out of balance. Unless the Swiss government understands that shifting resources towards creation and innovation of contemporary art by current means, we will end up with more Ballenberg and Landesmuseum and Denkmalschutz rather than cutting-edge technology, innovation, and inspiration.

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