Photo: m4music

Culture’s essen­tial service provider

Successful funding strategy

As Head of the Culture and Social Office at the Fede­ra­tion of Migros Coope­ra­ti­ves, Hedy Graber is an expert in the Swiss cultu­ral scene and a powerful force in promo­ting Swiss culture. The coro­na­vi­rus crisis has put the organisation’s newly deve­lo­ped funding stra­tegy to the test. 

Two years ago, you revi­sed the funding stra­tegy in the field of culture. How has the new stra­tegy fared in the face of coronavirus?

In this extre­mely chal­len­ging period, the fact that we had plan­ned to review our appli­ca­tion process in April 2020 was advan­ta­ge­ous. Since then, we have orga­nised it in terms of idea­tion and dissemination. 


We looked at produc­tion budgets and reali­sed that very little money was going towards the deve­lo­p­ment phase of projects – the idea­tion. And in many cases, it is clear that if more resour­ces had been inves­ted in the rese­arch phase – expe­ri­men­ting and trying things out – the whole produc­tion would have been estab­lished in a more sustainable way. Which is why we have put more empha­sis on ideation.

Did that work during lockdown?

Yes. People couldn’t go out, so crea­tive artists had the time to deve­lop ideas. And we supported them in their research.

And disse­mi­na­tion?

That’s our second funding area. It’s very much in the Migros spirit – we essen­ti­ally want to serve culture up to people like a food truck. Many produc­tions take place at a very local level, howe­ver. Funding often takes people up to the first perfor­mance, but they aren’t able to then go on tour. Artists need to be able to perform to gain expe­ri­ence. And audi­en­ces need to be able to disco­ver new things. This shouldn’t be limi­ted to speci­fic regi­ons, it should be taking place in multi­ple locations. 

And how did that work during lockdown?

Extre­mely well. We’re inte­res­ted in new, inno­va­tive approa­ches. We’re not just looking to fund yet another museum tour. During lock­down, lots of projects went online. And we were ready to help support these new distri­bu­tion chan­nels. We were able to cater to many of the new demands of crea­tive artists.

Photo: Vera Hartmann

Hedy Graber has been Head of the Culture and Social Office at the Fede­ra­tion of Migros Coope­ra­ti­ves in Zurich since 2004. She is respon­si­ble for the natio­nal focus of the cultu­ral and social projects run by Migros Cultu­ral Percen­tage. She was also in charge of estab­li­shing and advan­cing the Enga­ge­ment Migros deve­lo­p­ment fund, which was foun­ded in 2012. In addi­tion, she is presi­dent of the Culture and Economy Forum (Forum Kultur und Ökono­mie) asso­cia­tion. Graber is a member of the Lucerne univer­sity coun­cil, various commit­tees, juries, boards of trus­tees and admi­nis­tra­tive boards. She was named Euro­pean Cultu­ral Mana­ger of the Year in 2015.

Migros Cultu­ral Percen­tage also orga­ni­ses events itself. How have you dealt with your own events during the pandemic?

Our m4music pop festi­val was plan­ned for March, for exam­ple. We expec­ted 6,000 people to attend. We went into lock­down a week before the festi­val was due to start. We imme­dia­tely shifted to an online format. We were proba­bly the first people to orga­nise a coro­na­vi­rus panel for artists. Of course, the tech­no­logy wasn’t quite there yet. Nevert­hel­ess, we mana­ged to gather toge­ther the key figu­res from the pop scene.

What was your rela­ti­onship like with the artists during this period?

We unde­re­sti­ma­ted the impact of people not being able to meet up. We thought that word would auto­ma­ti­cally spread about the support we were offe­ring in the area of disse­mi­na­tion. We had to increase the consul­ting and support we were offe­ring. From my perspec­tive, it brought us closer together.

Artists are facing huge finan­cial chal­lenges. At the same time, crises always offer a huge amount of crea­tive poten­tial. How do you feel artists have respon­ded to the crisis?

I always say that in the cultu­ral sphere, you learn to ask lots of ques­ti­ons without neces­s­a­rily expec­ting an answer right away. In this field, you need to be able to deal with uncer­tainty. Howe­ver, the ques­tion remains as to why artists don’t have a stron­ger lobby, and why ski resorts have stayed open but muse­ums haven’t. The cata­stro­phic impact of the crisis on the cultu­ral sector is yet to be properly felt. Not every artist is in a posi­tion to give a concert for 1,000 Insta­gram follo­wers. The chal­lenges are complex. Finding the right answers will be a gradual process. Which is why we are trying to take concrete steps at this stage. For exam­ple, we have just laun­ched a clas­si­cal project for a small audi­ence, plan­ned for March. But we are alre­ady prepared to resche­dule if we have to, and the funds will still be paid out even if the event doesn’t take place in the end. That kind of relia­bi­lity makes all the difference.

What origi­nally caused you to rethink your funding strategy?

In 2012, we deve­lo­ped and laun­ched the Enga­ge­ment Migros deve­lo­p­ment fund. And after having reworked the stra­tegy in the social sector, revie­w­ing the stra­tegy in the cultu­ral sector was the logi­cal next step. Our func­tion is twofold. We want to act as a driver, stimu­la­ting the sector with our own projects and tenders. We also want to act as an enabler, faci­li­ta­ting projects that are brought to our atten­tion. With the new stra­tegy, we no longer offer funding by indi­vi­dual disci­pline – such as music, theatre or dance – but at an inter­di­sci­pli­nary level. We see our support in the areas of idea­tion and disse­mi­na­tion as a comple­ment to govern­ment program­mes. It helps main­tain the level of back­ground activity.

You have done away with funding for indi­vi­dual disci­pli­nes. Has this system worked? 

We haven’t done away with it. We have adapted our inter­nal orga­ni­sa­tio­nal struc­ture. We have main­tai­ned the same level of exper­tise in the indi­vi­dual disci­pli­nes. When it comes to funding social projects, we don’t diffe­ren­tiate based on areas like health­care or volun­tee­ring. In the cultu­ral sector, we inten­ded the new stra­tegy to encou­rage dialo­gue. Our head of film recently presen­ted a new funding format, the Story Lab, at the Solo­thurn Film Festi­val. She was inspi­red by her colle­ague working on the m4music music programme, for example.

As part of Migros, your funding acti­vi­ties are very public. How does this impact your work?

Artists seek support first and fore­most from govern­ment program­mes. After that, Migros is the next choice. Which I think is great. It means we’re a kind of essen­tial service provi­der. Of course, there is no entit­le­ment to funding. But we are very firmly estab­lished, inclu­ding with our regio­nal coope­ra­ti­ves. Whether Migros Culture Percen­tage encou­ra­ges people to shop at Migros I don’t know. Of course, that would be great. But we’re not a marke­ting tool. Unlike us, chari­ties are able to work much more discretely. Howe­ver, over the past 20 years, I have seen the sector become much more profes­sio­nal, thanks in part to Swiss­Foun­da­ti­ons. There are really bril­li­ant initia­ti­ves emer­ging. And there is more transparency.

How much diffe­rence does it make that you are part of a private company?

Our acti­vi­ties are depen­dent on company turno­ver. That’s an inte­res­t­ing diffe­rence compared with chari­ties – Migros always makes money. Plus, thanks to ongo­ing plan­ning, we are always suffi­ci­ently prepared to be able to react to changes.

m2act – a funding and networ­king project for performing arts by Migros Cultu­ral Percen­tage – was laun­ched in a hybrid format at Südpol in Lucerne in 2020.

How do you evaluate the success of your funding strategy?

We don’t just want to do the things that appeal to us. If people don’t appre­ciate what we do, then we’ve done a bad job. In econo­mic terms, that means if there’s no inte­rest in the market, our work is meaningless.

Is your market the audi­ence or the artists?

Both, defi­ni­tely. We’re not carry­ing out projects from our ivory tour and waving down to see if anyone is inte­res­ted. Our projects are very parti­ci­pa­tory. We laun­ched the performing arts programme m2act in 2020, for exam­ple. The result is not a finis­hed project but a method for faci­li­ta­ting colla­bo­ra­ti­ons and connec­tions. Artists shouldn’t stay in their own isola­ted worlds. Of course, there are concrete facts and figu­res for measu­ring success. But quan­ti­ta­tive measu­re­ments are only one side of the story. A full concert hall is all well and good, but the quality of the music is equally important.

Women are often under­re­pre­sen­ted in the cultu­ral and crea­tive sectors, too. Does gender play a role in your funding work?

It’s a topic in our sector too, of course. But we don’t have an poli­ti­cally correct compo­si­tion. For exam­ple, we don’t have a female team member from Ticino to repre­sent that region – but it’s a topic that’s on our radar. We held an exhi­bi­tion on cyber­fe­mi­nism at the Migros Museum two years ago, for exam­ple. There are a lot of women repre­sen­ted in our coll­ec­tion, too. That’s some­thing that matters to us. 

Where do you see poten­tial for growth in this area?

I’m very prag­ma­tic. I have the oppor­tu­nity to promote the topic in my role. In every commit­tee I’m on, I always ask where the women are. We need to start thin­king more diver­sely. That includes ques­ti­ons around new modes of living. What do I need to do to make sure that people with diffe­rent ways of living can do their job well? This goes beyond the clas­sic topic of balan­cing work and family life. We need to see these diffe­rent models reflec­ted in the world of work. At a poli­ti­cal level, it’s important to me that women occupy a more promi­nent posi­tion. We supported the Helve­tia­rockt plat­form, which promo­tes women in the music indus­try. My guiding prin­ci­ple is that women need to become more visi­ble. Plat­forms like this can help, from support­ing female tech­ni­ci­ans to female bassists. But we still have a long way to go.

‘We need to start thin­king more diver­sely. That includes ques­ti­ons around new modes of living.’
Hedy Graber

When you look at the average clas­si­cal orches­tra, you can imme­dia­tely see that women are not equally represented.

When I look at the women instru­men­ta­lists who take part in our talent deve­lo­p­ment program­mes, there are clearly lots of extre­mely capa­ble female musi­ci­ans. But we shouldn’t just be looking at the orches­tra. We need female conduc­tors and soloists, too.

Your mother was the first female conduc­tor in Switz­er­land. How did that influence you?

It influen­ced me in two ways. I lear­ned to respect culture. My mother played the piano constantly – whether you wanted to listen or not. She dedi­ca­ted her whole life to art. That made a huge impres­sion on me as a child. My mother also achie­ved incre­di­ble things for her time. When she left Geneva to join the Conser­va­toire de Paris in 1949, they needed to change the eligi­bi­lity requi­re­ments to allow a woman to even study conduc­ting. That had a big impact on me. I lear­ned that there was a profes­sion some people were banned from entering. 

What was the expe­ri­ence like for your mother?

She conduc­ted a lot in Scan­di­na­via, where the count­ries were a bit more progres­sive in that respect. In Switz­er­land, the idea of having a female conduc­tor was unthinkable. My mother had to learn what it meant to be ahead of her time. She once recei­ved a rejec­tion from a German orches­tra that read: ‘Dear Mr Salquin, even though you are a woman, we are addres­sing you as “Mr”…’ They did not want a woman as a conductor.

Were you ever tempted to become a crea­tive artist yourself?

I studied art history. I had always been inte­res­ted in the way cultu­ral contexts are expres­sed in images. I’m sure my mother’s histo­ri­cal context played a part in that, too. But no, I was never inte­res­ted in beco­ming an artist. 

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