Reaching more people

Für die Schweizer Bevölkerung

The SKKG foun­da­tion been through some turbu­lent times. Bettina Stefanini, the daugh­ter of its foun­der, became its presi­dent in 2018. She talks about parti­ci­pa­tion-based funding models and what its impres­sive property port­fo­lio means for the foundation.

You’re brea­king new ground with the Kultur­Ko­mi­tee Winter­thur project. In this parti­ci­pa­tion-based funding project, selec­ted Winter­thur resi­dents award the grants. The foun­da­tion is making CHF 500,000 available for this?

Exactly. There’s CHF 400,000 on the table for grants and CHF 100,000 will be used to fund the entire project, the colla­bo­ra­tors, the website and other ancil­lary costs. The Board of Trus­tees even gave its appr­oval for CHF 2 million. We are plan­ning to run the project at least four times. This means we can take an itera­tive approach and learn from it.

Why did you choose this parti­ci­pa­tory approach?

Various discus­sions reve­a­led that after the Oskar Rein­hart Foun­da­tion shifted its focus and the city of Winter­thur simul­ta­neously ente­red budget-cutting mode, local cultu­ral spon­sor­ship was a major concern for Winter­thur. Very quickly, people star­ted asking: by whom, for whom? Would it not be better if we, as locals, offe­red local support. We wanted to try it out. We will have an assess­ment by the people who have to make decis­i­ons on the spot, without deal­ing with the topic profes­sio­nally. If it works, the effects could be multi­plied. The jury will obtain expe­ri­ence, regard­less of the funding for the cultu­ral projects. It will have an indi­rect impact, like play­ing off the cushion in billiards.

What approach did SKKG take?

A random gene­ra­tor picked out the parti­ci­pants. We sent out 200 invi­ta­ti­ons and recei­ved 24 posi­tive respon­ses in return, which is an accep­tance rate of one in eight.

What have the initial expe­ri­en­ces of the project been?

I’m not quite sure. We have promi­sed not to inter­fere in the project, so you will have to ask the project mana­gers, Mia Oder­matt and Noemi Scheu­rer. The projects are open until the middle of Febru­ary, so we will proba­bly be able to share expe­ri­en­ces in the summer. We have also commis­sio­ned the Univer­sity of Bern to evaluate them.

Scott C. Miller, US Ambassa­dor to Switz­er­land: “Phil­an­thro­pic work was the perfect preparation.”

How is the chari­ta­ble sector hand­ling the new approach?

Andreas Geis [Head of Grants at SKKG] told me that he’s heard posi­tive feed­back, although it’s been discus­sed only in a rela­tively small circle so far. We would like this new approach to make a bit more noise.

What does the parti­ci­pa­tory approach mean for the supported artists?

They have people in front of them who will look at culture in a diffe­rent way, in the same way as an audi­ence award, perhaps. In any case, it’s a chall­enge – for the awar­der and the reci­pi­ent alike.

Culture often has some­thing very elitist about it. Can this approach help soften this a little? 

It can indeed. SKKG’s roots lie in its foun­der, the coll­ec­tor. He was very much a self-taught man and he was keen to break free from these elites.

What was your father like?

He was born in 1924 and was a staunch supporter of meri­to­cracy. If you’re strong and capa­ble, you should be rewarded: that was his view. Gott­fried Keller had alre­ady grapp­led with this. He was driven by a deep-seated need for demo­cracy that was ancho­red in the welfare state. Ever­yone needs to be able to access our society. From this perspec­tive, you could even infer he was a supporter of women’s rights, but of course he wasn’t. He was very patri­ar­chal. But the moti­va­tion behind his coll­ec­tion and the foun­da­tion was that they were for Switz­er­land. That is his legacy. It reso­na­tes stron­gly with current trends, with the notion of participation.

Your father was a passio­nate coll­ec­tor, But it appears the concept of presen­ting the coll­ec­tion to the public was missing.

He had dreams of sharing his life’s work with the public, but reality shat­te­red these plans. He had envi­sa­ged muse­ums in Salen­stein, Grand­son and Bres­tenberg cast­les, and also an exhi­bi­tion centre in Winter­thur. Howe­ver, he would have had to work much more closely with people and insti­tu­ti­ons to put them into prac­tice. He would have had to let other people make decis­i­ons. Although he did this frequently with his earlier real estate projects, this did not work for his later projects with the foun­da­tion. That said, he had never plan­ned the coll­ec­tion to be a private project.

A foun­da­tion has a public mandate…

Yes, parti­cu­larly a chari­ta­ble foun­da­tion. That must be our goal, and it is. We work in close colla­bo­ra­tion with the local foun­da­tion in Grand­son that runs the museum and we are funding the castle’s reno­va­tion. Howe­ver, we do not intend to display a large part of our coll­ec­tion there: we want our exhi­bits to simply be part of the exhibition.

Why are you not plan­ning your own museum?

Switz­er­land is home to 1,300 muse­ums, and we do not have a good enough reason to build another one. We want to act indirectly.

So that muse­ums are not reser­ved for one parti­cu­lar social class?

Exactly; that’s what we want to avoid. We want to show off our coll­ec­tion in an open, unbu­reau­cra­tic way by enga­ging in colla­bo­ra­ti­ons with muse­ums. We want to give muse­ums the chance to explore inter­ac­tions with things with which they would ordi­na­rily never come into contact.

How does this work in practice?

The coll­ec­tion has 13 toy boats owned by Wilhelm of Prus­sia and Louis Ferdi­nand of Prus­sia, the grand­sons of Wilhelm II, the last German Kaiser. We have lent them to the Stap­fer­haus for its exhi­bi­tion on gender. Along­side the exhi­bits, we provide exper­tise on how to handle the items so they are not dama­ged. This allows muse­ums to add value to the objects and make them acces­si­ble to the public. Another exam­ple rela­tes to an enquiry from Mörs­burg, near Winter­thur. The castle opera­tor was looking for a suit of armour and we actually had one from the right era. Howe­ver, old cast­les do not offer the ideal climate for these exhi­bits, so we had a display case made to protect it, which we have rented to the Mörs­burg asso­cia­tion at a nomi­nal price. Now, it can exhi­bit the genuine armour in the setting of the castle. That’s exactly how we imagine it…

Espace Jean Tinguely – Niki de Saint Phalle in Fribourg is home to a piece by Niki de Saint Phalle from your coll­ec­tion. But Hünt­wan­gen village museum can also be a reci­pi­ent of an exhibit?

That is very important to us. We are also enga­ged in discus­sions with art muse­ums in Zurich, Berlin and Paris, where we are keen to exhi­bit our artworks. Support­ing small galle­ries and village muse­ums is just as important to us, and we hope that our funding can help the same bene­fi­ci­a­ries. We colla­bo­rate with galle­ries to ensure, for exam­ple, that they can employ someone to value the coll­ec­tion in a parti­ci­pa­tory approach. 

«There should be an active debate about the meaning of exhibits»

Bettina Stefanini, Presi­dent of the Foun­da­tion SKKG

You provide exhi­bits and/or funds, so more people can access them. Are other muse­ums and exhi­bi­tors open to this approach?

That differs greatly. We work very closely with five muse­ums on funding-rela­ted matters, and they are quite far along this jour­ney. Howe­ver, I won’t say it’s the only jour­ney to take…

…but it is a new approach. Is it possi­ble to deve­lop it?

We think it’s crucial that culture does not lose its foot­hold in our society. What is culture? What is our culture? Society needs to ask these kinds of ques­ti­ons. Alter­na­tively, there should be an active debate about the meaning of exhi­bits, as Zurich Univer­sity of the Arts has done with the Oxyd art space. This project really set my heart going.

Which project?

‘Explo­ring the coll­ec­tion of the SKKG’. Students were able to choose an item in our coll­ec­tion and relate it to current trends. For this, three students picked out Theresa Garnett’s riding crop, with which this suffra­gette alle­gedly atta­cked Wins­ton Chur­chill in 1909. The students looked at the whip in rela­tion to women’s rights and hier­ar­chies, and reflec­ted on what a whip itself means. And to mark 50 years of women’s suffrage, their project looks at the endless pige­on­ho­ling of women’s suffrage campai­gners by male poli­ti­ci­ans in Switz­er­land. The result? An impres­sive display of what can be done with the exhibits.

And that would be?

As a foun­da­tion, we are limi­ted in terms of what we can do with inter­pre­ta­ti­ons. We can clas­sify things histo­ri­cally, but the diffe­rent facets of how the object is percei­ved can be worked out only in active discus­sion. That’s why this project is so important to me.

Will exhi­bits from the coll­ec­tion be displayed on the campo site, the foundation’s future head­quar­ters in Winterthur’s Hegi district?

We are plan­ning diffe­rent formats at the campo site to enable people to access the coll­ec­tion, but we are just getting star­ted. We want the place to have a cultu­ral impact, but we are not yet sure how to do that We want to add value to these exhi­bits, for art histo­ri­ans and ever­yone else. The aim is not to create an ivory tower: we are plan­ning various formats, plus a large space in which exhi­bits can be shown and discussed.

What other ideas do you have to make your father’s coll­ec­tion available to a wider audience?

We often talk about how we can get the coll­ec­tion into the public domain to gene­rate colla­bo­ra­tive ideas. After all, we own nume­rous proper­ties, with all kinds of possi­bi­li­ties. The income gene­ra­ted funds the cultu­ral foun­da­tion. Perhaps we can orga­nise a project with our tenants.

How open-ended is the process you use to deve­lop the campo site?

We are in the middle of test plan­ning. We are not wedded to any parti­cu­lar outcome in one respect, in that we want to take on resi­dents’ wishes and ideas. Howe­ver, we also want to find what our aspi­ra­ti­ons are. We have expec­ta­ti­ons in terms of the process’ outcome from this perspective.

You unvei­led the current status of the project at an initial insight meeting. What was your expe­ri­ence of this?

We did not invite the public at large: we were joined by our direct neigh­bours and repre­sen­ta­ti­ves from poli­tics, asso­cia­ti­ons and local coope­ra­ti­ves. I was so plea­sed to see how long parti­ci­pants stayed. It showed that people needed to talk about Swiss issues, or at least those rela­ted to Winterthur.

What can be deri­ved for the deve­lo­p­ment of the property portfolio?

If we look at all the foundation’s tasks – and there are many – real estate manage­ment is an important part.

Where do you see the challenges?

We are some­ti­mes faced with conflic­ting requi­re­ments in terms of the property port­fo­lio. We have a social purpose. Our port­fo­lio conta­ins low-cost dwel­lings and that will remain the case. Howe­ver, we also want climate-friendly housing and not least we need to gene­rate stable returns for the cultu­ral foun­da­tion. We need to find a middle ground and strike a balance between these requirements.

And parti­ci­pa­tion?

We are working on ways in which tenants can get invol­ved. As far as property deve­lo­p­ment goes, my father and his archi­tects provi­ded a strong foundation.

What does this look like?

In the late 1950s, they devi­sed a func­tional, clear floor­plan that they put into prac­tice until the late 1960s. When we have found the perfect solu­tion, it will make things easier to repli­cate. We are curr­ently working on a proto­type for reno­va­tions in Stäfa.

How did the legal cons­truct come about?

In the first part of his life my father built property and in the second part he deve­lo­ped the foun­da­tion from the company, as many do. He made the foun­da­tion the sole heir of his real estate busi­ness. Now the rela­ti­onship is rever­sed: the foun­da­tion owns the company and is respon­si­ble for it.

What does that mean?

How should we handle colla­bo­ra­tion between these two areas. And how much does the foun­da­tion need to be repre­sen­ted in the real estate company. These topics shape our discus­sions. For exam­ple, last year, we defi­ned that we wanted to view the real estate and the cultu­ral foun­da­tion as a func­tional unit, even though the foundation’s state­ment of purpose does not include the property.

Who deci­des when and how at the Kultur Komi­tee Winter­thur? A new, parti­ci­pa­tory funding stra­tegy.

We love cultu­ral heri­tage. The SKKG wants to bring its coll­ec­tion toge­ther in one place and is looking through all its holdings.

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