The illustration ‘Die Kunst’ (Art) by the artist duo MILK+WODKA. On display at Stiftung Erbprozent Kultur.

Where anyone can be a promo­ter of culture

The ‘Erbprozent Kultur’ foundation is taking a new approach to culture promotion: a bequest enables anyone to set aside one percent of their estate for culture, so that future generations can then decide for themselves how contemporary culture will be supported.

Anyone can bequeath one percent of their estate to a foun­da­tion that supports both current and future cultu­ral endea­vours in Switz­er­land. With this remar­kably simple idea, the Erbpro­zent Kultur foun­da­tion was laun­ched in eastern Switz­er­land in 2015. How it works: anyone who wants to leave one percent of their wealth to culture can make a writ­ten bequest, which is stored with their will or other important docu­ments. Like all testa­men­tary decis­i­ons, it can be revo­ked at any time. 

Erbpro­zent Kultur was estab­lished in 2015 as part of the ‘Kultur­lands­ge­meinde’ cultu­ral festi­val in the Swiss canton of Appen­zell Ausser­rho­den, where various aspects of inhe­ri­tance were discus­sed under the heading of ‘Wir erben – wir Erben’ (We inhe­rit – we bequeath). ‘Swiss inhe­ri­tance law is desi­gned to pass on wealth within the family,’ says Theres Inauen, who repres­ents those making bequests on the foundation’s board of trus­tees. This means that more and more assets are accu­mu­la­ted priva­tely. ‘Erbpro­zent Kultur ther­e­fore wants to encou­rage people to think about how they might want their estate to be divi­ded beyond just their family.’ 

An open-ended foun­da­tion purpose

Erbpro­zent Kultur wants to plug gaps in the culture promo­tion land­scape, explains co-foun­der and presi­dent Margrit Bürer. ‘Although there are many private and public promo­ters of culture in Switz­er­land, support is usually tied to clear crite­ria.’ This often forces artists and insti­tu­ti­ons to adapt their projects to the prio­ri­ties of the orga­ni­sa­ti­ons offe­ring this support, while foun­da­ti­ons have to align their acti­vi­ties with their stated purpose. With Erbpro­zent Kultur, it’s no diffe­rent, but: ‘We have deli­bera­tely formu­la­ted our foundation’s purpose as openly and flexi­bly as possi­ble, so that we can respond to new needs and deve­lo­p­ments quickly,’ explains Bürer. Because today’s issues and urgen­cies may no longer inte­rest the next generation.

Tradi­tio­nal culture promo­tion inher­ently crea­tes an imba­lance, adds Inauen. ‘There’s a side that gives money and a side that recei­ves it.’ This clear divi­sion of roles is some­thing that Erbpro­zent Kultur wants to break up: here, abso­lut­ely anyone can become a promo­ter of culture, regard­less of age, wealth, profes­sion or poli­ti­cal network – inclu­ding those who work in the cultu­ral sector. ‘There are so many people who are active in the sector or who know someone who is. They serve as our seis­mo­graphs, drawing our atten­tion to various projects, ideas and initia­ti­ves throug­hout Switzerland.’ 

A bigger hurdle than assumed

The feed­back on the idea has been largely posi­tive, reports Margrit Bürer; about 50 people made a bequest at the begin­ning. ‘Back then, we thought the idea would take off on its own,’ admits the foundation’s presi­dent. But it has since become clear that the hurdle of actually making a bequest is bigger than initi­ally assu­med. Since the foundation’s incep­tion, only 140 people have made such a promise. ‘It’s not down to the one percent, but ever­y­thing that comes with it,’ says Bürer: the need to sort out your will and thus think about your own death, or family concerns, or the shame of not having much to leave behind. As a result, Erbpro­zent Kultur offers the option of making a one-off or a regu­lar dona­tion so that people who would rather support the foun­da­tion while still alive can do so. 

Accor­ding to an esti­mate made by a Swiss inhe­ri­tance study carried out by Zürcher Kanto­nal­bank (ZKB), about CHF 88 billion was inhe­ri­ted in 2023. Many cantons do not levy an inhe­ri­tance tax.

Valued support

To date, Erbpro­zent Kultur has supported artists and insti­tu­ti­ons to the tune of almost half a million Swiss francs. The foun­da­tion doesn’t accept requests. Instead, five funding pots have been crea­ted, each with a diffe­rent selec­tion process – some­ti­mes a jury deci­des who will be supported, some­ti­mes it’s deter­mi­ned randomly. Unlike other foun­da­ti­ons, Erbpro­zent Kultur doesn’t support a speci­fic produc­tion or project but, rather, the artists and initia­ti­ves directly. Bürer: ‘The money is a token of our appre­cia­tion. We trust that it will be used where it is most urgen­tly needed.’ 

Twice a year, those who have made bequests and other guests are invi­ted to forums where current issues and chal­lenges are discus­sed. Accor­ding to Theres Inauen, these discus­sions can be quite contro­ver­sial. But this is inten­tio­nal: ‘As an orga­ni­sa­tion, we’re always lear­ning. We are constantly revie­w­ing our foundation’s purpose, as well as the funding pots and selec­tion processes.’ 

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