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Dec 27
The SMART Project: An Interview with Felix Fellmann on How the Global Division implements the Cultural Percent

Felix Fellmann, Focal Point Food Security

At first it looks like a white mushroom. On a closer look one sees the cropped out silhouette of the snowy mountaintop turned up side down. Flowing in blue zigzag lines to the right of the picture – the ocean. Melting Data is the name of this piece of art by Luana Letts, a Peruvian photographer working on the transformation of landscapes. In November 2014 her exhibition "Constant Transformation" launched the SMART program that aims to increase awareness on the challenges mountain regions are facing. It was initiated by the Foundation for the Development of Mountain Regions (FDDM) and supported as part of the Cultural Percent by the Global Division of SDC. So far 11 artists from Rwanda, South Africa, Mongolia, China, Morocco, Peru and Switzerland have been working during three months in the Swiss mountains. They artistically documented their views on the global themes of climate change, water resources, migration and food security. Their artworks were later displayed in exhibitions in Switzerland and in their home countries to enter into an intercultural dialogue between local populations and policy makers.

We spoke to Felix Fellmann, Focal Point for the global program food security, to learn more on how the global division is implementing the cultural percent.

Why does SMART focus on mountain regions?

Felix Fellmann: There are one billion people living in mountain and hill regions around the globe. Mountain regions account for the biggest sweet water reserves and host a quarter of biodiversity on earth. The centrality of mountain regions to sustainable development is acknowledged in different global summits and in the 2030 agenda. SMART shows the impact of the five global themes: climate change, water, food security, migration and health, on mountain regions.

This is especially interesting for SDC partner countries like Nepal, central Asian countries, Peru or Bolivia. In these regions, melting glaciers are one of the most visible impacts of climate change. So this is a very close connecting point and we have been working closely with artists from Peru and China. Melting glaciers mean less water for agriculture and consumption in general. Water is the topic number one for survival and its importance was artistically realized in many of the artworks in the program. This summer, SMART focused on migration and food security. Many migrants are coming from mountain countries. In these contexts, especially young people have fewer options. This happened also in Switzerland in the canton of Ticino where 100 years ago people migrated to Brazil or the United States. A young photographer showed the topic of food security by focusing on mountain farming (see the article on Mountain Heroes). So far, there has been no artist working on health. But this topic is also closely linked to mountain regions, because the density of health facilities is far lower compared to low land countries with high population density. We have not yet reached an active cooperation with the health program, but this will come.

What were the reactions to SMART here and abroad?

In Switzerland public exhibitions have been taking place so far in the cantons of Valais and Graubünden. I have been to some of the exhibitions myself. In Valais for example were a lot of feedbacks from students of middle and art schools. They were very open and especially curious about the similarities between Switzerland and the artists' home countries. For Swiss artists, it was interesting to see artistic perspectives from completely different contexts, environments and cultures. For the future we would like to have more cooperation between art schools in Switzerland and in SDC partner countries to reach more young people. Because it is mainly young people who will form the next steps of development of this world. It is good to have their enthusiasm and critical mind. In this sense, SMART is mainly a program of and for young people. It is young artists coming to Switzerland, returning home and communicating back to younger people who are at the beginning of their career.

Abroad there were exhibitions in Peru and Ruanda, which has no mountains but quite high hills. The audiences there were mainly surprised that Switzerland has similar issues to deal with as they have. So it is good to get some evidence and to generate solidarity between the countries. This underlines the basic concept of the global program of SDC that highlights the global and borderless nature of its five themes. This strengthens our message to deal with them in a global manner.

Why does SMART matter to you?

The project fascinates me, because it is a chance to move out of our typical development language. We are having a very scientific language. A language that is spoken at international fora, but that is not so adequate for people living in areas where we are working. Culture and art are powerful communication channels that reach people on a different level and touch them far more effectively compared to policy language. While policy language is focused on a very small group of people, the visual language of art attracts people in a more holistic and sustainable manner. For example, we see that people speak even years after about an event on culture. So for me, art is really an effective and exciting tool.

Have a look at the different artworks on: http://sustainablemountainart.ch/category/artworks/

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