Blog Culture Matters

Aug 31
Publication: Reflection Papers on Culture and Development


Culture Matters! In times of crisis, such as the present, art and culture take on special significance. They offer space for our need for social cohesion, emotional expression and exchange. But cultural achievements are not only relevant in times of crisis. The SDC's Culture Network, in collaboration with the author François Matarasso, has produced ten reflection papers that highlight the role and potential of art and culture in various areas of international cooperation. They are the basis for a discussion and learning process that will help us to orient and implement our cultural commitment. It is with great pleasure that we present these well-founded reflections, collected in the booklet Reflection Papers on Culture and Development.​

Read the reflection papers on the Shareweb Culture Matters or ​on the FDFA Publication page.


Jul 23
Learning from the crisis – new cultural activities in Honduras during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has abruptly put the arts and culture in a very vulnerable spot. At the same time it has forced the culture sector to rethink and to become even more creative. One of these innovative solutions have been supported by the SDC in Honduras – it is a platform that seeks not only to support artists, but also to reach out to a rural audience.

A highly limited social life, the home office, a total curfew or the mask as a steady companion in the public - the COVID-19 crisis has completely changed our habits and routines. Obviously, these are extremely difficult conditions for the artistic sector and its vulnerability became abruptly tangible when the pandemic hit the world some months ago. Festivals, concerts, theatres and many other cultural activities have been cancelled or postponed and as a result many artists and other employees in the creative world have become dependent on financial support.

New possibilities

But there is the other side of the coin: being limited in possibilities and prevented in working the usual way, new possibilities and a courage to experiment has emerged. The artistic sector is by nature creative and innovative and hence many theatres, concert organizers, museums, and cinemas have discovered new opportunities in the virtual world. When the Team Culture and Development at the SDC HQ in Bern asked the Community of Practice Culture Matters whether they adapted, changed or even created new cultural projects during COVID-19 many reported to have transferred activities to the virtual world and to have come up with possibilities to gather an audience via different social media. 


The SDC and MUA discussing the project.

​Supporting artists with a solidarity platform

Honduras is one example of a SDC partner country, where a new culture project emerged during the lockdown. The country has declared a state of emergency: the public life is very limited and the population is still under partial curfew. The official cultural support in Honduras is rather low and if culture is supported it is mostly mainstream culture. No surprise the current conditions make it hard for independent artists to gain money and have an audience.

An opportunity to support cultural actors in the country arose with an initiative of the “Committee of Cultural Centers" (Commite Centro culturales, CCC) which is a network of cultural organizations. They initiated the idea to create the "Platform for Artistic and Solidarity Action" (“Plataforma de Acción Artística y Solidaria", PAAS), which shall provide a Solidarity Income Fund (ISE) for artists and cultural actors. The "Women in the Arts Association" (“Asociación Mujeres en las Artes", MUA) is holding the chairmanship of the Committee and is now leading the platform. The SDC and the MUA signed a six-month cooperation agreement on June 5, 2020.

The main idea is simple: artists and cultural actors can provide virtual artistic products or performances for which they generate income via the platform. Additionally the users can donate money to the artists. This also includes other employees working in the culture sector and being impacted by the financial losses due to COVID-19 like stage designers, lighting technicians, or sound technicians. Additionally, the platform offers tips and tricks for artists on how they can make the best out of their performance on the platform, like e.g. an instruction on how a short and attractive video can best be produced. The platform will soon go online, in the meantime MUA is using other social networks. The platform is at the moment receiving support of two technical firms. The same firms also ensure that the platform can exist for another year after the SDC support.

Broader audience and inclusion of rural areas

Exceptional about this platform is that it takes into account that rural, confined or socially distanced areas might not have access to the internet. This is a general problem for culture projects that go virtual. Even if some people have a smartphone, their data is often not sufficient in order to stream the cultural content. So the platform has chosen to disperse micro-concerts, poetry recitals or narratives via the country’s Community Radio Network, the so called “Radios Communitarias”. Like that it kills two birds with one stone: the artists receive a broader audience and the culture becomes more inclusive by reaching more people. Who knows, maybe this pandemic is able to teach us a few things that are adaptable also in a post-corona world.

Thank you for the inputs on the project to Chantal Felder and Mayra Espinoza, responsibles for Culture at the SDC in Honduras


Jan 29
Vientianale’s On the Road Tour – A Filmmaking and -Screening Project Funded by the Lao Culture Challenge Fund

​The Lao Culture Challenge Fund was launched in 2013 by the Swiss Cooperation Office in Vientiane, Laos and is in its third project cycle. This fund was setup with the goal to contribute to and develop emerging cultural initiatives in Laos so that they could grow, find audiences, share and teach their creations to others. One such initiative is the Vientianale's On the Road Tour which screens films from Lao directors in rural areas and offers workshops on filmmaking for young filmmakers.

- by Touravanh Hook


The Lao Culture Challenge Fund

What is unique about the Swiss support to Lao culture is that the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation contributes to developing Lao culture with the objective to improve the social cohesion in the country, bridging cross-generational gaps for understanding and appreciation of cultural values, and prioritizing Lao citizens as the end beneficiaries. Support is provided through funds for project activities and organizational management training.  The later has proven the most valuable to the project partners. It gives them an opportunity to learn and improve in areas that would help them ensure sustainability of the organization, business or cultural expression. Topics include marketing, finance, networking and proposal pitching to banks, investors and other funding sources to name a few.

The fund works to develop the cultural industries in Laos. So that they can progress and become viable career choices for the growing youth in the country. Sectors include digital arts, music, literature and publishing, performance arts such as theater and dance, and fine arts to name a few.  One sector in particular that has benefited from the improved social-economic growth in South East Asia is filmmaking and cinema. The emergence of affordable smart mobile devices, decrease in video production equipment prices, expanding internet access and exposure to content learning and sharing platforms such as youtube and facebook has opened the doors for a new generation of aspiring filmmakers.

Unfortunately, much of the economic improvements seen throughout the country has not benefited those that are most vulnerable to falling or remaining in poverty traps. The disadvantaged populations that face the most forms of discrimination are still living in rural areas and most often from ethnic communities and women. The 2015 population census indicates that inequality is increasing in these areas.  This is where the project Vientianale's On the Road Tour comes in: films from Lao directors are screened in rural villages and workshops on filmmaking offered in communities throughout the country.


This initiative gives opportunities to youth and adults to experience films made by local directors that often address ideas and values from their own country. In the workshops on filmmaking the participants are taught innovative ways to create and produce short films on mobile devices and how to share their films on sharing platforms for others to see. Often times, some directors themselves are present to help with the learning.

Vientianale's On the Road Tour: A small snippet of a village visit by Helene Ouvrard

As the sun starts to set, children start gathering at the temple's grounds, in a village about 20km outside of Thakhek in Khammouane province. A screen has been put up and soon the film will begin. Villagers sit down on the mats they brought with them while some have set up some food stalls. Tonight's film is The river flows, the latest Lao film to be released in Vientiane's brand-new movie theaters. This was the last screening in Khammouane province for Vientianale's On the Road Tour , a film roadshow which started in Paksane in Bolikhamxay province 10 days prior and which visited 24 schools and villages as far as Nakai, before moving on to Vang Vieng and up to Kasi at the far end of Vientiane province.

 Screening in Vang Vieng, Vientiane Province

Launched in 2013, at the initiative of the Vientianale Film Festival, the project is in third edition and has successfully toured in 12 provinces of Laos with a combined audience of about 25,000 people. One of the Vientianale's core goals is to bring the best of cinema to local audiences as well as to promote Lao filmmakers. With only four movie theaters around the country, most of which opened only two years ago, many communities living in rural and more remote areas of the country have scarce if no opportunity to watch recently released Lao movies.

The mobile screenings enable students and rural communities to watch the best and most recent Lao feature and short films in their schools and villages. The day screenings, which take place in local schools feature a selection of the best short films from the Vientianale short film competition, are very popular with students who pack up entire common halls and classrooms. Teachers are often surprised by the quality of the films and have as much fun as their pupils. "I'm very impressed.  I cannot believe that this is a film made by Lao person", confirms a teacher from Viengkham high school.

Screening in Bolikhamxay Province

Vientianale's On the Road Tour relies on a team of young Lao volunteers who have gained experience running activities in rural areas. In addition to showing the films, they also quiz the students on the movies they have seen or play fun games with them in between films. After day screenings at school are over, the team moves on to set up for the night screenings in villages. As all places visited are different, Vientianale's On the Road Tour has set up its screens in many locations, from temples to football fields, from small wood-thatched classrooms to university common halls capable of hosting up to 1,000 people. "We had a packed hall in Nakai the other day. It was great to see all the kids laughing and having fun watching our films" says Bouthavy, a Vientianale's volunteer.

Filmmaking workshop in Xayaburi Province

With film education as a core goal, Vientianale's On the Road Tour also organizes film workshops for young aspiring filmmkakers in the provinces visited. Over three days, experienced Lao filmmakers from Lao New Wave Cinema and Doklao Media Center introduce young Lao between 14 and 18 years old to the basics of their art, from scriptwriting to shooting and editing. The participants develop their own stories and produce their first and own short film. At the end of the workshop, the films are screened and the participants get precious feedback from their teachers. As they have limited material and means available, all the films are shot on the participants’ own smartphones so that they can go on making their own films.


 Filmmaking workshop in Pakse Province

With over 7,500 enthusiastic spectators, the popular roadshow will go on traveling in new places in the future.

Oct 17
Occupied Palestinian Territory: Culture, Art and Social Engagement – CASE Project

​The SDC’s cultural engagement in the occupied Palestinian territory aims at promoting citizens’ mobilisation, engagement, and enhancing effective (participatory and inclusive) dialogue between the society and local government representatives using different forms of artistic and cultural expressions.

- by Ragheda Andoni

Since 2016, this innovative approach has benefitted from an active partnership with and co-ownership by the Abdul Mohsen Qattan Foundation, a well-established independent cultural institution. The project is scheduled to run for a period of six years divided into two phases. Fifteen different locations were targeted during the first phase.

The CASE project uses culture and the arts to promote social engagement. Artists and project participants produced art works after a participatory process to determine community needs, and then engaged in dialogue with local authorities to enhance social accountability.

Participants took action and contributed to real change in their daily lives: for instance, raising awareness of the need to preserve old houses has put pressure on the municipal authorities of Deir El-Ghsoon to cancel their decision to demolish the historic olive press house (historically linked to Ahmad Pasha Al-Jazzar). Some families offered four old houses to the project to be restored and re-used as community and cultural spaces.

As an external review of the first project phase confirmed, participants were actively interested and engaged in the project. Because they saw themselves as key players in the project, all participants – women in particular  – stepped forward to voice their opinions and make their own decisions.

Our main goal for this project was to use culture as a means of encouraging civic participation without endangering the independent nature of artistic creation. This goal was achieved, as was evidenced by artists involved in the project who reported that the value of their artwork had been enhanced by it. Artist Raafat Asaad, for example, said, "Although I have worked with people from different communities before, my experience in this project was particularly enriching, as it helped me to gain experience to create links between the audience and arts, and taught me that only when art is inspired by people's voices, can people interact with and relate to it."

Video about three locations from CASE project

Inspiring examples of community engagement

Qatanna: Track/Masar project (track refers to tourist trails in historic or old Palestinian cities):

Participants in the project spent some time diagnosing their own challenges such as youth marginalisation, abandoned old town houses, a garbage landfill and drug dealing.

Under the supervision of two artists, participants decided to work on colouring the walls of Qatanna, decorating the town with benches and flowers, painting graffiti murals, and repairing damaged walls. They also decided to beautify their town to help attract national and international tourists.

Initially, there was little community participation in the project. Within six months, an unprecedented level of interaction had been achieved: people welcomed the project team to their homes and allowed them to paint on the outside and inside walls of their houses. Members of the local community cooperated enthusiastically especially after seeing the aesthetic improvement to their homes.

One 6-meter wall needed consolidation and plastering before painting could begin. Members of the local community were willing repair the wall but lacked materials and tools. After talking to the municipality, the municipality agreed to donate the needed materials (cement, plaster, etc.). The young people then did the work on a voluntary basis and painted the wall.

For more information about Qatanna project, please view this remarkable video


In Qalqilya, work was challenging because of the city's conservative nature. But against all expectations, 1,000 people agreed to participate in the artwork about women's names, bringing to the forefront the presence of women in the public sphere. Two courageous women went into a popular men's cafe in order to explain the 'Women's Names Cards' project and to motivate men to fill the cards. They were initially received with suspicion but eventually managed to build up confidence in themselves and generate interaction with the men at the cafe. The 'Third Hand' exhibition drew an unprecedented turnout and many people who attended the exhibition are now participants in the project activities. The exhibition was followed by a discussion with the mayor of Qalqilya, who instructed a member of the municipal board, Ms Dawla Zeid, to address the demands the community voiced during the project.

The Third Hand exhibition: video

Art exhibition: Profiles: The Biography of a City

After taking part in the 'The Third Hand' exhibition, teachers and community activists in Qalqilya worked with Palestinian artists to develop their own art projects and personal interpretations about their city in its social and political context. The workshops culminated in the production of the exhibition using different media and performance-based interactions such as Lena Dawood's work, where she sits at a small square table with an empty chair in front of her and visitors are invited to sit on the chair and talk with her. There was also a visual depiction of Qalqilya – entitled 'Penetration' – by Manar Zaid, consisting of three transparent slides: the front slide shows a distorted photo of the city in black and white, the middle one a portrait of Manar Zaid, and the last one a colourful photo of Qalqilya, illustrating the contrasting perceptions Manar had of Qalqilya before and during the project.

All pictures: Copyright Abdel Mohsen Qattan Foundation (AMQF)

May 25
May 21 - World Day for Cultural Diversity, for Dialogue and Development

On the occasion of the World day for Cultural Diversity, for Dialogue and Development, the SDC Team Culture and Development and the SDC Global Programme Migration and Development invite you to spend a moment to think about the relevance of cultural diversity in your fields of work. What does cultural diversity mean in your context? We did the same and would like to share with you some thoughts about the importance of cultural diversity relating to migration and human mobility.

- by Esther Mühlethaler

May 21 reminds us of the importance of cultural diversity as driving force of development and change, not only in terms of economic growth and social cohesion, but also as a resource for fulfilling emotional, moral, spiritual and intellectual lives of individuals. The promotion of cultural diversity, the reinforcement of cultural rights and the safeguarding of free cultural expression constitute significant elements in the engagement for poverty reduction and the achievement of sustainable development. In this sense, the cultural promotion is also considered important in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development where it is recognized as a key factor in various SDGs such as safe and sustainable cities, decent work, economic growth, reduced inequalities, gender equality and peaceful and inclusive societies. The awareness of cultural diversity is an important element for societies to adopt and to bring about change. Today we are also reminded of the four goals of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions adopted on 20 October 2005:

  • Support sustainable systems of governance for culture
  • Achieve a balanced flow of cultural goods and services and increase mobility of artists and cultural professionals
  • Integrate culture in sustainable development frameworks
  • Promote human rights and fundamental freedoms    


Cultural liberty and cultural diversity are of individual and of social importance. Both dimensions can be illustrated by the topic of migration and human mobility in which cultural components play manifold roles. On an individual level, culture as fundamental right and part of personal identities can be seen as empowering factor and of particular significance for people living in contexts marked by incertitude and upheaval far from home. The possibility for migrants to live one's own culture can help to cope with the past and the new living context which is key for their participation and inclusion as strong and self-reliant individuals. Beyond this, promotion of culture and cultural diversity plays, at the overall macro-level of societies, a bridging role between migrants and host communities, strengthens groups of marginalised migrants and therefore has a positive impact on social cohesion. This corresponds to the Swiss position on a framework for sustainable development post-2015 that notes:

"Promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue as well as leveraging the potential of cultural and artistic resources supports the inclusion of marginalised groups. It is also important for fostering peace and for sustainable development as a whole".

The inclusive character of strengthened cultural identities and cultural diversity is also recognized in the first drafts of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) currently being elaborated. Objective 16 with action 16b and 16j proposed in the GCM DRAFT Rev 1, for example, highlights this link between cultural diversity and migrant's inclusion:

OBJECTIVE 16: Empower migrants and societies to realize full inclusion and social cohesion

b) Exchange and implement best practices on integration policies, on ways to recognize, retain and promote migrants' national, social and cultural identities, as well as on means for communities of destination to share local customs, cultures and traditions with migrants, promoting acceptance of diversity and thus facilitating social cohesion

j) Support multicultural activities through sports, music, arts, culinary festivals and other social events that will facilitate better understanding and appreciation of the migrant cultures and those of destination communities

While globalization and mobility has created the conditions for greater interaction between cultures, it has also given rise to the threat of a certain homogenisation, and with it an imbalance, where the economically wealthiest societies hold an advantage when it comes to the propagation of their cultures. It is important, all the more, to protect and foster cultural diversity as essential to humanity. This also applies to our work and our behaviors as actors of international cooperation. It is therefore key to steadily strengthen our own intercultural skills and to foster our ability to reflect upon one's own identity and to observe and analyse intercultural issues.

If you are interested in more details about the principles of the promotion of cultural diversity, we recommend to read the SDC Culture and Development Policy.

We would be happy if you share with us your own thoughts about the relevance of cultural diversity, so that we can deepen our understanding of existing links between cultural diversity and sustainable development.

Mar 08
Inspiring Face to Face of the Community of Practice ‘Culture Matters’ in Basel

From February 8-10, around 40 members of the Community of Practice (CoP) 'Culture Matters' came together in Basel for three days. After attending the CROSSROADS conference on "International perspectives on culture, art and society", the CoP participated at a SDC-internal Face to Face (F2F) in order to talk about Culture and Development within SDC, operational issues and activities within the CoP. Many fruitful discussions emerged and the members of the CoP had the chance to get to know each other as well as to establish a basis for future collaboration.  

 - by Esther Mühlethaler

Participants of the F2F 'Culture Matters'


The F2F of the CoP ‘Culture Matters’ took place within the framework of the CROSSROADS event, which was organized by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia in cooperation with the SDC Knowledge-Learning-Culture Division. Participating at CROSSROADS during the first two days, the present CoP members had the opportunity for individual exchanges among each other even before the F2F started. The whole CROSSROADS event included a variety of panel discussions, conversations and art performances, which brought on stage experts and artists from all over the world. Representatives of culture promotion organizations, curators, scientists and artists from a wide range of branches attracted an equally diverse audience.

Inspiring and lively panel discussions and performances at CROSSROADS provided a basis for debates and experience sharing within the CoP. The panel dealing with the question “How to talk about what no one wants to talk about?”, for example, triggered discussions about the possibilities and limits arts and artists have for a critique of society and for raising awareness on specific topics. Corresponding questions also arose after seeing a strong and provocative theater play about prejudices Black people are exposed to, or a dance performance making homosexuality a subject of discussion in a very intimate manner. Although the opinions about “How to talk about what no one wants to talk about?” differed within the CoP to a certain extent, the group members mostly agreed on the important role artists can play in shedding light on controversial issues and in encouraging social transformation. However, several discussions also displayed the difficulties local political and societal contexts can cause for such critical arts. The importance of distinct and adaptable strategies to make artistic work in general and arts on controversial issues in particular accessible to a broader audience was stressed on several occasions.

Full of impressions and inspiration gathered at the CROSSROADS event, the members of the CoP participated at the SDC-internal F2F ‘Culture Matters’ on the third day. The F2F primarily aimed to encourage sharing and exchanging processes within the CoP, as well as to strengthen confidence in culture work. After an introduction pointing out the history, policy and structural basis of Culture & Development at SDC, the participants exchanged ideas and questions concerning five main topics in the course of a World Café. A first World Café table concerned the question on how to prioritize culture, which allowed to share very concrete field experiences on how to set up and promote culture programs. The monitoring of culture projects and programs was discussed in a second discussion group, while a third focused on principles that have to be specifically considered when promoting arts and artists in fragile contexts. Another discussion group dealt with the complex issue of balancing the aspects of artistic freedom and eligibility criteria in the promotion of arts and artists. The fifth World Café table aimed to exchange on the CoP as such and discussed the function and utilization of different channels of communication as well as the needs and expectations of members of the CoP. Based on these discussions, in the afternoon session the participants of the F2F defined first drafts of concrete guidelines for setting up cultural programs, which will be further refined.


Impressions from CROSSROADS and the F2F

It was impressive to get a feeling for how much knowledge and experience exists within the group, and how many ideas and concrete action points emerged during the group discussions. The participants closed the F2F by sharing some of their impressions of the day, naming something they learnt and something they commit to within the CoP. Looking just at a few statements, it seems that the F2F was a success regarding exchange and networking, and also raised awareness about the importance of culture work and cooperation within the CoP ‘Culture Matters’.




Among other things, the intense and very fruitful and clarifying F2F showed the importance of regular personal exchange within the CoP. Peer to peer learning, sharing of good practices and lessons learnt may increase the quality of work of all of us. In that sense, we’re all looking forward to meeting or hearing each other again, be it in bilateral interactions, regional meetings or, at the latest, at the next F2F in two years. 

Nov 21
«Short Pieces» – Perceiving realities through the eyes of others

In 2012, the format «Short Pieces» was created at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel. Within this format, young upcoming artists showcase their short solos and duos, most of which emerge from metropolis of the South and the East. Culture Matters spoke to three artists who were part of the «Short Pieces» programme in order to find out more about central elements in their work and about the chances they see in participating in the format.

- by Anna Von Sury


The pieces shown in the «Short Pieces» programme come from various countries from all over the world. This offers an opportunity to observe different realities through different eyes. «Short Pieces» specifically have to do with journeys of particular people. They don't necessarily address a whole context. It's a more in-depth look at a person, and how a person perceives certain things, but obviously narrated by the context, by the society and environment that informs the person. So it's a great insight into what occurs in other places", says Buhlebezwe Siwani, a performance and multimedia artist from South Africa. Together with Chuma Sopotela they performed the duo «Those Ghels» as a European Premiere in this year's «Short Pieces» programme: Both have already performed solos in the short pieces format in previous years.

A more in-depth look at a person is what the audience gets when watching the piece «Untitled» by Danya Hammoud, a choreographer and performer from Lebanon. Danya's piece is a fresh interpretation of Mary Wigman's solo «Hexentanz» from 1926. In her performance, Danya takes up and reflects on issues that are important in her work in general, such as the relation to the ground, the notion of violence and of continuity. In the short video statement below, Danya tells us what she tries to achieve with her work and how she sees art as a way of re-questioning reality.


Chuma and Buhlebezwe also re-question reality in «Those Ghels». In their performance, they turn around stereotypes of how black female bodies are widely presented and perceived in music videos. But challenging perceptions of others is not only important in this piece; Chuma and Buhlebezwe see this as a central element to their work as artists in general. By sharing and exchanging knowledge at festivals such as the Theater Spektakel, it becomes possible to challenge each other's perceptions of who we think the other person is, to confront prejudices and therefore to have a look at ourselves through the eyes of someone else. In the video below, Buhlebezwe and Chuma speak about the value of the Theater Spektakel in providing a space for challenging preconceived ideas and for meeting other creative people.


Also Danya sees the strength of the Theater Spektakel in the variety of participating artists: "I think with this festival specifically, I'm sure that I'm meeting artists that I wouldn't be able to meet elsewhere. So I guess the most important thing is the fact that it is rare to have this opportunity of this meeting."
Find more information on the Zürcher Theater Spektakel here.
Sep 25
Experiencing «Displacement» at the Zürcher Theater Spektakel

From August 17 until September 3, the Zürcher Theater Spektakel took place on Zurich's lake side, turning the Landiwiese into a culturally vibrant space. 50 productions in the field of theatre, dance, performance, music and installations from all over the world were shown, offering audiences experiences of various kinds. The dance «Displacement» let the audience have a glimpse into questions tackled by Syrian artist Mithkal Alzghair.

- by Anna von Sury

A man appears on the stage, barefoot and with a folded white cloth in his hands. The wooden stage is empty, only a pair of black boots stands at the front. The man gently lays down the cloth before he walks to the front of the stage, where he puts on the black boots. Seized by the surrounding silence, the audience watches how he rhythmically starts stamping his feet, faster and again slower, accompanied by labored breathing and an intense gaze into the audience. While moving from one pose to another, the eyes stay fixed on the audience, the gaze at times desperate, at times hopeful, but always intense. The body of this man seems to tell a story of its own.

The man dancing is Mithkal Alzghair, a Syrian dancer and choreographer, trained in Syria and in France. After studying classical ballet and modern dance at the High Institute of Damascus, Alzghair moved to France to continue his studies in Montpellier. It was at that time when the revolution in Syria started. Alzghair states that unable to return home and influenced by the emerging war, his work started to become increasingly political. He describes his role as a Syrian in exile:

"I was outside so I didn't see my role as that of an activist, my role was on the stage. But it's influenced my work so that I started to think of the stage as a space of demonstration by the means of art. If I was in Syria maybe I would not have this chance because the reality that's happening there is bigger. So the art is important for the world to know what's happening there".

Out of personal experiences and broader questions of heritage, identity, and ultimately displacement, Alzghair developed the piece «Displacement». Drawing on the traditional «dabke» dance, the examination of the Syrian body in a new reality happens by Alzghair dancing a solo in the first part, and by Rami Farah from Syria and Shamil Taskin from Turkey joining Alzghair in the second part. To find out more about the background of «Displacement» from Mithkal Alzghair himself, watch the video below.

Mar 28
Culture and societal change – limits and possibilities in evaluation

Cultural projects supported by SDC have often defined societal change as overall goal. How can we evaluate such objectives and what are appropriate tools and methods?  Furthermore is it possible to prove the effects that our project has contributed to this ambitious objective?  Or is the link between culture and societal change in the first place an obvious fact and a matter of belief?
- by Barbara Aebischer, Team Culture and Development, SDC


© DEZA/Dominic Nahr
Bamako, Mali, 2016. Residents from the neighbourhood enjoy a performance of Diakoya Dogotoro" le médecin malgré lui de Molière by the theater group Assitan Tangara in Niarela. Their projects have been supported by SDC.


Some time ago I had the great opportunity to undertake interviews with three experts in the field of the evaluation of cultural projects in regard to such issues: Céline Yvon, Elisa Fuchs and François Matarasso. The questions dealt with possibilities and limitations of the evaluation of the effects that an independent, diverse and inclusive culture sector can have on societal transformation. Hereby, we excluded the projects that are using culture as a means to a different end. In this article I would like to summarize some aspects of these conversations:


How can societal effects of cultural projects be made tangible?

Evaluating societal effects and making them tangible would be a rigorous and cost intensive exercise. For small cultural projects this does not make sense in regard to the available resources. Furthermore, societal changes need a lot of time and it is difficult to assign the causes to the determined effects. In this sense, it can be assumed that SDCs cultural projects can make just a contribution to societal change. In regard to methods to evaluate, there are suggested different kinds of interviews, such as qualitative detailed interviews, surveys and group interviews. It is important that the selected persons include also key persons, who are external of the project. In the role as an interviewer we have to be careful and be aware that there is always a power relation (as donor). In addition, the persons interviewed usually know what the interviewer (or the mandating donor) would like to hear and this can finally influence the answers. In this regard it is recommended to spend informal time with persons involved in the project. Ideally, interviews should be realized at the beginning as well as in the end of the project. In addition, a good way to illustrate the results of a cultural project is by telling anecdotes and success stories.


Where do you see the advantages, disadvantages and limits of planning cultural projects with the method of the logical framework?

The logical framework is estimated as a useful tool to think something through as well as a working tool. However, the logical framework should be established at the stage of project definition in collaboration with the partner organization. This in order to define together the specific project goals and indicators and discuss the mutual expectations and individual understanding of the goals. It was underlined, that the simpler the logical framework is, the more effective it will be. Furthermore it is important that the content of the logical framework is instilled by the implementing staff members. One of the dangers of the logical framework is that it can give an unrealistic level of confidence on what we know and what we are doing. For this it is important always to look beyond the logical framework. The causal connections in regard of changes can be assessed more easily concerning an individual, in the group it is more difficult and on the social level it will be quite speculative.  


Do you observe an impact on the actual artistic expressions (i.e. their nature, their style or substance), when cause-effect hypotheses are defined in advance?

In the stage of project development, it is possible to develop indicators and goals in collaboration with the selected partner to exchange mutual expectations (as mentioned). However, if the project support depends on specific target criteria, there might be a bias, as project structures and indicators might be constructed artificially in order to receive financial support.

In addition to that, specific goals and target criteria will indirectly always influence the nature and manner of the productions. Furthermore, there is a danger of bringing western norms and expectations into another context. As in many countries only limited money is available for culture promotion, we have to be aware that by supporting a specific art branch or style, it can influence the kind of artistic productions in a region.


Is it necessary and feasible, to evaluate cultural projects in regard to effects on social change?

Accountability is as a principle important, among other reasons because there is always pressure to show the legitimacy of support for culture. In addition, different aspects and points of view have been mentioned of what should be considered. On the one hand, a rigorous evaluation on societal change does generally not make sense for very small cultural projects, like the ones often supported by SDC. On the other hand, the societal effects of art and culture are based on rational expectations and beliefs. This is similar to education; where we also cannot foresee what effect it has on the individual child or student. The suggestion is to focus primarily on outputs and in addition to look always at the qualitative aspect of the quantitative results. The level of outputs achieved will give an indication on outreach, outcome and some wider societal impact. But we cannot be sure in advance of what character they will show.

Another advice is to be more modest in the design of cultural projects: for example when we give a contribution to ten artists enabling them to do their work for the next twelve months. After this year results can be reviewed and it is important to recognize the victories that they are achieving with their work, which are sometimes little but at the same time great.

Jan 30
The Bromeliads: Asking for Forgiveness

From the 8th to the 13th of November 2016, the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur celebrated its 20th anniversary. For this special occasion, different events paid tribute to the festival that offered again a wide variety of short films from around the world. The country in focus was this year Colombia – a country that finds itself as well on an unprecedented moment in time. Culture Matters spoke to Colombian filmmaker Manuela Montoya and to Marianna Bonilla Rojas, the Colombian curator of the films in the focus.

- by Leonie Pock


2016 could be the decisive year for Colombia. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government have singed after more than 50 years of armed conflict and several failed peace processes, a peace accord that was approved by Colombia's congress. Peace seems finally possible. The curators of the International Kurzfilmtage Winterthur took these developments as a reason to shed light on the diverse cinematic landscapes of Colombia. They contextualized through a retrospective on the group of Cali – founded in the 1970's by highly critical and alternative artists in the city of Cali – Colombian filmmaking within the Latin American film movement Third Cinema (Tercer Cine) with its strong critique of neocolonialism and capitalism. How this legacy is influencing young Colombian filmmakers was explored in the other two subsections that dealt with the every day life of young people in Colombia ("Juventud, divino tesoro") and in "O Colombia! My Colombia" with the perspectives of Colombian emigrants on their country.

In the interview Manuela and Mariana saw the cultural diversity but also the huge gap between different social classes as defining features for growing-up in Colombia. For Mariana the role of filmmakers in and after the peace process is to contribute to the building of a collective memory that helps to understand what is happening and to move beyond it in a healthy way. Listen in the short video more about defining features of the Colombian social fabric and how the team of curators intended with their selection of short films to motivate the audience to go beyond certain images of Colombia.



Manuela presented in the subsection about youthfulness her short The Bromeliads. The idea to the script came to Manuela while being at the film school in Cuba. The story is autobiographically inspired and she, her sister and their father – who is a famous Colombian actor – ended up acting themselves. The film has been shown in Colombia and was well received:

"In the higher or upper middle class in South America we have this tendency that we as filmmakers always want to talk about the other, the indigenous, afro-descendants or rural areas. But in the end filmmakers are privileged. The Bromeliads represents something that has not been so frequent to talk about in Colombia – which is female characters in that age. I think it is nice that people have a chance to see that. It is in a certain way like a mirror for your self." (Manuela Montoya)

The Bromeliads is about two girls on a road trip to the beach with their father. A key moment of the film is when one of the daughters sings to the father "Mr. Lonely" by Bobby Vinton where it becomes clear that the daughters do not share much with their father. The trip soon becomes a nightmare. The father drinks too much and leaves the girls after an argument behind at a highway rest area. The next morning he picks them up again – with bromeliads in the back seat.

What is the meaning of these strange flowers? Listen to Manuela's answer in the short video below.

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What is "Culture Matters" ?

Culture Matters is a community of practice set up by staff members at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

We want to:

  • share our experiences with culture and development
  • show how art and culture bring about change
  • advocate for art and culture as effective paths towards development and humanitarian goals.

Why a blog?

Because it make it possible for anyone dealing with SDC support to art and culture to share his/her experience and reflections. It’s about inspiring others and getting inspiration, triggering reflection and debate, and eventually shaping good practice.

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