Pro Helvetia has been at the forefront of Swiss cultural policy since 1939. Established by the Federal Council on the eve of World War II, it was initially a working group “to defend Switzerland’s independent cultural identity” against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. In 1940, it set up its first two office rooms at Hirschengraben in Zurich.
Pro Helvetia was converted into a public-law foundation in 1949. Its mandate was to preserve Swiss culture, promote it at home and disseminate it abroad. Mandate and organisational form were laid down by law for the first time in 1965.
Over the years, international activities became increasingly important. In 1985 Pro Helvetia opened its first office abroad, the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris. This was followed by a liaison office in Cairo (1988). Pro Helvetia subsequently established a whole row of liaison offices and partnerships with other institutions around the world.
Since its foundation, Pro Helvetia’s tasks and organisational form have regularly been adjusted to shifts in social and cultural requirements. As historian Jakob Tanner wrote on the occasion of its 70th anniversary [LINK zur Publikation Pro Helvetia 1939 bis 2009], “criticism was often the engine of change, inducing Pro Helvetia to adapt its organisation as well as its means of communication and funding to altered circumstances.”
The Promotion of Arts and Culture Act of 2012 brought about some fundamental reforms. The Board of Trustees was trimmed from 25 to 9 members. Strategic and operational authority were clearly separated for the first time, with the Board of Trustees responsible for strategy and the Secretariat for operations. The financial means available to Pro Helvetia have since been laid down by the Federal Council’s statement on the funding of cultural promotion by the Confederation (Kulturbotschaft) issued once every several years.
More on the history of Pro Helvetia can be found in our timeline.