30 years of artlink: Support for artists from the South and East

Article, 16.02.2015

Artlink is the Swiss office for cultural cooperation, encompassing art and culture from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. This year it is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Artlink also administers the SDC's Südkulturfonds, which comes under the SDC's cultural activities.

Senegalese musician Kara Sylla Ka in concert.
Senegalese musician Kara Sylla Ka will give a concert at the PROGR in Bern as part of artlink’s 30th anniversary celebrations. © Mauro Abbühl/Artlink

For the past 30 years, the artlink office in Bern has been promoting professional artists from countries of the South and East in Switzerland. The aim is to give these artists access to Swiss and European cultural events and professional networks. Support for artlink is a part of the SDC's cultural activities. The SDC made its first financial contribution to Artlink in 1991.

Art and culture foster social change

The SDC believes that independent artists have a special role to play in society. Their work contributes to the quality of life, creates identity and diversity, but can also spark discussion, tackle taboo subjects, trigger thought processes or even strengthen resistance against unfair authorities. Culture thus has a key role to play in social change and in the development of societies.

Switzerland promotes artists from the South and East with the aim of enabling them to contribute to development processes and social change. The SDC supports the cultural sector in partner countries on the one hand and establishes links between artists and cultural productions from the South and East, as well as with Switzerland's cultural scene, on the other.

Providing access to the Swiss market

Since 2010 artlink has been mandated by the SDC to manage its Südkulturfonds. With a budget of CHF 725,000, every year some 450 productions and performances by artists from the South and East are made possible in Switzerland. A professional jury selects the productions that are to receive support. For artists, the external market is often vitally important, as the cultural sector receives hardly any government support in many of the SDC's partner countries. "We work with professional organisers in Switzerland who have built up a reputation and a following over many years," says Mauro Abbühl, joint head of artlink.

Shifting priorities

The orientation of artlink has changed since its inception.  In 1985 six Swiss relief organisations founded the Institute for Culture and Development. "The idea was to use culture and crafts to show the Swiss people what was then known as the 'Third World' from a different angle," says Mauro Abbühl.  Artlink also wanted to promote the integration of foreign artists who lived in Switzerland into the local cultural scene.

In today's multicultural society, the focus is no longer on raising awareness. Rather, it is on the cultural scene of the countries of the South and East from which the artists come. The aim of the SDC's Südkulturfonds is to support this in a targeted manner: the artists should be able to establish themselves  as professionals and make a living from their work. More and more projects by artists from the priority countries of the SDC are currently being supported. In 2014 the professional committee of experts of the Südkulturfonds approved 88 projects. Two thirds of the artists receiving support came from an SDC priority country.

Anniversary celebration with Senegalese music

To mark the 30th anniversary of artlink there was be a concert by musician Kara Sylla Ka in the PROGR centre in Bern on 22 February 2015. His urban Senegalese music is a mix of blues, folk and Afrobeat. Among other things, Artlink supported concerts by Kara Sylla Ka in the German-speaking part of Switzerland in 2005.

Three questions for Elina Duni, musician and member of the jury of the Südkulturfonds

The Albanian musician Elina Duni sitting on a chair, wearing a hat.
The first album by Albanian-born musician Elina Duni was produced with Artlink's support. © Nicolas Masson

How did your cooperation with Artlink first come about and how has it helped you?
My mother is a writer and was in contact with Artlink. So that's how I became aware that Artlink has a fund for music. In 2007, I recorded my first album – "Baresha" – with my quartet. I sent in my dossier and asked for support with the production costs. Artlink paid for two thirds.

Why is it important for artists to perform abroad?
For artists it is very important to be able to bring their projects to fruition and to show their work. Tours and festival appearances, in Switzerland for example, provide important opportunities for doing just that. International contacts are important for networking.

You are one of the external experts on the Südkulturfonds jury. How are the projects selected?
The dossier must be detailed and professional, with a realistic budget plan. The most important question is: does the music bring something new to the table? Is it interesting? We are not looking for replications of existing artists or people who are already world-renowned.

Elina Duni was born in 1981 in the Albanian capital Tirana. She sang and played music as a child on radio and television. In 1992 she moved to Switzerland and studied classical piano and jazz singing. After three CDs with the Elina Duni Quartet, her first solo album was released in 2014 in Kosovo and Albania. 

Elina Duni

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