Thursday, 28 August 2008


He may look like the perfect son-in-law, but Fabien Ruf, the Head of the Cultural Services of Lausanne, is not afraid to rock the boat. In just over a year, he has challenged the grants allocation process, is fighting to gain acceptance of culture as an economic driver and is now on a campaign to culturally charm the two out of five foreigners who make up the population of Lausanne.

When Fabien Ruf was appointed in June 2007, his nomination raised a few eyebrows. A young technocrat was to succeed an arts passionara, Marie-Claude Jequier, whose reign over 20 years had made Lausanne one of the culturally significant small cities of the world. Ruf recognizes a heritage that includes the Ballet Béjart, the Lausanne Opera and the Théâtre de Vidy, although he then adds that “Times have changed”. Lausanne must uphold its reputation, but a number of important choices must be made in order to prevent quality dilution and audience fatigue.

Breaking away from the mould, Mr. Culture is looking for economic viability, as well as originality. He argues that culture is not a one-way expenditure, but an investment that yields good financial returns. For this reason, grants will no longer be attributed according to sole artistic merit, since sustainability will also be an important criterion. Additionally, he wants to see more cooperation between neighboring cities and the region as a whole, particularly in the field of dance and opera.

The upshot of thinking along new cultural management lines means that Fabien Ruf has been accused of being a philistine. He however defends the view that culture is an essential component of civilization and that it will always need strong public support to exist. On a more pragmatic level, he embraces the concept of “urban marketing”, of which culture is one of its pillars, along with education, sports and sustainable development. He is careful to point out that Lausanne’s cultural programme is reasonably priced and that many events are offered for free (Festival de la Cité, Fête de la Musique, Lausanne Estivale). He adds that good public transportation makes all venues accessible, which is more than most cities can boast. He should know: he doesn’t own a car.

Fabien Ruf does, however, have a cultural problem of his own: he works and lives in a canton where the Protestant agrarian ethos forbids bragging: We know that we are good, but we can’t say so. For someone whose job is to promote Vaud, where does that leave him? He declares unashamedly that we live in one of the most privileged regions in the world, but one that can’t sell itself.

And yet, in terms of marketing strategy, “It’s a win, win situation” he says of Lausanne’s attractive offer and the presence of so many multinationals. Creative environments attract creative people, but neither the tourism office, nor the DEV - the branch of the economic department whose role is to attract foreign companies – seem to understand this message, so he would like to take things in hand. He is planning to propose a custom-tailored “Discovery Culture Passport” to various companies. Some will prefer a youthful offer that could include, for example, the MUDAC, the design museum, the DOCKS, for the new rock scene and the ARSENIC for adventurous theatre and dance. Others will be looking for corporate entertainment opportunities and will prefer the LAUSANNE OPERA, the ORCHESTRE DE CHAMBRE DE LAUSANNE and the FONDATION DE L’HERMITAGE. Ruf is convinced that employees are happier and more productive when they also have a life outside of their professional shell. Conversely, he believes that good art projects help enhance Lausanne’s reputation abroad and reflect well on the companies who have chosen to be here.

More pressing issues await him however. He has devised an ambitious five-year plan that will be put to a political test when the gradual CHF 3 million increase in funding that he is requesting will be submitted this autumn to the city parliament. In this plan, he dares propose solutions for Lausanne’s urban nightmare, the Place de la Riponne, with a theatre for children and an interdisciplinary cultural centre. If he succeeds, and obtains the credits to revitalize the center, the separate debate leading to the vote on 30th November on the art museum might be less acrimonious. Those who fear the displacement of the museum away from Riponne and down to the lake by Bellerive might feel assuaged.

Lausanne’s claim to cultural fame appeared to be jeopardized with the progressive loss of important figureheads, including Maurice Béjart. But now, with a clear resolve to face the future and a finger on the pulse of the young, Lausanne’s cultural ambassador is taking a deep breath of satisfaction, even if he’s not allowed to show it.

Bex & Arts


Every three years, a property that belonged to the daughter of a British Peer becomes the pastoral Alpine setting for an entertaining outdoor art exhibition. Bex & Arts, a triennial that takes place until 28 September, showcases sculpture in the stunning environment of an undulating park at the base of the Alps. Less than half an hour from Lausanne in the direction of the Valais, centenary trees become the framework of imaginative contemporary installations.

Bought in 1835 as a thermal retreat by Lady Louisa Hope, the daughter of the Earl of Winchilsea and the widow of a British General, the property was eventually donated to the Vaud Canton by the descendant of a Hungarian aristocrat, Jules de Szilassy, who had married into the family and whose wealth, in the fifties, had been lost to political misfortune.

Since 1987, the sculptural gathering initiated in 1979 by the Swiss artist, André Raboud, takes place on the magnificent domain of 80’000 m² (20 acres) and now attracts more than 25’000 visitors during each edition. Raboud’s son, Nicolas, the present curator, has put together a panorama of Swiss sculpture that is both ambitious and immensely engaging. On the ambiguous theme of “Laschiami” (“Leave me”, or “Leave me alone”) more than 80 works adorn the lawns, fields and slopes of the park, in an amusing dialogue with our intellect and with nature.

My own favorites are the irreverent and playful, Barbielapin, by Nicola Zaric, the stupendous Der Feuerreiter (Fire Rider) by Suter & Bult and the arresting Les Loups qui traversent la nuit (Wolves crossing night) by Olivier Estoppey. But the whole point about Bex Arts is that there is something for everyone, including harassed mothers who really don’t know what to do with their toddlers on a sunny afternoon. Take a glance at the sculptures on show and remember that the next edition will only be in 2011.

Friday, 1 August 2008



Mercury Rev

Zoot Woman


Just as you were settling into the August lull, the For Noise Festival in Pully is taking off from 7 to 9 August. In a region of Switzerland where the density of summer cultural events is overwhelming, the youthful festival makes for a refreshing change, especially if you like making discoveries. Niched in the forest of a chic Lausanne suburb, the event showcases music that is exciting even for blasé connoisseurs.

For Noise Festival was started by two local boys twelve years ago in a forest area of Pully better known as a place for scout gatherings and where dads build tree houses with their kids. The Pully Commune, after several years of hesitation, finally understood the brilliant impact of having a youthful venture on its territory. But outdoor festivals are dependent on the weather and the For Noise almost drowned in rain during the 2007 edition.

Fabien Ruf, the Head of Culture for Lausanne, says that the programme, which is innovative and risky, is the reason that the city helped save the festival, even though it is not on its territory. He believes that the timing of the “one-of-its-kind event”, once the Montreux and Paléo Festivals are out of the way, is perfect. Pomp It Up, the trendy shoe store, has become the main sponsor and has helped develop the communication campaign, because Toto Morand, its owner, believes that this “alternative” festival is essential. Now, with a three day line-up that includes artists from the UK and the USA, the future of For Noise looks a lot brighter.

Mercury Rev, Zoot Woman and Tricky are the groups that you will want to look out for and they will be in Pully on three separate nights, along with an average of nine other groups. Check out the following links and get an on-line sample of their sounds.

The American group, Mercury Rev is best known for the hit song "The Dark is Rising" where the lead singer, Jonathan Donahue’s high pitched vocals mesh with the deep, often orchestral, sound of the band. They will perform on Thursday, 7 August at 22:45

Zoot Woman are the British icons of “electroclash” (a fusion of New Wave and electronic dance music) and their hit “Living in a Magazine” is familiar to many of you. Adam and Jonny Blake are joined by Stuart Blake, the Grammy Award winner who regularly works with Madonna, Seal and The Killers. The shows of Zoot Woman are known to be spectacular. They will be on the main stage on Friday, 8 August at 21:00.

Tricky is Adrian Thaws, the British “trip hop” (rock and hip hop) musician, who has returned from living 17 years in the US. His new album has just been released by Domino, the label that also produces Franz Ferdinand and the Artic Monkeys. Tricky will be on stage on Saturday, 9 August at 22:45.


A robot camera gazes at Piotr Anderszewski during a rehearsal at Verbier

© Mark Shapiro/Verbier Festival


The prestigious classical music Verbier Festival is allowing people all over the world to attend its concerts in real time and for free. In a pioneer venture that is transforming the art of broadcasting concerts and drawing new audiences, the festival is offering 27 concerts online during its 2008 edition until 3 August and then through delayed broadcasting for an additional 60 days. Many events are accompanied by exclusive interviews and backstage footage.

The innovative partnership between the festival and ARTE TV, the cultural Franco-German TV station and Medici TV, an independent producer of live art webcasts, was an immediate success when it was inaugurated last year. The online program attracted 150’000 unique visitors from 173 countries and those visitors streamed a combined total of one million videos from the site. The figures already registered this year point to double that amount.

Swiss television is also broadcasting 17 of the concerts on its TSR website. Armelle Roullet, Chief online editor, welcomes the challenge that makes, she says, a nice change from the traditional coverage of the Montreux and Paléo Festivals. It also helps TSR extend its web appeal beyond its usual audiences.

Classical music events are generally considered impossible to capture well on screen. But Medici Arts, in conjunction with EuroArts in Leipzig and Idéale Audience in Paris, have developed a new approach to filming that gives extraordinary crispness and intimacy to the images. What you see on the screen is no longer a flat musical documentary, but a film that captures the emotions and intensity of the musicians. Hervé Boissière, Head of DVD and New Media at Medici Arts reveals a few keys to the quality of the productions. A small battalion of robots equipped with high definition lenses glide on the stage between the artists, quietly capturing close-ups that no handheld camera is discrete enough to obtain. And because the producers know the pieces of music inside out, they are able to do the editing in real time.

But the significant innovation this year is the use of prototype encoding stations launched by the Texan company, Kulabyte, that accelerate the compression process, increase picture quality, and reduce the required bandwidth for video transmission. Live performances have never felt more real.

Such technical developments are also helping opera gain web ground. When Peter Sellar’s provocative production of Mozart’s unfinished Singspiel, Zaide, for the Aix-en-Provence Festival was being filmed, also by Medicis tv, the preternatural American director’s image editing has resulted in a webcast that the Los AngelesTimes says “ best demonstrates the power of the internet” due to the “dramatically strong video direction” by Sellars.

The vertiginous rise of productions presented online – and the impossibility to control their distribution - has transformed the negotiation of artists’ rights. Martin Engstroem, the Director of the Verbier Festival, says that he is very proud that the musicians performing in his festival (who included in this year’s edition the world stars Martha Argerich and Joshua Bell) have accepted the Medici audiovisual clauses embedded in the Verbier contracts Thanks to their combined efforts, Medici is steadfastly composingwhat it calls the “archives of the future”, a music film library that is available online with a subscription.

Contrary to the idea that webcasts can kill “live audiences”, ventures such as the one initiated at the Verbier Festival reveal a phenomenon similar to the one in rock and pop: the more music people discover online, the more they are likely to want to see the musicians in real life. Clémence Flechard of Arte adds that the frontiers being broken down are not just geographical, since people from around the globe can access the concerts, but cultural as well, because, surprisingly, new audiences are discovering classical music thanks to the web.